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Nancy SalvatoStudent Apathy Will Be Our Demise
Nancy Salvato
January 23, 2004
As published in The Washington Times

The critical missing factor in motivating our students to learn is parental involvement and support1. "We are what we are expected to be and we do what the task and our significant others allow and demand. Child-rearing practices that emphasize independence training and mastery produce people who are high in achievement motivation2." Current pedagogy attributes much of the student motivation to succeed on the way a teacher sets up the classroom, but I can say, with complete certainty, that unless teachers take over the parent’s role and become before and after school caregivers in addition to working a regular teaching day, certain students will not put forth the effort to do the work required of them, they will often disrupt the learning process, and they will fail to meet their potential.

Certain variables must be employed for ideal learning to take place, but, the most important factor is that students must be intrinsically motivated to do their best work and put forth the maximum effort to learn. We’re born with the capacity to reward ourselves for doing a good job with the feeling of pleasure, due to chemicals released in our brain. Unfortunately, because many children are reared in families that do not stress the rewards of knowledge, pleasure stemming from an epiphany or fulfillment from learning is not intrinsic in many of our students’ personalities. Teachers, not to mention whole school districts, have had to resort to extrinsic rewards to motivate students. In the short run this works because some effort to learn is better than no effort to learn. In the long run, extrinsic rewards interfere with their learning because students learn only to do what they know they’ll get something for, rather than having the learning itself serve as the reward.

Teachers are told to create optimal conditions for schooling. This implies that teachers must find ways to help their students find motivation within themselves. Traditional suggestions to achieve this include: providing interesting course content, an appropriate level of difficulty to encourage success, giving immediate feedback, allowing for opportunity to work with others, and affording students some choice in their learning
3. Research shows that intrinsically motivated students employ strategies that demand more effort and that enable them to process information more deeply. This type of student uses more logical information gathering and decision making strategies when confronted with complex intellectual tasks. They actually prefer tasks that are moderately challenging. Extrinsically motivated students gravitate toward tasks that have a low degree of difficulty and put forth the minimal amount of effort necessary to get the maximal reward4.

It has been demonstrated that a school’s culture has a powerful influence on students’ attitudes and levels of academic achievement. This suggests that educational leaders find ways to create an atmosphere that motivates students to learn. Achieving the goal of making the individual classroom a place that naturally motivates students to learn is much easier if students and teachers function in a school culture where academic success and the motivation to succeed is expected, respected, and rewarded. An effective school is a place where students learn to love learning for learning’s sake. This love should translate into academic achievement.

An academically effective school would establish clear goals related to student achievement, have teachers and parents with high expectations, and a structure designed to maximize opportunities for students to learn. This is a more favorable milieu for academic achievement than one that emphasizes affective growth or social development. Teachers have traditionally shouldered most of the onus of motivating students toward academic achievement. Nevertheless, research demonstrates the powerful effect of school culture and climate on students’ attitudes toward education. Principals now must share that responsibility.”

Studies indicate that present instructional practices diminish motivation for academic achievement. Our educational system is as much to blame for student apathy as the students themselves. As children mature they become more skillful, knowledgeable, and competent; they become better able to take on responsibility, make decisions, and control their lives. Schools should provide an environment that would facilitate task involvement rather than ego involvement, particularly as children enter early adolescence. The opposite is true. As students proceed through the grades, the classroom is characterized by a decrease in student autonomy and an increase in processes which enhance ego involvement at the expense of task involvement.

Many teachers and administrators do not know how to persuade students to work. Students need to be empowered to take responsibility for their own needs and accomplishments. However, there are some irresponsible suggestions on how to achieve this. One approach that seems to have taken hold is to eliminate grades below a B and reduce the emphasis on social comparisons of achievement by minimizing public reference to normative evaluation standards such as grades and test scores. Furthermore, students should be allowed to assess their own progress toward goals they themselves set. This shows an appalling lack of foresight. We are living in a capitalist economy which thrives on competition. Students need to understand that their abilities are measured against others in the real world.

Power can motivate students who are extremely competitive and gain a sense of power by being recognized as the brightest student or as the student most likely to succeed. Affiliation motivation may be exhibited in response to a desire for approval from family or friends. Intrinsic academic motivation needs parental involvement, high expectations, and a realistic vision of how the student will fare in the real world. How are today’s graduates going to make informed political choices, function in a global economy, or deal with significant threats like terrorism if they cannot rise to meet significant academic challenges?

[1],[ 3] Student Motivation

[4] Student Motivation To Learn. ERIC Digest, Number 92

[2],[5] Student Motivation, School Culture, and Academic Achievement: What School Leaders Can Do

Nancy Salvato has worked in the field of education since 1986, her experience spanning grades P-12 as a classroom teacher and as a clinical instructor at the postsecondary level. She is an experienced higher education administrator with demonstrated proficiency in accreditation and licensure, governmental relations, operations, curriculum and instruction, assessment, utilizing a student information system (SIS) and a learning management system (LMS). She received her undergraduate degree in History from Loyola University of Chicago and a master's degree in Early Childhood Development from National Louis University. Post graduate study has focused the US Constitution, in particular, analyzing the historical, philosophical, and religious influences which culminated in this covenant amongst the citizens of this country and between those governed and those elected to office.  An accomplished writer, Nancy contributes regularly to The World and I, a publication of the Washington Times, The New Media Journal, Family Security Matters, and a host of new media publications.  Highlights of her career including being invited to the Department of Education to meet with then Secretary of Education, Rod Paige, being selected to participate in the National Academy for Civics and Government, and writing and publishing Keeping a Republic: An Argument for Sovereignty for and through her 501c3,

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