Summer Shorts – The Fragile Nature of Motivation

By June 18, 2015 Uncategorized 5 Comments

One of the more popular training programs for people trying to lose weight or gain aerobic fitness is Josh Clark’s “Couch to 5K.”

The goal of the program is to take nearly any person, regardless of current weight or fitness level, and train them to run their first 3.1 miles (5K) or for 30 minutes straight. The program lasts for nine weeks.

It’s not for everyone. In fact, some of you may relate more accurately with the sentiment below:

Well, imagine that you are someone like this who has never liked running. You didn’t run much as a kid; you come from a family of non-runners; and really cannot comprehend why so many people find joy in running.

However, at the age of forty, you realize you have put on a few too many pounds and are woefully out of shape. Your doctor has diagnosed you with high blood pressure, your knees and back constantly hurt, and your clothes no longer fit well.

You decide to get off the couch and into better shape. You join a local running group and begin your “Couch to 5K program.” After struggling through the first few weeks and almost quitting multiple times, your friends convince you to stick with the program.

Finally, after nine difficult weeks of training, you show up to run your first 5K race, EVER!

You have lost 10 pounds, cut back on your blood pressure medicine, and feel better than you have in ten years. Your friends compliment you on how much progress you have made and how hard you have worked to get to this point.

As you run the race, you are amazed at how you are able to run the entire distance without walking. While the winners cross the finish line over twenty minutes before you do, none of that matters to you. You proudly cross the finish line in 40 minutes and think to yourself, “I can do this. I’m a runner!”

Yet, your elation is short-lived. Despite your incredible gains over the past few months, a race director pulls you to the side as you finish the race. Instead of a shiny finisher’s medal you were expecting, he hands you the following certificate:

Due to your unsatisfactory performance, the “friends” in your running group (“The Middle Age Cheetahs“) make fun of you, call you “slow,” and drop you from their weekly runs. You are also asked to participate in a remedial running program over the summer and forced to repeat the Couch to 5K program with a new group of runners (“The Plodding Slugs”).  You will have to run twice as long every day and give up all sweets. If you fail to do this, you will not be allowed to run in the next 5K race.

I’m wondering. Would you now be more OR less motivated to run as a result of your experience?

Now imagine instead of a 40-year-old adult, we’re talking about an 8-year-old child. And instead of running, the skill being developed is reading.

This third grade child has also worked very hard to improve as a reader over the past year. Perhaps they come from a family of non-readers or non-English speakers. They may have limited access to books or other reading materials outside of school. Maybe they suffer from a learning deficiency like dyslexia or another cognitive disorder.

Yet, no matter their personal circumstances, how hard they have worked to improve, or how much growth they have made over the past few months, we will hand them a report at the end of third grade that essentially states:

You Suck at Reading.”

As a result, we will separate them from their friends and force them to repeat third grade. Over the next year, they will be humiliated, remediated, scrutinized, stigmatized, tested and retested, and essentially labeled as defective.

I’m wondering. Would the average child be more OR less motivated to read as a result of this experience?

The bigger question is why are we setting up nearly 20 percent of our children to fail, to internalize beliefs of inadequacy, and set them on a path which increases the likelihood they will disengage from learning and drop out of school?

It doesn’t have to be this way. The research says so. In my next short, I will share what one other high-performing nation has discovered relative to reading instruction and young children. You may be surprised!

For now, it’s time for a run!

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