The Daughter Test

Posted on May 15, 2012

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More and more I’m finding that the best heuristic for my thinking around education and how I should focus my efforts with The Puzzle School is “The Daughter Test”, basically, “what would I want for my daughter”.

It may sound obvious, but time and time again I’ve found that it becomes easier to explain my opinions (both to myself and others) if I put the explanation in this perspective.

Recently I was trying to explain my distaste for badges. Although I do think they add value as a certification mechanism (and even then I’m not totally in love with their value), I think they are primarily used as a motivational tool, and, in that case, I’m not fond of them at all.

Do they motivate? Yes, they do. There’s plenty of research showing that effect.

Would I want my daughter coming up to me excited that she earned some badge somewhere? No, I wouldn’t.

I’d much rather her come up to me excited to show me what she had built or demonstrate what she had learned. If she places all of the emphasis of her excitement on the badge then it distracts from the excitement of learning or creating something. I don’t ever want her to think that it’s not worth learning or creating something unless she is going to get a badge.

Is it guaranteed that she is going to make that association? Are badges evil? No, I don’t think so. I just would prefer that people in education stop leaning on this crutch simply because it’s an easy motivator. Although it’s not as extreme as paying your kids to learn, it’s in the same ballpark. Given the possibility that students would come to rely on extrinsic motivators for motivation, I think badges are far from ideal. I would prefer my daughter not be put in environments where badges are used as a way to motivate the students.

The Daughter Test has also helped me think more clearly about my opposition to testing and my desire to create a school environment that provides significant autonomy. It helps me avoid the logical step of saying “it might work for one student, but wouldn’t work for all students”, which is really just a PC way of saying, “this would never work for bad, dumb, poor, spoiled, etc. students”. But if we focus all of our attention on designing education around our low expectations for certain hypothetical students then we’ll never be able to create the great educational systems that we need to help all students maximize their potential.

I’m not interested in building a system for all students, I’m interested in building the system that I want my daughter to learn from. My hope is that all students will benefit from that system. I may be wrong, but I’m not going to reduce my aspirations based on hypotheticals. If certain students are struggling with the environments I build then that will be a great time to figure out why. In the mean time I’m going to focus my energy on building the educational systems that I want for my daughter, and The Daughter Test is proving very effective at keeping me on that path.

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