Bestselling Author Speaks Out About America's 'Comply or Defy' School System

In December 2010 Daniel Pink released his latest book Drive - The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Though the New York Times bestseller is catalogued in the Business genre, the Motivational 3.0 theories he outlines in Drive could play a key role in reforming education.

His theory on motivation is steeped in scientific research and utilizes the analogy of a computer operating system. According to Pink, Motivation 2.0 is an outdated motivation system that relies on the proverbial carrots and sticks -- we are rewarded if we do something well and punished when we perform undesirably. Part of what we are experiencing today with the current business and economic climate is, as Pink puts it, a series of crashes that indicate that we need to upgrade.

Specifically, and with the help of thorough concept definition and an included toolkit, Drive outlines his Motivational 3.0 strategy for organizations. The strategy involves understanding an employee's true inner motivation, finding the position within the organization that will enable the employee to shine and giving highly-valued workers the autonomy and freedom to work in whatever form is most effective for them. While success stories are diligently cited in the work, Pink acknowledges that this approach to management is, quite frankly, not nearly as easy as the current norm of offering a short-term reward for short-term performance.

However, it was Pink's earlier work and the 11-page portion of Drive geared towards educators that caught the attention of teachers and community leaders when they invited him to participate in a recent event in Sarasota, Florida hosted by The Patterson Foundation. The conversation soon centered on how a community could best help to foster an engaging and effective education system, particularly in light of pending budget cuts and the increasingly heated legislative battles about performance-based compensation for teachers.

Pink, a father of three, expressed his dissatisfaction with the current model for education and what he refers to as a "comply or defy" environment. He sees students being treated like robots that are programmed to perform a certain way when certain buttons are pushed. Rather than provide challenging stimulation and inviting young people to provide their solutions to real-world problems, we consistently underestimate kids by offering only overly-simplistic problems that focus on one discipline, that are clearly defined, and that have only one "right" answer.

This type of problem, he is quick to point out, is not exactly what the real world is filled with. Not only is it unrealistic, it is not typically stimulating and it leads, in part, to the ultimate tragedy: a group of children that view school as a place where they much "serve their time" before they are released into a more engaging world.

The Drive author offered five key suggestions that educators, community supporters and parents could do right now to enhance a child's learning experience and lead them down the Motivation 3.0 path:

Push the Idea of Hard Work -- Despite our best intentions, Pink explains, adults have oversold the idea of talent rather than encouraging effort. When a child brings home a high math grade, for example, we praise the innate quality ("You're so smart!") rather than keying in on what it took to succeed ("I can tell you worked really hard on that. Great job!"). We could even go one step further and ask our children about which methods they found most effective or what challenges they had to overcome. By not engaging in this type of dialogue early and often, we risk raising kids who chase the carrot of perceived intelligence rather than those that find satisfaction simply in the act of learning and self-guided study.

Offer Opportunities to Participate in the Community -- The classroom should be an enriched space to learn, but there is no substitute for the value of participation in community activities. Whether it's a hands-on trip to a cultural arts location, experiencing a local performance, or a cooperative effort with a local business, children respond remarkably well to being placed within the excitement of the real world and are stimulated accordingly.

Discuss the Concept of Purpose -- One of Pink's exercises, the One Sentence Project, has caught on a bit unexpectedly in classrooms. Though the exercise was developed with career enhancement in mind, it isn't uncommon for Pink to receive a completed exercise via email that proudly demonstrates how students would ideally express the desired outcome of their contribution to society -- the results of years of acting based on their inner motivation. After seeing sentences that include such things as "cure a disease" and "end poverty" then he is quite sure that we are selling our kids short. By having young people discuss who they are and who they would like to be, this particular exercise may prove just as inspiring for the person posing the question.

Invite Kids to the Table -- If we would like to know how schools could improve the learning environment for children then why don't we ask them? It's a simple notion on the surface, but yet Pink's question for us shines a harsh spotlight on the fact that we now have legislators, so-called "experts", teachers and parents all weighing in on many key issues facing our education system while the creativity and simple insight of a child is a completely untapped resource. In fact, we might find that they have amazing ideas to share on many of our current big problems.

Bring People from the Community into the Schools -- Having a local business person come into a science class to answer the age-old question, "How will I ever use this stuff in real life?" is not simply enriching for the students, but can also bridge a startling gap between schools and the community as a whole. For one thing, it places that community leader actually, well, inside a classroom -- something that likely hasn't occurred in a few decades or so. The result is that people voting on, or even possibly with a hand in creating, education policy and legislation will have a more recent and vivid experience to draw from. Pink believes that this would cause people to resist the simple-minded and ineffective solutions that we are often peddled.

The tips provided were aimed at an energetic room, full of willing and cooperative participants eager to assist in fixing the problem. Though the messaging was well-received, Pink called out the elephant in the room -- the politicizing of education and the necessity to reform the system with key legislation and government support. Busy teachers and well-intentioned parents are simply not enough on their own.

While the author gives a definitive nod to the importance of the educational system in his most recent work, Drive is in no way positioned as a book on teaching methods or student effectiveness. However, as we continue to see education take center stage in budget discussions, economic improvement plans and political legislation, Daniel Pink will certainly not be the last business strategist to illustrate that how we teach our children today will directly impact the caliber of employees, entrepreneurs, artists and activists we will rely on in the future.