Alfie Kohn

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Life's greatest happiness is to be convinced we are loved.
Victor Hugo
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Alfie Kohn (born October 15, 1957) is an American lecturer and author in the fields of education, psychology and parenting. He is an outspoken critic of American public education, particularly the trend toward pervasive standardized testing, and has written several books attacking "common sense" notions about competition, rewards, and parenting.


  • Someone who thinks well of himself is said to have a healthy self-concept and is envied. Someone who thinks well of his country is called a patriot and is applauded. But someone who thinks well of his species is regarded as hopelessly naïve and is dismissed.
    • The Brighter Side of Human Nature: Altruism and Empathy in Everyday Life, 1990.
  • Very few things are as dangerous as a bunch of incentive-driven individuals trying to play it safe.
    • Punished by Rewards
  • Punishment and reward proceed from basically the same psychological model, one that conceives of motivation as nothing more than the manipulation of behavior.
    • Punished by Rewards
  • Some people undoubtedly find it convenient to have students arrive having already been stamped PRIME, CHOICE, SELECT, or STANDARD.
    • Punished by Rewards
  • The value of a book about dealing with children is inversely proportional to the number of times it contains the word behavior.
    • Published in Education Leadership, September 2005 [1]


  • If You Want to Kill Innovation, Reward It!
  • Many of the familiar principles of Quality management amount to an elaboration of this simple truth: an innovative, healthy organization requires that we work with people rather than do things to them.
  • Most parents want to know what they can do to make their children do as they're told.
  • Punishments and rewards are two sides of the same coin and that coin doesn't buy you much.
  • Sometimes we have to put our foot down, ... but before we deliberately make children unhappy in order to get them to get into the car, or to do their homework or whatever, we need to weigh whether what we're doing to make it happen is worth the possible strain on our relationship with them.
  • Trying to do well and trying to beat others are two different things.
  • We think of ways that we can control them, whether it be with a spanking or a gold sticker or a parent constantly saying, 'Good job, good job, good job.'
  • What can we surmise about the likelihood of someone's being caring and generous, loving and helpful, just from knowing that they are a believer? Virtually nothing, say psychologists, sociologists, and others who have studied that question for decade
  • What is equally striking to me is this ... there isn't a sense of a community solving problems together, rather there's punishment for aberrant individuals.
  • When test scores go up, we should worry, because of how poor a measure they are of what matters, and what you typically sacrifice in a desperate effort to raise scores.
  • When we do things that are controlling, whether intentional or not, we are not going to get those long-term outcomes.
  • You have to welcome their arguing with you, not to the point of disrespect, but if they are going to stand up for themselves, they need to learn to argue effectively.

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