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Alfie Kohn
Alfie Kohn writes and speaks widely on human behavior, education, and parenting. The author of eleven books and scores of articles, he lectures at education conferences and universities as well as to parent groups and corporations.

Kohn's criticisms of competition and rewards have been widely discussed and debated, and he has been described in Time magazine as "perhaps the country's most outspoken critic of education's fixation on grades [and] test scores."

Kohn lives (actually) in the Boston area and (virtually) at Follow him on Twitter at @alfiekohn.

Entries by Alfie Kohn

Cheerful to a Fault: "Positive" Practices with Negative Implications

(0) Comments | Posted July 13, 2015 | 12:22 PM

We live in a smiley-face, keep-your-chin-up, look-on-the-bright-side culture. At the risk of being labeled a professional party pooper, I'd like to suggest that accentuating the positive isn't always a wise course of action where children are concerned. I say that not because I've joined the conservative chorus whose refrain is...

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What's the Real Purpose of Classroom Management?

(2) Comments | Posted June 26, 2015 | 9:15 AM

Everyone knows why classroom management skills are considered a critical part of teacher training. The reason we need to minimize "misbehavior" and get students to show up, sit down, and pay attention is so we can teach them stuff. That proposition is so obvious that it's rarely defended or even...

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Learning As a Sandwich: Revisiting the Ingenuity (and Radicalism) of K-W-L

(0) Comments | Posted June 3, 2015 | 9:22 AM

I believe it was Dale Carnegie who first counseled public speakers to "tell the audience what you're going to say . . . say it . . . then tell them what you've said." This advice, which presumably appeared in his book How to Lose Friends and Irritate People, suggests...

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The Grass Moment: Helping Kids to Become Reflective Rebels

(3) Comments | Posted April 24, 2015 | 5:50 PM

For the last several years, I've been hacking away at a tangle of deeply conservative beliefs about children and parenting that have somehow come to be accepted as the conventional wisdom in our culture: that parents are too permissive and yet, at the same time, too protective; that young people...

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Evidence? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Evidence!

(1) Comments | Posted April 8, 2015 | 3:16 PM

Have you ever suspected that much of what you do for a living is an extended exercise in missing the point?

I've spent many years challenging claims about the benefits of rewarding children (when they act the way we want) and punishing them (when they don't.) An impressive body of...

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Four Reasons to Worry About "Personalized Learning"

(4) Comments | Posted February 25, 2015 | 10:39 AM

Tocqueville's observations about the curious version of democracy that Americans were cultivating in the 1830s have served as a touchstone for social scientists ever since. One sociologist writes about the continued relevance of what Tocqueville noticed way back then, particularly the odd fact that we cherish our commitment to individualism...

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Progressive Labels for Regressive Practices: How Key Terms in Education Have Been Co-opted

(16) Comments | Posted February 2, 2015 | 10:11 AM

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less."
-- Lewis Caroll, Through the Looking Glass

"Whole language" (WL), a collaborative, meaning-based approach to helping children learn to read and write,...

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Why the Best Teachers Don't Give Tests

(20) Comments | Posted October 30, 2014 | 4:19 PM

Frankly, I'm baffled by the number of educators who are adamantly opposed to standardized testing yet raise no objection to other practices that share important features with such testing.

For starters, consider those lists of specific, prescriptive curriculum standards to which the tests are yoked. Here we find the same...

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'Helicopter Parenting' Hysteria

(0) Comments | Posted September 4, 2014 | 4:50 PM

Helicopter parents of college-age children are the folks we love to hate. A steady stream of articles and blog posts bristle with indignation over dads who phone the dean about a trivial problem or moms who are too involved with junior's love life. But how common are such incidents, really?...

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Perfect, It Turns Out, Is What Practice Doesn't Make

(0) Comments | Posted July 25, 2014 | 3:24 PM

We've long been eager to believe that mastery of a skill is primarily the result of how much effort one has put in. Extensive practice "is probably the most reasonable explanation we have today not only for success in any line, but even for genius," said the ur-behaviorist John B....

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Just Another Brick in the Wall: How Education Researchers Ignore the Ends to Tweak the Means

(0) Comments | Posted June 4, 2014 | 10:40 PM

"While we're at it, maybe we should just design classrooms without windows. And, hey, I'll bet kids would really perform better if they spent their days in isolation." My friend was reacting (facetiously, of course) to a new study that found that kindergarteners scored better on a test of recall...

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But What Kind of Universal Pre-K?

(0) Comments | Posted January 31, 2014 | 3:09 PM

Universal pre-kindergarten education finally seems to be gathering momentum. President Obama highlighted the issue in his 2013 State of the Union address (and then mentioned it again in this year's). Numerous states and cities are launching or expanding early-education initiatives, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has made...

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Recycled Assumptions: How Journalists Keep Education Tied to Damaging Ideas

(13) Comments | Posted August 27, 2013 | 3:29 PM

It very rarely happens that the cover of the New York Times Book Review, which represents some of the most prestigious intellectual real estate in the U.S., is given over to a discussion about education. When that does happen, as it did last Sunday, it becomes clear why "school reform"...

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'We're Number Umpteenth!': Debunking the Persistent Myth of Lagging U.S. Schools

(155) Comments | Posted May 3, 2013 | 9:13 PM

Beliefs that are debatable or even patently false may be repeated so often that at some point they come to be accepted as fact. We seem to have crossed that threshold with the claim that U.S. schools are significantly worse than those in most other countries. Sometimes the person who...

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Parental Involvement in Education: What Kind? To What Ends?

(2) Comments | Posted February 6, 2013 | 3:29 PM

When people who write about agriculture or dentistry tackle the important issues in their respective fields, do they try to shake things up? Are they feisty and willing to peer beneath the surface of whatever topic they're exploring? I have no idea. But I do know that those qualities are...

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Homework: New Research Suggests It May Be an Unnecessary Evil

(236) Comments | Posted November 25, 2012 | 8:03 PM

A brand-new study on the academic effects of homework offers not only some intriguing results but also a lesson on how to read a study -- and a reminder of the importance of doing just that: reading studies (carefully) rather than relying on summaries by journalists or even by the...

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What Do Kids Really Learn from Failure?

(120) Comments | Posted October 3, 2012 | 1:16 PM

Education experts have long known that there is more to success -- in school or in life -- than cognitive ability. That recognition got a big boost with science writer Dan Goleman's book Emotional Intelligence in 1996, which emphasized the importance of self-awareness, altruism, personal motivation, empathy, and the ability...

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Lowering the Temperature on Claims of 'Summer Learning Loss'

(17) Comments | Posted July 20, 2012 | 10:56 AM

The idea of summer learning loss -- the implication being that it's risky to give kids a three-month vacation from school because they'll forget everything they were taught -- has become the media's favorite seasonally specific education topic. And that's not just because they're desperate for something to write about...

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What Makes a Terrific Parent?

(2) Comments | Posted April 23, 2012 | 12:16 PM

If you decided to have a child, presumably it was because you wanted to be a parent and anticipated that the experience would be fulfilling. You did it for you. But the child's arrival demands a radical shift: Now you must do things for him or her. Moreover, you need...

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Criticizing (Common Criticisms of) Praise

(5) Comments | Posted February 3, 2012 | 11:09 AM

Over the last few years I've had the odd experience of seeing my work cited with approval by people whose views on the issue in question are diametrically opposed to my own. The issue I have in mind is praise. I'm troubled by it, as are the people who quote...

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