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Excerpt from Chapter Six:
An Opera, an Orange, a Prince and an Epiphany
I was in an orange ball gown; crouching inside a giant orange. Counting the measures of music as the glue from my wig was melting in the heat and rolling dangerously close to my eyes. Finally, at measure 48, I pulled the chord which opened the giant orange and while fighting to find the balance to stand, I turned toward the prince and my voice poured out my opening line “I am the Princess Linetta” into the blackness of the sold out opera house, and the orchestra roared. Nothing in life prepares you for a moment like that…nothing. The reverse is also true, everything in life had prepared me for that moment. It should have been one of the most terrifying moments of my life but as I crouched inside that giant orange, tapping and counting, there was a moment of clarity and I was perfectly calm and in that moment, I thought of Christian. I realized that this was not what I was meant to be doing with my life.
I thought of Christian and how I promised myself that when I grew up, I would find a way to help children like him and children like me. I would be made first alternate with the Cincinnati Opera Company that year with an excellent chance of making the company the following year but my father became ill and I was needed at home, so my life took a turn towards education. I always wanted to die on stage in the arms of a prince. That night, I did and that was enough for me.
The Problem with Motivation
I hear teachers and administrators say: “This student isn’t motivated.” “The problem isn’t a learning disability. The problem is lack of motivation.” In my experience, the problem is not motivation. Every student I ever taught or observed was motivated, some were motivated to get a good grade in math, others were motivated to actually learn math and others were motivated to get out of math. In my experience, the problem is not motivation. The problem is the direction in which the motivation is channeled. I like to call this “directive motivation.”
As a child, the decision of “directive motivation” is made for us. We are motivated to go outside and play but we are not motivated to eat spinach or in my case, to eat Hungarian Goulash. We are motivated to play video games but we are not motivated to practice the piano. Parents redirect motivation by placing in front of the child something he is not motivated to do and the promise that what he is motivated to do, will come after. In a sense, the redirection of this motivation has earned the child the privilege of doing what motivated him in the first place. This is both very successful and very dangerous as it can build a good work ethic or lead to catastrophic failure.
Scenario One said to a five year old:
“After you eat your spinach, you can go outside and play.”
Scenario Two said to a five year old:
“After you finish this assignment for Introduction to Fluid Dynamics, you can go out and play.”
The first directive motivation scenario is realistic, while the second scenario is ludicrous. In the first scenario, the five year old will learn that sometimes what does not motivate us can open the door to what does motivate us. In scenario two, the five year old learns that there is no way over, or under, or through the obstacle that stands in the way of what motivates him and so he gets frustrated, stops trying, begins to “act out” in anger, or worse. As adults, educators, and parents, we must be very careful when dealing with “directive motivation.” We must be reasonably sure that what we place before a student can be achieved by that particular student. Should it be challenging? Yes. Should it be difficult? Sure. Should it target their disability? Never.
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