Sunday, October 7, 2012

Oh, Alfie Kohn, I Really Want To Agree With You...

...but the way you keep framing your arguments gets in the way.

I don't know if you are trying to be provocative, or if you are trying to get people riled up, or maybe it is not your fault, and the editors of your most recent essays are giving them controversial spin, but most of your recent essays seem to be finger-pointing and accusatory towards the very people who may be trying to change education.

Take, for example, this article on failure. You call allowing kids to fail "conventional wisdom" when there is plenty of evidence that this idea is not-so-conventional (evidence: no longer giving zeroes, padded grades, social promotion), and you go on to malign those people who subscribe to this notion (does that include Edison? He was a famous failure, as were Einstein and Steve Jobs).

Later in the blog, you clarify and say that they failure needs to be "reframed" by adults, then go on to say that adults aren't doing that either.

Really? Where is the research that says they are not doing this? Since you are clamoring for "conventional research" yourself, on what do you base this claim?

I do love your work, but it seems like you are stirring the pot to try to stay relevant, deliberately choosing to poke the people who would support you. At the end of the blog you throw in some conversation about grades and how they are irrelevant and the debate rages on. Is this really what you are writing about? The irrelevance of grades? If so, grab some research to back it up (there is plenty, as you well know) and leave the whole conversation of about the benefits (or lack thereof) of failure out of it. You end with a gross generalization that throws your entire argument for a loop, discussing environments in which kids would benefit from failure.

I appreciate the contributions you have made, but you need to focus and keep the most important thing the most important thing. For now it seems like you are only interested in railing against those that might support you.


  1. not only is he stirring the pot, i feel like he’s muddying the water. (to mix a metaphor ;o)

    i’m also not sure who he’s talking to — parents? teachers? leaders? there’s no clear action item. the only thing i know for sure is that what he’s saying isn’t relevant for me or my kids.

    1. I feel like I am being scolded for something I haven't done, whereas his prior blogs/essays (from a year or so ago) felt more like coming into the light (in a good way!).

      I am not sure he knows who his audience is either!!