Nonprofit, independent journalism. Supported by readers.

MinnPost's education reporting is made possible by a grant from the Bush Foundation.

Coming up: Daniel Pink on motivation, ‘Race to Nowhere,’ and ‘Bullied’

There are three upcoming events Twin Cities education-watchers will want to take note of — but first a digression is in order.
Have you ever watched a child who can’t focus on homework for more than 15 seconds become truly absorbed by a more diffic

There are three upcoming events Twin Cities education-watchers will want to take note of — but first a digression is in order.

Have you ever watched a child who can’t focus on homework for more than 15 seconds become truly absorbed by a more difficult project of his or her own conjuring? One such 8-year-old lives at my house.

Some days, neither carrot, stick nor the two in combination gets him to finish his spelling words. But good luck knocking him off task if his capacious imagination decides he should learn to quilt right now or demand a ride to the library to check out books on how ancient Egyptians made papyrus. 

The difference between the two tasks, of course, is motivation. The quest to make reeds into parchment is fueled by intrinsic motivation — the kid will stick with it strictly for the joy of discovery. Homework, on the other hand, is totally extrinsic: Do it or face consequences.

Article continues after advertisement

Mainstream American education is awash in extrinsic motivation these days: Think kids laboring over high-stakes tests that federal officials require states to order schools to administer. Small wonder we aren’t producing as many creative, critical thinkers as economists would like.

Author of ‘Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us’
No one has written quite so compellingly about this topic as Daniel Pink, best-selling author, most recently, of “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us,” and the speaker at this year’s Education Partners Luncheon. The annual event is sponsored by AchieveMpls and takes place Nov. 11 from 11:30 to 1 p.m. at The Depot in downtown Minneapolis. Details can be found here.

Tickets are a spendy $100, but Pink’s thoughts on the changing world of work — and the best way to position kids to flourish in it — are inspiring. And the bulk of guests’ money goes to support the work of the nonprofit, which creates private-sector support for Minneapolis Public Schools.

The dangers of too much extrinsic pressure are also the topic of “Race to Nowhere,” a documentary that will be shown Nov. 12 at the City of Lakes Waldorf School, at 2344 Nicollet Ave. S. in Minneapolis. Tickets are $10; other details are available on the film’s website.

The work of two documentarian mothers, “Nowhere” takes a look at the intense pressures to achieve we place on kids today. High-stakes tests and hours of nightly homework may not have made America smarter or more competitive, but they have fueled an epidemic of cheating, depression, stress-related illnesses and other horrors, according to the film.

Reviews have been mixed, but two people I know who rarely agree on a lot — Minneapolis Federation of Teachers head Lynn Nordgren and Minneapolis School Board member Chris Stewart — both say it’s eye-opening. 

And as if two marquee documentaries about our broken school system aren’t enough — much-discussed “Waiting for Superman” is still showing in local theaters — the Southern Poverty Law Center will host a screening of “Bullied: A Student, a School and a Case that Made History,” at 7 p.m. Nov. 9 at Minneapolis’ Central Lutheran Church.

Key figures to be present at screening
SPLC Founder Morris Dees, SPLC President Richard Cohen, and Jamie Nabozny, the student portrayed in the film, will speak at the event. Admission is free, but seating is limited so guests must register.

The synopsis from SPLC’s website: ” ‘Bullied’ chronicles the powerful story of a student from Ashland, Wis., who stood up to his anti-gay tormentors with a federal lawsuit. The suit led to a landmark decision that held school officials accountable for not stopping anti-gay bullying.

Article continues after advertisement

“Despite that ruling, anti-LGBT bullying continues to be a severe problem. Today, more than 80 percent of LGBT students report being harassed at school — yet schools across the country are still unwilling or afraid to address anti-gay bullying openly.”

The screening could not be more timely. Anoka-Hennepin schools have made national headlines in recent weeks following the suicides of several bullied teens, some of whom were gay. GLBT rights advocates have criticized  the district’s board for adopting a “curricular neutrality” policy that sent conflicting messages to staff and students.

Perhaps a local showing of “Bullied” will whip up a little intrinsic motivation to tackle the issue.