Alfie Kohn’s principle’s of education

Principles are important. They are the natural laws that govern things. Only when we understand them can we start to make progress with theory (understanding things) and practice (getting things done). Take for example the field of physics. It has, as its principles some things like: “everything has a cause”, “time only moves forward”, “you can’t create something out of nothing”, and “one thing can’t be at two places at the same time”. If you don’t accept these principles then your going to have a hard time doing physics. You can try to argue that some things have no cause and time can move backwards, but you’ll just make it really hard on yourself because you’ll have to commit to unwrapping and re-explaining the rest of physics which are based on those principles. And more often than not, you’ll be arguing against an underlying truth. As Stephen Covey says, when you know and accept a principle, you have “knowledge of things as they are” (not as you wish them to be). Further, he tells us those who don’t believe in principles to “consider the absurdity of attempting to live an effective life based on their opposites.” Imagine if these principles were not true, then you’ll quickly see who is right or wrong. So with that, let’s look at Alfie Kohn’s principles of education [1]. And while we read them, think about the opposite. While Kohn’s principles may not be rock-solid foundation principles, they get very close to the ‘core’ of education.

  1. Students forget most of the facts they learn in class
  2. Knowing a lot of facts doesn’t mean you are smart
  3. It’s easier to learn something if you’re interested in it
  4. It is harder to make someone interested in something if they are forced to learn it
  5. We shouldn’t be doing things for the sake of raising test scores
  6. Students are more likely to succeed when they are loved and cared for
  7. Children need to develop in many ways, not just academics
  8. Something is not better because it’s “harder”
  9. Kids are not a small version of adults
  10. Substance is more important than labels

And now reread these. Think about all the policies and practices that forget or ignore these principles. The result? Lots of pain, waste, expense, hostility and outright failure. And in the end, it’s just the kids that suffer.


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