The Daily Beast: Po Bronson: “Why Dumb Toys Make Kids Smarter”:
Our son taught me an extremely valuable lesson. When it comes to kids, we often bring moralistic bias to their interests. There’s a pervasive tendency in our society to label things as either good for children or bad for children. Cultivating children’s natural intrinsic motivation requires abandoning all judgment of good and bad content. Society has a long list of subjects that we’ve determined they should learn. But learning itself is kick-started when enmeshed and inseparable from what a child inherently loves. How many parents are ignoring this, pushing flash cards and phonics cards onto their kids, attempting to trigger learning in an amotivational situation?
My previous book, What Should I Do With My Life?, was a portrait of a generation that had spent the first two decades of life ignoring their intrinsic motivations. They were bright and talented, but had spent so many years doing what was expected of them, and studying what society told them they should study, that they were no longer in touch with their natural desires. They’d been praised endlessly, told they were smart, and had no internal compass when it came to making career decisions. Learning to recognize their own passions was incredibly difficult and stunted. It had been drilled out of them as children.
It’s important to underscore that this isn’t a philosophical argument–it’s a neurological argument. Motivation is experienced in the brain as the release of dopamine. It’s not released like other neurotransmitters into the synapses; instead, it’s sort of spritzed into large areas of the brain, which enhances the signaling of neurons. The motivated brain, literally, operates better, signals faster. Kids learn better.