Education: High School and the University. A means to an end?

Before I begin, I’d like to mention that this post is speaking in generalities. Ordinarily our society has molded us to be motivated extrinsically. In this section we will focus on extrinsic motivation in education, but keep in mind exceptions and variations inevitably exist.

Bueller, Bueller?

So let’s start with high school. Being 17 and 18 years old can be a fun and yet difficult time. We’re pressured in many different ways. We’re told to go to Prom, we’re pressured to find a clique of friends, but most importantly we’re told to apply to colleges. College is quite an emphasized word in high school. We’re told that we should get good grades so we can get accepted in to a college or a university. Without a college diploma it is harder to get a good job or a job that pays as good as someone who does have a degree. The statistics show that someone who has a degree will earn more money in their lifetime than someone who doesn’t. Our motivation in high school for getting good grades and achieving high-test scores tend to become extrinsic.

And once we’re in college, we need to graduate because without the diploma, you’re just another person with a resume without a degree listed on it. But not only is there a high importance to graduating but there is also emphasis on high grades. Part of the criteria for getting a job is your grade point average. And if you want to go to graduate school you need good grades to be accepted. Completing college with high marks is really just a means to an end.

What does this mean if our goal in college is to graduate?

We’re not truly concerned about learning. We are unable to appreciate the education. Why is this?

Because we take classes with the easy professors that have an easy curriculum and give high grades like candy. We study the absolute bare minimum to pass and to get the grade desired. The priority and emphasis is on the future and not the present.

Is there another way? While this mentality has been engrained in our minds there is a better alternative. Going to college is a great experience when you can truly appreciate the education you receive. This is only possible if your motivation is intrinsic; to learn and for the love of wisdom and knowledge (also known as philosophy). Isn’t this the real reason we should go to college? Shouldn’t the priority and emphasis from our counselors to go to college be for learning? I think so. Not only can we appreciate the education and knowledge if we are in college for the sake of learning but we can also retain the material better, too.

Mattern, a researcher in education, studied the benefits of performance-oriented versus mastery-oriented student motivations in the college environment. Performance-oriented students are motivated extrinsically, that is, they are primarily concerned about the result that follows. Mastery oriented students are motivated intrinsically, that is, they are more concerned about learning and understanding the material in a comprehensive way. In one study, Mattern tested both groups and discovered the highest grades came from students who had high mastery-orientations and low-performance approach goals. (2005). Pretty interesting, no?

If we get caught up in an extrinsic mentality we lose sight of what is truly important: the present moment. And in the college environment, the present moment is about learning and receiving as much knowledge as possible.

Until next time, share your thoughts on this mentality and motivation in the world of education. If someone is strictly motivated extrinsically for the diploma, can they appreciate the education they receive?