It is a human desire to please those we love. It is also quite human to try and please those who have the power to enrich or empower us.
“I have more than once observed to Lady Catherine that her charming daughter seemed born to be a duchess, and that the most elevated rank, instead of giving her consequence, would be adorned by her. — These are the kind of little things which please her ladyship, and it is a sort of attention which I conceive myself peculiarly bound to pay.” – Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice, Vol. 1, Ch. 14
In considering how to motivate learners to good learning, I have considered first the external motivations, then have begun to consider the internal motivation of fear, first considering ignorance, than materialism. So now I turn to this fear, the fear of violating other’s expectations for me.
Parental expectations are probably the most common issue here. I will not enter into a psychological review of this, but rather admit that many students simply fear upsetting Mom or Dad and thus seek to get good grades in school. Or they fear what some future employer or a college may expect of them, so they go about earning the diploma or grade they perceive will unlock those future expectations. But such motivations are temporary at best. At some point they no longer promote good learning. I am not sure they ever promote true learning, but push students into the way of an education almost by reluctance. “I don’t want to really learn, but they want me to, and I want to please them, or at least not get in trouble with them, so I will learn because they want me to.”
Every teacher meets with this regularly, but overcoming it is difficult. The desire to please is not always bad. But there are greater motives than this. Perhaps this issue highlights one aspect of motivation: there is are greater and lesser motives. The summum bonum, considered regularly on this blog, is the greatest motivation. To get a good job or keep from getting grounded are good motives. To obtain a better life by seeking its highest good is a much better motive than the others.
This smaller motive or fear can be overcome by something greater than itself. And I don’t mean fastening the student on graduate school rather than just a Bachelors. I mean that the Greatest can overcome the simply Good. This again is an issue of appetites. Wanting, desiring, seeking the positively best will help the student overcome fears about the lesser things.
The only help I know for this is to find teachers who love higher things. A teacher seeking truth is going to spark that passion in others if they get the chance. A good school will seek such teachers and then seek to keep them, and get them near as many students as they can. Keeping all the right people properly flattered can then be left for folks like Mr. Collins (may their tribe find an island far away from me).