Teacher Praise and Encouragement: Towards an Education for Democracy

Herner Saeverot


International education tests, such as the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) International Student Assessment (PISA) and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), steer the debate about education, form the image of a school, and specify the goals and objectives of the curriculum. Thus praise, prizes and other positive reinforcements become common methods in school. Through Franz Kafka's Letter to his Father I examine encouragement and teacher praise, which are, when we look into it, held in the grip of behaviourism. I take issue with this dominant thinking and make an attempt to go beyond praise and encouragement as positive reinforcements of desired behaviours that are postulated in advance. I make an educational argument out of Heidegger's phenomenological term, Ereignis, and suggest that teachers ought to praise that which the student is suited for and not only when they have fulfilled the demands of the curriculum. I also make an educational argument out of two Derridaean terms, hospitality and forgiveness, and claim that teachers ought to give back -- through praise and encouragement -- the students' self-respect, whatever their faults. Instead of being manipulative and serving narcissistic needs, praise ought to serve an education for democracy.

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ISSN: 1913-4711