Motivation as a Physics

The word motivation derives from the Latin word ‘movere’ which means to move. 

The study of the motivation could be described as the study of how and why people move. When viewed this way, the complexity of behavior is boiled down to a series of movements. 

Ordinarily, the study of how and why things move is called Physics. 

There have been two principal world-views in the field of Physics over the past two millennia. 

The first worldview was developed by Aristotle. Aristotle believed that things move because of internal forces. Everything in the natural world has an internal ‘nature’ or ‘soul.’ This internal nature guides the object towards its natural resting place. A seed grows into a tree because of its nature. 

The second worldview was developed by Isaac Newton. Newton believed that things move because of external forces. This is reflected in his laws of motion – an object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by an external force. An object at rest stays at rest unless acted upon by an external force. 

How do these two concepts from Physics inform our understanding of how we educate children? 

If we take a Newtonian view, we might suppose that a child at rest will stay at rest unless he is acted upon by an adult. We might focus on external motivators like grades, test scores, and approval or disapproval in order to motivate him to learn. 

If we take an Aristotelian view, we would assume that a child who is placed in a nourishing environment and given freedom will by nature explore, play, create, learn, and develop. A boy reaches his natural natural resting place when he becomes a man. An Aristotelian approach would trust that this boy will be guided by internal forces and intrinsic motivators like curiosity and the natural desire to know, to grow, and to develop.

Our current education system takes a Newtonian approach to student motivation. What would it look like if we took an Aristotelian approach? 

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