Clapham Christian Classical School

Clapham Journal

Children as Persons: Intrinsic Motivation

by Christine Escareno, Director of Instruction (Lower School)

The teacher looked up from the student’s written narration. Her smile, her eyes, her gentle nudge communicated authority with a knowledge of that child and expectation for his work. The student grinned, took the paper and returned to his seat. He knew he had not done his best work; he had not done the work of learning.

Intrinsic Motivation


At Clapham, we base many of our educational principles on the philosophy of Charlotte Mason. At the base of this philosophy is the belief that “children are born persons”, made in the image of God, with infinite possibilities. Because of this, any use of authority must be thoughtful, always seeking the growth of a child and never manipulative, ”whether by the direct use of fear or love, suggestion or influence or by undue play upon any one natural desire” (Mason 81).


In recent weeks, I have become more aware of how often as a mother I use “my tone of voice,” “my praise,” or “an emotion” to ensure certain behaviors in my children. I often emphasize the immediate behavior instead of strengthening the character I long to build. I hadn’t fully considered how such actions demean my children as persons and inhibit their growth in virtue and self-control.


Such manipulation is also found in many learning environments. Children receive stickers on completed assignments, a teacher takes advantage of a child’s desire to please, a boy crams for a high mark on a test but actually hates the subject he is studying or worse yet, remembers little about it. In all these instances, we are treating children as less than persons, using our authority to manipulate their actions, drawing them to false idols instead of to their creator God and the world he has made in time and space.


Stop. Consider. Celebrate.


This aspect of “children as persons” played out in our educational philosophy is a Clapham distinctive.  We do not rely on rewards or praise, personality or entertainment to encourage a child’s participation in the act of learning. These rewards distract children from the goal of learning for the sake of the knowledge itself. Rather, we consider a child’s inherent desire to pursue knowledge for its own sake, to explore ideas rightly set before them. We support a child’s weaknesses, as in the example opening this article, recognizing the “possibilities, capabilities, duties and determining power belonging to [children] as persons” (Mason 29), and continually push them toward growth. We expect that children can rightly assess their own work to know if they have done a worthy job.


At Clapham, children are not being drawn to the praise of a teacher, or the pride of a good mark, to prizes or “Fun Fridays.” They are being drawn to the vivid nature around them, the heroes of history, the masterpieces in art, the order of grammar, the beauty of Latin. They are not merely being asked to comply with certain codes of conduct but are being fed the “mind food” that strengthens character and encourages learning for life.


Mason, Charlotte M. Philosophy of Education.  J.M. Dent and Sons Ltd.,1954.

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