A telling arena for observing ethical human behavior is the human treatment of nonhuman animals. How one treats or mistreats animals is a decision mostly grounded in his or her ethical beliefs. This article examines animal ethics and discusses the value of intrinsic motivation through the lens of teaching a freshman animal ethics. In addition, this opinion piece argues the merit of the pass/fail paradigm in lieu of the traditional grading paradigm by using the triad of Kohn's (1999) intrinsic motivation, Thorndike's (1913) law of readiness, and Bandura's (1997) social cognitive notion of self-regulation while exploring the human ethical notions related to learning about animal rights.
Keywords: intrinsic motivation; animal ethics; ethics; social cognitive regulation
The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.
A telling arena for observing ethical human behavior is the human treatment of nonhuman animals. How one treats or mistreats animals is a decision mostly grounded in his or her ethical beliefs. In the fall of 2011, I taught a 1-hour course for my university called "Introduction to Animal Rights." The course was only available to incoming freshmen and was offered by the Department of University Studies (USTU). It became an interesting opportunity to introduce ethics to college freshmen by introducing them to animal rights. I have a great intrinsic interest in animal ethics, and I was uncertain whether I would be able to motivate students who required extrinsic motivation in the subject of animal ethics/rights. I am typically unsuccessful with that particular endeavor. In short, something else besides my teaching skills was required to get students interested in the subject at hand.
Animal rights is often considered a prerogative of the fringe, but this is incorrect. Animal rights may be closely tied to human rights; one with compassion for animals may very likely have more compassion for humans than the average citizen. The biocentric worldview is an egalitarian one that is not solely focused on animal well-being, as some misunderstand it to be. Ethical human behavior may be linked to how one learns as well. If one is engaged in learning about a topic one considers ethically important, one may be more intrinsically motivated to learn about it. During the class, I observed several learning theories at work as we explored human ethical behavior as it related to animal rights and ethics. Furthermore, the course was an opportunity for me to explore the classical grading paradigm and its extrinsic flavor of motivation, which I am not entirely convinced is useful. Applying the concepts and theories of Kohn (1999), Thorndike (1913), and Bandura (1997) illustrates the distinct possibility that the traditional grading structure of assigning grades may not cultivate the highest level of learning. Also, Thorndike and Bandura's theories outlined what happened regarding student motivation in the class. As it turned out, my limited teaching abilities were not an issue because the students were ready to learn the subject and they self-regulated their approach to learning. In addition, the pressure of grades was relieved. More specifically, this opinion piece argues the merit of the pass/fail paradigm by using the triad of Kohn's intrinsic motivation, Thorndike's law of readiness, and Bandura's social cognitive notion of self-regulation while exploring the human ethical notions related to learning about animal rights. Thorndike's law is especially helpful when examining student learning in the subject of animal rights. It is an ethical subject so dominated by polar debate that students cannot approach it with a ready and open mind until they are ready to examine something outside of the status quo.
I believe that learning occurs when one is acting on intrinsic motivation slightly outside of one's comfort level. I have been a lecturer in English for the past 5 years at the same university, and my teaching experience has greatly informed my definition of learning. I believe that learning is the experiential process of acquiring and creatively applying knowledge to various environments. Key terms in this definition include experiential and creatively applying. Learning is an experience, and experience is the ultimate teacher.
Although I possess competent ability in theoretical thinking, a hands-on active approach to learning is where I most excel. In my experience, some define learning as simply acquiring knowledge, and I believe this is too narrow. Learning has occurred when the student can apply the gained knowledge to various problems. Deeper still, learning has truly occurred when the student can creatively apply knowledge to shifting environments. Creative application goes beyond rote memorization or step mastery. When one can take the essence of knowledge and understand how to manipulate it to achieve successful outcomes, one has learned. Finally, it is notable that we constantly occupy dozens of environments simultaneously (mentally, socially, professionally, creatively), and learning helps one maneuver through these various environments with greater ease. Knowing what to apply, and when to apply it, can be the key difference in success and failure.
Moving toward the experience in the USTU course, examination of several of the aforementioned components of learning is appropriate here. Learning, which enhances one's intrinsic motivation, is essential. As discussed at length in Kohn's work Punished by Rewards (1999), extrinsic motivation is not adequate to provide a competent foundation for learning. Intrinsic interest must be present. I also believe everyone is intrinsically motivated; however, some may not have intrinsic motivation for certain aspects of compulsory education. If more educational programs existed in which students could learn what they wanted and even design-with guidance-a learning approach to the subject, more true lifelong learning would take place. This is related to my belief that the grading paradigm of a certain percentage being attached to a certain letter grade is outmoded and counterproductive.
In my current lectureship, the most crucial aspect being taught in any of the 13 separate courses I currently teach at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga is critical thinking. It is safe to say that a central goal of virtually every university is encouraging students to be intrinsically motivated to critically think about topics of great importance. Living the thoughtful and reflective life is paramount in the 21st century. Kamenetz (2010) posits that the best hope is to inspire individuals to seek and find questions by themselves. She writes "forget about giving the guy a fish, or teaching how to fish, either. Teach him how to teach himself, and he'll always be able to acquire the skills he needs to find food" (p. 134). The ability to enhance students' intrinsic motivation and to impart critical thinking skills to them is of utmost importance. A hallmark of humanity's intelligence is curiosity. According to Kamenetz, humans are "hard-wired to learn and discover" (p. 134). In the fall of 2011, in the USTU course called Introduction to Animal Rights, I encountered an example of what happens when students are intrinsically motivated.
Having written and spoken on the topic of animal ethics across the United States since 2007, I have developed some ethos on the subject and was pleased to be selected by the university where I teach to deliver a freshman course on animal rights. Again, the USTU special topics courses are limited to students with fewer than 24 hours and are graded on a pass/fail basis. The goal is to expose them to critical thinking. Animal ethics is a very appropriate subject matter for such a task. Although the course was titled Introduction to Animal Rights, it was more accurately an introduction to the-admittedly less sexy and less politicized-field of animal ethics. The general populace (not to mention the general incoming freshman populace) typically does not have a delineated notion of animal ethics versus animal rights. Because of this, it was hoped that the more popular term animal rights would draw more students to the course. Succinctly, animal rights is one approach to the umbrella field of animal ethics. The field is very broad with many subfields, with much unfortunate internecine fighting between all of them. Animal ethics can be defined as simply the study of human interaction with nonhuman animals (my definition). To be more specific, the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics (2006) posits that animal ethics
is inspired by the work of ethicists and philosophers who have pioneered new perspectives on animals; is informed by scientific work indicating that animals are sentient and possess complex systems of awareness; seeks to relate these insights to how we treat animals today; questions the "old view" of animals as simply things, machines, tools, commodities, or resources, put here for our use, and holds that all sentient beings have intrinsic value and should be treated with respect. (para. 1)
Animal rights is one branch of animal ethics, which maintains that humans should value nonhuman animals intrinsically and should not use them (i.e., for food, clothing, entertainment, experimentation). Competing branches include animal welfare, which maintains that humans can use nonhumans but that use must be humane and as free from suffering as possible. Animal welfare commonly argues for reforms to various industries and will argue that if one is to eat meat, one should only eat local, organic, free-range meat (as one small example). Other philosophies abound, and they are all arguably tied to human ethical behavior. There is the camp calling themselves abolitionists who believe nonhuman animals are enslaved by a hopelessly egocentric humanity, and nonhumans must be liberated at all costs from all captive situations. Also populating the field of animal ethics are enlightened anthropocentrism, biocentrism, deep ecology, and many other factions under the umbrella term of animal ethics. And, of course, there is the traditional anthropocentrism which posits humanity as the crux of creation (often because of religious myth) and that it can use nonhumans in any way it deems fit with no moral considerations or regard to welfare whatsoever. Needless to say, animal ethics is a complex world with many nuances and variances of philosophy. Rare is the person who can discuss animal ethics with those who are opposed to his or her own views without becoming emotional. So complicated is the field that some coworkers questioned my decision to teach the course, which would be populated with incoming freshmen. Could these 18-year-olds handle this complex subject with the pathos control so necessary to talk about such a disturbing and complex ethical world? I decided, why not? What happened-as it would turn out-was quite surprising. After all, if one is compassionate toward nonhumans, one may be more compassionate toward his or her own species.
The only assignments in the course were readings and reflective journal entries. Each week, I would post readings on the course's Website. Their homework was to read them all, write a reflective journal entry of two pages, and come to class the next week ready to discuss the readings. The journals were free responses, and if they met the few parameters of length, format, and response to at least two readings, they would get full credit. Grammar did not count. Style was completely up to them. There were not even restrictions against first or second person point of view. The director of the USTU first-year studies program did not want the extrinsic pressure of grades hanging over the student's heads. The pure idea was that they would read about a subject they are intrinsically interested in and engage in the class. To me, with my limited experience at the time, this was a grand experiment. I was certain that the students would not read the material and the journals would be perfunctory and childish. After all, animal ethics is a subject very dear to me; I have a great intrinsic interest in it and-as mentioned-I was uncertain I would be able to motivate students who required extrinsic motivation.
Just weeks into the class, I noticed that the journal entries and the conversations that these students were having were of upper division quality. This was shocking. The pressure of grades was removed, and the quality of the students' class participation soared. They read all the suggested material (nothing was "required"), and they wrote far beyond the suggested one-page limit for journal entries. Their thoughts were deep, probing, and inspiring, not at all typical of incoming freshmen. The first week of class, these students seemed absolutely average; however, by midterm, they were engaging in high-level discussion of a very complex issue. All of these students possessed a previous interest in animal ethics and/or animal rights. They were ready to learn more about the subject. I teach at all levels in the university, and this class of freshmen was the most engaged group I've experienced in my 5 years of teaching freshmen. Surprisingly, they were the ones whose grades counted least and who seemed to care the most about the assignments undertaken. I believe it is because they were intrinsically motivated and freed from the confining paradigm of grades. Because of this, they advanced their learning a great deal. Theory appears to support the fact that the notion of intrinsic motivation cannot be overstressed.
THORNDIKE AND BANDURA
The grades were not motivating the students in the previous example; in fact, they were told that if they showed up and turned in all their journal entries, they would pass the class. I do not put much credence in Skinner's notion of reward conditioning. I have an alliance with cognitive and constructivist theories which posit that it is the expectation of reward, rather than the reward itself, that motivates behavior (Schunk, 2012). The only true motivator is intrinsic interest, I believe. How one can help a student develop this is unknown to me at this time; however, the idea of intrinsic motivation rests on the work of Thorndike (1913), which heavily influences my understanding of learning. Thorndike's law of readiness states that "when one is prepared (ready) to act, to do so is rewarding and not to do so is punishing" (Schunk, 2012, p. 75). When a student is prepared to learn information, this is the only time he or she will truly undergo the time-consuming experiential process of acquiring and creatively applying knowledge to various environments. Thorndike's law is especially intriguing when one considers the "punishment" aspect of it. Not only is it seen as rewarding to act, once one is ready, but is also experienced as a personal punishment not to do so. To apply this to the context of intrinsically motivated learning can yield intriguing statements. For example, if a student is ready to attend university because of intrinsic motivation alone, one will see the various trials as opportunities for learning, whereas others may view them as hoops through which to jump. In fact, if a student is truly ready to attend university, he or she will consider it a punishment if he or she is not able to attend. In my course, the students were involved in doing the best they could. It seemed that if they didn't try their hardest, they would somehow be disappointing the world of animal rights, which is a world most of them care about. Many of the students-much like many people who identify as animal rights activists-view animal rights as an area of needed social change, which can lead to a kinder and more nuanced humanity. These students were largely ready to act in the process of learning about animal ethics. Thorndike's concept of "readiness" was evidently in action.
A second theory informing this opinion is certain portions of Bandura's (1997) social cognitive theory. When one is ready to act (in the realm of learning), one will employ Bandura's self-regulation and get to the business of learning. A central focus of social cognitive theory is that people desire "to control the events that affect their lives" and to perceive themselves as agents with control (Schunk, 2012, p. 122). Once persons are intrinsically motivated and are ready to learn and view themselves as agents ready to control the events affecting their lives, they will engage in my definition of learning, which is the experiential process of acquiring and creatively applying knowledge to various environments. My artistic approach to education and learning informs the notion of creatively applying knowledge to various environments. The penultimate word in this definition gives credence to the fact that education does not only happen in traditional schools. The world is a complex amalgam of areas that require the individual to learn successfully the various means of navigation. When these elements work in concert, true and lasting learning occurs. Having seen too many extrinsically motivated, or simply unmotivated, students pass through my university's halls, it appears apparent that true learning depends on the tripartite elements of intrinsic motivation a la Kohn (1993), enactment of Thorndike's (1913) law of readiness, and Bandura's social cognitive notion of self-regulation. In short, when people are ready to learn about something they are interested in because they are recognizing their agency to affect their personal situation, they learn.
At this point, it may be helpful to examine Bandura's (1997) self-regulation more closely. Boeree (2006) called Bandura's notion of controlling one's own behavior one of the workhorses of human personality theory. Self-regulation consists of three steps, and these were reflected in my experience of teaching Introduction to Animal Rights. Using Boeree's paraphrasing of the three steps. The first one is "Self-observation. We look at ourselves, our behavior, and keep tabs on it" (p. 185). The students seemed keenly interested in the other students' ideas and journal entries. Often, when I would arrive in class, I would overhear conversations regarding the week's reading. They were asking one another their respective opinions on the various topics. They observed each other's performance in the class and appeared to keep track of who did what. For example, one student was an avid hunter, and the other classmates often sought her opinions on various topics ranging from mass-confinement factory-farming to canned big-game hunts. They learned and remembered who was a vegan, who was a meat eater, and whose main topic of interest was shark finning, as well as other details regarding other classmates. They observed each other and kept tabs.
The second element of Bandura's self-regulation-judgment-is when humans make comparisons of what they see with a standard (Boeree, 2006). My students believed that I was an expert on animal ethics although I repeatedly denied this. I have some ethos, no doubt. However, my master's degree is in creative writing. Students were invested in the class, and they wanted their work to be of high quality even though mere completion got them the "grade." I was surprised and refreshed because their polemic discussions were controlled and respectful, and the theme of the class quickly became acceptance of others' views regarding animals. After all, one of the largest issues the animal rights world currently faces is the humorless fanaticism that is all too often featured in the media. True animal advocates are accepting of others' ideas; however, the stereotype of the animal advocate is one of inflexible judgment. The students were very concerned about not embodying this stereotype. They judged themselves against the standard of behavior and decorum evident in their classmates and me. Supporting animal rights is simply being opposed to causing undue suffering to living creatures. This is hardly controversial.
The third element of self-regulation is self-response. If one does well in comparison with your standard, one tends to give oneself rewarding self-responses. Conversely, if one did poorly, punishing self-responses are applied (Boeree, 2006). Because my students' grades were assured simply by completing the assignments, one might expect incoming freshmen not to take assignments too seriously. Although a few students often did blow offtheir journal entries or turn in minimal entries, most of them worked hard on their assignments and talked to me often regarding the quality of their responses. They were curious regarding my response to what they had written and about what their classmates had written. It appeared that most of the students held themselves to a high standard. This was a subject they self-identified with, and they wanted to do well in it. Some of them repeatedly asked if their ideas were new, if I had heard of their theories before. When I said I had heard of some of them, it seemed that they were disappointed. These students wanted to offer new angles on the complex issue of animal ethics. They wanted to innovate, to creatively approach the topic of animal ethics. Some of them may have done so. The reason the class seemed so successful, in my opinion, is that the students held themselves to a chosen standard, not an imposed one. I was a guide to this world, not a professor or a teacher. I was not Zeus grumbling down the mountain at the little folk. I was simply a Socratic guide helping them toward a unique and personal understanding of the subject at hand. They wanted to excel because they were truly interested in the subject. Furthermore, many of them told me that they put more time into their journal entries than other classes they were taking, which were more traditionally graded. Given the traditional grading paradigm at our university, this may have had negative consequences in their other courses-I hope not.
MOVING TOWARD THE FUTURE
As mentioned, everyone is intrinsically motivated to do something. Some may simply not be intrinsically motivated to perform all of the elements involved in higher education. The doctor of education degree program that I am enrolled in has a high degree of freedom in designing much of the degree and the dissertation. I am highly motivated to undertake this form of learning, although a more traditional approach interests me much less. I was enrolled in a more traditional doctor of philosophy program and leftit because of a lack of interest. I don't think I am a huge minority in wanting to have creative freedom in my pursuit of higher education. If more educational programs existed that allowed for more freedom in the choosing of coursework, truer lifelong learning would take place. Again, the grading paradigm of a certain percentage being attached to a certain letter grade may be outmoded and counterproductive. Critical thinking is everything, and everything is a type of critical thinking. To live the thoughtful and reflective life is most enjoyably done in a limitless environment of freedom and self-agency. There is no law that says this cannot happen in university undergraduate programs.
Stated again, my current definition of learning is the experiential process of acquiring and creatively applying knowledge to various environments. This extends learning beyond the walls of academe into the everyday world of the human animal and its social habitat. Ultimately, learning is fully undertaken when a learner is intrinsically motivated, enacts Thorndike's (1913) law of readiness, and actively engages in what Bandura (1997) deemed self-regulation. Animal rights and animal ethics are complex issues requiring detailed and focused study. Learning about animal rights best happens in the previously outlined triadic learning paradigm. Unfortunately, if one is not ready to seriously consider the status of animals in our contemporary society, one will not give the matter proper consideration. Thorndike and Bandura combined with intrinsic motivation may be the best case scenario for approaching this topic. In essence, learning is largely self-directed, although it is useful for humans to have guides who can help them on their continual lifelong journey of acquiring knowledge and creatively applying it to various environments. This environment leads to the constant purview of the human animal to constantly learn.
Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: Freeman.
Boeree, G. (2006). Albert Bandura, 1925-present. Retrieved from http://webspace.ship.edu/cgboer/ bandura.html
Kamenetz, A. (2010). DIY U: Edupunks, Edupreneurs, and the coming transformation of higher education. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green.
Kohn, A. (1999). Punished by rewards: The trouble with gold stars, incentive plans, A's, praise, and other bribes. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.
Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics. (2006). Pioneering ethical perspectives on animals through academic research, teaching, and publication. Retrieved from http://www.oxfordanimalethics.com/aboutthe- centre/animal-ethics/
Schunk, D. (2012). Learning theories: An educational perspective. Boston, MA: Pearson.
Skinner, B. F. (1938). The behavior of organisms: An experimental analysis. New York: Appleton- Century- Crofts.
Thorndike, E. L. (1913). Educational psychology: The psychology of learning (Vol. 2) New York, NY: Teachers College, Columbia University.
M. Jaynes, MA
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
M. Jaynes teaches English, Humanities, and Women's Studies at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. He is working on a doctorate of education researching atypical leadership. He also writes about animal ethics. His book, Elephants Among Us: Two Performing Elephants in Twentieth Century America is forthcoming in 2013 from Earth Books.
Correspondence regarding this article should be directed to M. Jaynes, MA, Lecturer in English, English Department, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. E-mail: Michaelfirstname.lastname@example.org…