teachChangeNote: Howard Hendricks went to be with the Lord on Feb 20, 2013. This is part of a series of articles published in his honor.

The number one problem in education today is the failure to motivate learners … to get them off the dime and into action.

The longer I teach, the more convinced I am that a person’s MQ—his Motivation Quotient—is more important than his IQ.

I’ve seen students who by graduation time are highly qualified to be utterly useless. Their problem isn’t lack of ability. We determined they had ability before we admitted them as students. No, their problem was lack of application. There was nothing to capture and direct their ability and energy. They were not motivated to apply themselves.

The Law of Encouragement is this: Teaching tends to be most effective when the learner is properly motivated.

Underline the word properly in that definition, because it tells us there’s such a thing as improper motivation—illegitimate motivation that can bring devastating results.

One form of it is what I call lollipop motivation: “Son, behave yourself in church this morning, and I’ll buy you an ice-cream cone.” Or, “Memorize two hundred verses of Scripture, and we’ll send you to camp for a week.” Now those sound good, and they can make students do good things. But it’s altogether possible that those good things will not have good results.

When I was youth director in a church in Illinois, a boy in the junior department had memorized six hundred verses word perfectly. We even had him on a Christian radio program and tested him on the air.

Later we were told someone apparently was stealing money from the junior-department offering each Sunday. A committee was appointed to investigate, and—you guessed it—the kid who knew the six hundred verses was the culprit.

I called him into my office and repeated to him a verse of Scripture (which, by the way, he told me I misquoted). I said, “Do you see any connection between that verse of Scripture and your stealing from the offering?”

“No,” he said at first. And then, “Well, maybe there is.”

“What do you think is the connection?” “I got caught,” he said.

So doing good things does not ensure good results. It’s all determined by the motivation.

Teaching to Change Lives: Seven Proven Ways to Make Your Teaching Come Alive by Howard Dr Hendricks