Battlepanda: Bribe them to do better


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Bribe them to do better

Via Matt Yglesia, I find this post by Eduwonk which argues convincingly for an idea that I found kind of quackish when I first heard of it -- bribing kids to do better at school.
Playing the piano eventually becomes its own reward, but countless parents have used every kind of bribe to encourage their kids to practice more. Nothing wrong with that: The kids don't need to love piano while they're kids; they just need to learn it so they can love it when the time comes. And reading, unlike piano, is something kids need to learn whether they ever love it or not.
Shouldn't learning be its own reward? Sure, in a perfect world why not. But just let me tell you that I don't think learning for it's own reward is something a large proportion of kids enjoy for most of their classes, the classes that they have to do well in to get ahead in life. Those of us who are lucky enough to come from affluent, education-focused background learn soon enough that getting good grades is its own reward -- in terms of approbation from parents and teachers, satisfaction from achieving a difficult goal and most importantly of all, as a tiny rung on the ladder that leads to a place at a great college, which in turn is built up as the first step towards having a good life. Now, a lot of parents over do it, and I certainly don't think this system is perfect. But you can see where I'm going -- kids from affluent background don't just do better because they are more likely to fall in love with learning, there are a lot of stick-and-carrot pressures out there that causes their behavior to conform to that of a good student.

Sure, it's not as if disadvantaged kids are unexposed to the "you need to do well at school to succeed" message. But I'm sure that message rings a little hollow when the lives adults in the community around you do not seem to bear out the truth of this bromide. Pizza parties, gift certificates and petty amounts of cash might not be a great subtitute for the constant, pervasive , steady and supportive atmosphere for encouraging learning in more affluent and highly educated households, but if it's shown empirically that it works, it's better than a kick in the teeth.