In government, business, and personal life, bribery is considered a no-no. Sure, some people accept money or other favors, especially in countries like Thailand, where it’s almost de rigeur. But “nice” people don’t accept bribes. And you certainly wouldn’t expect to get a little “sumpin-sumpin” slipped under the table for just doing your job.
According to a recent article in TIME magazine, education researchers are doing just that — bribing students to get better grades, score higher on tests, stay out of trouble, or just read books. The results, unsurprisingly, were good. Students read more, and as far as they knew how to change the grades or test scores, tried to do better overall. The study found, in fact, that students were able to better achieve when the goal was measurable, like getting paid per book read, rather than a more nebulous “improve grades/test scores”, which, as any teacher knows, very few students have any inkling of the process of doing so.
When I initially read the article, I thought, “Wow! Kids are doing better on reading! They are staying out of trouble! How wonderful! Just think how much better they’ll do when they get to high school if they have a good foundation of reading and studying in elementary school!” Then it hit me. Students in second grade were getting paid $2 per book read (and quiz taken to prove said reading). So what would be the “fee” for books read, homework done, or grades raised when these students got to fifth grade, ninth grade, or twelfth grade? How much of a school district’s budget would go towards bribe money? And what would happen when the students graduated and went on to college, where they would be doing the paying?
Those who look on the bright side (which usually tends to be me) would say, “Oh, by that time the students will be motivated by a love of learning and will learn because of the intrinsic benefits.” Not bloody likely. Spend some time in a high school twelfth-grade classroom, you know, those who are separated by a few short months from “real life” and college, and you will quickly reassess.
For that matter, how many of us do something purely from a love of learning? Would you, having once been paid for running on a treadmill, be likely to continue once the payments had stopped? Yes, I belong to the group of people who pay for access to a gym, and try very hard to go often enough for my health insurance to kick in that benefit of paying for two-thirds of it. Oh, wait. I’m getting some form of kickback, aren’t I? Hmmm…
It was brought up in the article that “adults get paid for their jobs. A student’s job is school, so they should get paid.” I’ve heard that said, by high school students, whose only real gripe was that they had to stay in school until they were 18. They didn’t do any actual work, so the problem was just that they had to get out of bed, dress in a uniform, make some pretense at coming to school at some point in the morning (and maybe leave after lunch), turn in one or two assignments a quarter (just enough to complain that they had DONE work when they got the F), and quit showing up the second they hit that birthday. Oh, and they were too busy working that after-school job to do homework, so really, they couldn’t be expected to turn in the assignments anyway.
Honestly, I’m torn. In my heart of hearts, I guess I’m still the idealist who wants to believe that students should be “inspired” to learn, and that teachers, if they are really good teachers, can accomplish that inspiration. Unfortunately, having spent one year in a spoiled-brat private school and two in an inner-city school (where above scenario was compiled, although the private school students’ attitudes weren’t much better), my inner idealist is a bit battered and a bit more cynical. Maybe paying students to learn is one answer. I don’t like it, but if it works, maybe it’s what we need. I hate to believe it has to be that way — I’m scared of the consequences down the road when the bribed students grow up. Is there some other way to motivate students? Maybe we just need to keep trying everything all the time. But maybe we can find something else other than bribery to achieve our goals, just because it doesn’t set a good precedent, whether it works or not.
(Do I get paid for this blog?)