Should We Pay Our Kids to Learn?

I have to share with you a terrific article in today's Los Angeles Times, by Wendy Grolnick and Kathy Seal, authors of Pressured Parents, Stressed-out Kids: Dealing With Competition While Raising a Successful Child:
the new school year begins, some kids will be leaving class with more
than just books and homework assignments. They could also be getting

Programs that pay kids to learn are expanding rapidly
across the country. In New York City, the school system gives fourth-
and seventh-graders in 59 schools $5 to $50 for taking standardized
tests. In Tucson, some students get $100 a month if they show up at
school every day and maintain at least a C-minus average. Another New
York City program that offers up to $1,000 for passing Advanced
Placement tests has paid out nearly $1 million to 1,161 students. A
Texas program also pays for top AP scores, and similar initiatives are
being rolled out in six more states. And beginning this fall, 14 middle
schools in Washington will pay 3,000 students for attending class,
arriving promptly, turning in homework, getting high grades and using
good manners.

While that might sound good to some parents who are looking for ways to motivate their kids, dozens of research studies advise parents and educators to just say no, according to Grolnick and Seal. Read the entire story here. Good food for thought.

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6 Responses to “Should We Pay Our Kids to Learn?”

  1. //de says:

    Learning is its own reward. Life is a learning experience. I once had a friend whose parents paid him to take showers more regularly. Really. Did that help him realize that hygiene is “not dumb” or did it play into his stupidity and make it into a revenue stream? In the same way, the real lesson kids learn when paid to “learn” is that laziness is rewarding. Rather than being excited to learn, kids are “taught” that the establishment is the center fixture. In reality, if you must pay a child to learn, you are not doing it right. It is to roll a boulder up hill. Bjarne Nicolaisen has a great approach to fixing this in his controversial book “EARTH - The Cure.”
    Many of his characters learn the equivalent of a masters degree in business administration and geology in several months, and before age 14. I agree with his premise that we have got to learn how to teach properly. Right now we are forcing absorption of ideas which are really not valuable, and we avoid truly valuable concepts that naturally ignite excitement to live, not to learn. Living, for humans, is learning.

  2. Kathy Sena says:

    What a wonderful, thoughtful comment. Thanks so much for adding to the discussion here in a really meaningful way!

  3. Great article summarizing a phenomenon that all educators should be familiar with, and it would be nice if all parents were as well. I was a teacher for 10 years prior to my career as a child & family therapist). Kids are ALREADY motivated to learn. It is part of how human beings are wired. Even chimps will solve puzzles for the challenge without any reward. The reason we are tempted to pay students to learn (which the research is clear is counterproductive) is that we don’t go to the trouble to find ways to show them how the learning we propose is pertinent in practical ways for their lives.
    Doing so takes more work, more skill, and more thought on the part of both the teacher and the school system. As school curriculum is arrived at via political processes, and these processes are complex and bureaucratic in nature, it is not to surprising that we end up with simplistic solutions like testing the cr** out of kids to “raise standards” and coming up with sweeping programs with clever names designed to look like they are doing something, and which are mandated while not funded. The programs are analogous to the Department of Homeland Security taking your fingernail clippers away to make you feel safer. It doesn’t address the actual problem, but it supposed to look like it does.
    I don’t know of any easy answers. I only know from my training and experience in both education and psychology that the authors are talking about research that is very well established, and that is important. I also know that for instruction to be effective you need 1) To SHOW kids and discuss with them how the learning in question will be practically useful to them. 2) You need curriculum that is actually potentially practically useful (there is no help for irrelevant curriculum.). 3) Relationship with the teacher is paramount, you can’t just “deliver” instruction without a relational context. Kids will work harder for someone that really knows them, and that has a bit of time to relate to them as a person rather than as a curriculum swallowing automaton.Having some time to address how the child actually learns best is also important. 4) Kids need to have some choice in how, and what they learn. They don’t like being told exactly what and how to learn any more than you want your boss to mircomanage how your deliver a certain result. In other words provide parameters and let them make some choices between those.
    Class sizes, size of school and whether you pay a decent enough wage to attract bright, creative people into teaching are among many other important variables. This article though is wonderful food for thought on an important topic that is not currently common knowledge. I’m glad to see it in the LA Times and in this blog.

  4. Elleln says:

    Kathy, thanks for this blog! Last year I paid my teenage daughter $1 for each time she practiced flute. If she practiced 5 days in a row she got a bonus of $5. It worked great…for a whopping four days. now I know why!
    Michael, great comments…. “…we don’t go to the trouble to find ways to show them how the learning we propose is pertinent in practical ways for their lives.
    Doing so takes more work, more skill, and more thought on the part of both the teacher and the school system.” So True!!!!
    We have so many great teachers out there. Requiring teachers to “teach to the test” has taken away their creative juices that spill out onto the kids in the class. Hopefully the pendulum will swing back the other way soon.

  5. ElleIn addressed a problem that is and has been rampant for decades: parents paying their children for good grades/report cards at the end of semesters. In our current culture of Yes-Parenting, many youngster quickly catch on that they will get the toy or techy new product they want whether they save the dollars “earned” from good grades or not. As with the flute comment, dollars for grades doesn’t work for long. Sealy and the research demonstrate that money is not the way to encourage learning. A better approach is to let children know that poor grades are unacceptable to you and should be to them. Show your disappointment; stop rewarding good academic performances with anything beyond, “You should be very proud of yourself.” In the end, most children want to please their parents.

  6. Kathy Sena says:

    Ellen, Susan and Michael, thanks for these WONDERFUL comments. You are all adding so much value to this discussion and I can’t thank you enough. I’m learning a lot here!