Cash as incentive to behave?

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A fellow WordPress blogger brought my attention to the following article: D.C. Tries Cash as a Motivator In Schools. In a nutshell, students earn points through good behavior and can exchange these points against money.

Some might argue that exchanging points for money is the same as exchanging them for prizes, a practice already in place in many classrooms. I myself attended a school that had such a system in place. And while it might offer the right incentive for students to behave, the concept of giving money to children in exchange for good behavior leaves me a little cold.

However, I don’t mind the practice of exchanging points for presents. The symbolism of receiving a little gift as a reward for good behavior seems to be benign and has been efficient for decades, if not centuries (Santa’s list of naughty versus nice, anyone?). The symbolism and significance of receiving a gift is very different from the significance of receiving money. Money is associated with pleasure, certainly, but also with consumerism, materialism, power and greed. Do we really want to associate in the minds of our children something that represents all these things with good behavior?

It also seems to be yet another quick fix, that the school board is putting its hopes in what it hopes to be an easy, short-term, band-aid solution. Giving money or even present to students as an incentive to behave doesn’t address the cause for the misbehavior. Even worse: giving children from a poor neighborhood cash incentive might even encourage students to pretend that they are behaving; they will never be identified as children who need more attention and thus the root causes will never be addressed.

A better solution might be to use the money to create after-school activities centered on service and the promotion of the well-being of the members of the community. Students who have behaved would be put in charge of these projects – this would associate good behavior with success, but also with being in a position to do good in the world. Also, by associating good behavior with service, we are teaching our children that pleasure and, invariably, happiness are both related to the well-being of everyone in the community rather than to their exclusive personal well-being.

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