Wednesday, March 03, 2010

I wanna knock your head open and see what's inside.

Today I am going to give you, my readers, a glimpse into my brain. I realize that all my blog posts do that to some extent. But this one is an actual play-by-play of how my mind works. Get ready.

I was watching a documentary on PBS called Surviving the Dust Bowl . I decided to tivo it because I like to learn about history. And other than reading The Grapes of Wrath senior year of high school, I didn't know much about the Dust Bowl. I learned that the Dust Bowl was caused by over farming, combined with lack of rain. If I'm understanding right, it didn't rain any significant amount for 8 years! I learned that animals would die from the dust clouds and when they cut 'em open, they would have two inches of dust in their stomachs. I also learned that there was a guy named Melt who survived the Dust Bowl.

There was a part in the documentary where they called the people leaving the Dust Bowl region for California refugees. "Penniless refugees" to be exact. I paused the program and turned to my husband and said, "They're calling these people refugees? That reminds me of the whole controversy around that term being used during Hurricane Katrina." (That's not an exact quote because this happened like a week ago.) Then I pressed info, and saw that the documentary was made in 1998, way before Hurricane Katrina ever happened.

This example would seem to be a counter to the argument that the use of the term refugee was racially motivated during Katrina. Because while there were probably some black people affected by The Dust Bowl, they sure weren't discussed on this program. So they were referring only to white people when calling them "penniless refugees."

Later, they started talking about how they were trying to get the farmers who were still in the region to start using more earth-friendly farming techniques. At first the farmers had no interest in using these new techniques. Then the government started paying them $1 an acre to do it. I paused the show again, turned to my husband and said, "Why is it never a problem to pay white people to do stuff they should be doing anyway?" I was thinking about our long history of giving white people stuff they don't earn, but getting all butthurt when people of color might get something similar. Then I thought, "I'm going to write a blog post about this." Which brings us to today.

During that last comment, I was thinking specifically about the controversy surrounding paying students to get good grades. Schools around the country are paying kids (mostly kids of color,) for getting A's and B's. Click on the link and read some of the comments that people posted. These kids aren't even getting their money from the school, it's all funded through private donations.

But, how many kids (whose parents can afford it) already get money for getting good grades? I still remember my mom telling me she would get me a camera if I got straight A's in second grade. I was already getting straight A's, but you can bet I took her up on her offer. I even still have the camera somewhere (:

Even if it's just going out to dinner, many families with the financial means provide their children with some reward or incentive for doing well in school. Why do people get so angry when kids whose parents may not have the means get the same opportunity to buy stuff?

So dear readers, what was it like in your household? Was education something that was promoted as important? What if anything, did your parents do to reward you when you excelled? If education wasn't held in high esteem, what was stressed as being the thing that you should be focusing on as a child? What do you think about paying kids to perform? How does the source of the money influence (or not influence,) your beliefs around it's use? I'm interested to hear your thoughts; leave me a comment.


  1. Anonymous3:43 PM

    I well remember receiving one Chuck E. Cheese token for every A on my report card (I believe this was paid for by CEC itself). I also got a free ticket, or maybe two, to the Cleveland Indians games if I got straight A's on a report card (the Indians were terrible and had a much larger stadium back then).

    Fast forward to high school when I not only didn't get paid, but was threatened with grounding if I got a B. :( I'll take the Chuck E. Cheese.

    PS Your bit about the "refugee" brought up a hot button issue for me. Merriem Webster defines a refugee as "one who flees: especially a person who flees to a foreign country or power to escape danger or persecution."

    So I guess in a broad sense both the dust bowl folks and Katrina folks could be considered refugees. But from the standpoint of international law, neither are. The UN defines a refugee to be: "A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.."

    Fear of persecution is the key here. I think people use the word refugee much too loosely today. For example, most immigrants from Latin America are not considered refugees, but people often use the word to describe them. I'm not sure what the correct term is for people who flee natural disaster or economic hardship, but I would be interested to know. Migrants, maybe?

  2. You wouldn't show up to work unless you got a paycheck at the end of the week.

    Kids show up to work (school) daily and are only rewarded with a pat on the back and a few papers with stars and stickers. If your boss gave you a big hug and a pat on the back at the end of the week, you'd be looking for another job.

    Kids can't just leave their job (school) because they don't like the pay. Their supervisors (parents) can cheer them along the way, and that helps. I've stuck around crummy jobs because I loved the bosses and co-workers, but money always won out in the end.

    I'm all for doing what I can to encourage A performance from my kids once they get into school. A trip to the toy store, a stop by the ice cream stand, money for their piggy bank. Top grades get top dollar.

    I grew up DIRT poor. There was never any money for stuff like that. Every now and then, we'd get a few dollars for a good report card, but generally, we barely had money to put food on the table (made too much money for food stamps, too little to make it). The importance of education came in waves. Never consistent. Love was consistent though. That is all that really mattered.

    My dad was a high school drop-out and my mom spent a semester at some technical school. I graduated with a bachelor of science in elementary education........OH well

  3. I'm on the fence on this one.

    It's unfortunate these children are being motivated by monetary rewards and not simply because they want to better themselves and take advantage of a free education.

    On another note. I was rewarded throughout school. My reward was thru extra-curricular activites like Flag, Soccer, Softball, Cheerleading - these things were expensive and I knew that. That was my reward.

  4. Our parents didn't reward us when we did well. We were expected to do well. We were punished if we didn't.

    Kids who are paid for good grades don't go to Harvard, whereas both my brother and I did. :P

  5. j galt10:31 AM

    Good post and questions. As a father I hope I do not give into the temptation to financially reward my son for good grades and doing well in school. I think it sets up a bad precedent with many unintended consequences. The value that I want to pass on is doing the right thing regardless of financial gains. Getting good grades is to be expected, unless there is a learning impairment. I will reward him when he does the right thing, for example: Shoveling snow off the two elderly neighbor’s driveways. Picking up some trash off the ground when he sees it. Opening the door for another person, especially the elderly. Being polite and respectful of all races and people regardless of social status. I will reward him for being decent and kind. His test scores are far less important to me than how will his character be. Will he have a code of honor and live up to his word. There is a great deal of people with good grades that I would not even invite to my house let alone be around my son. Show me your friends and I will show you your future.

  6. When I was a guidance counselor intern, and later as a substitute teacher, I'd ask my students if they liked the way they lived. It was a Catch-22 type question because if they were underprivileged and said no, I'd tell them that education was their way up and out of their current circumstances. If they were overprivileged and responded with a yes, then I'd tell them that education was the only way they were going to be able to maintain their current standard of living. People, including children, are motivated by what is in it for them. Sometimes you just have to hang a carrot in front of them and hope they are looking sideways at one of their peers.
    My mom didn't have incentive money for me to earn the grades I did; Mrs. Morse did. She was George and Missy's grannyma, but they called her 'Ma'amMa." She lived about five houses from mine. She offered every child on our street .25 for As, .10 for Bs, and a severe talking to for Cs or below. I've done the same for neighbor kids I'm acquainted with.

    As for the refugee phrasing: I'm convinced it began with folks unfamiliar with a dictionary. Then, lazy others just ran with the crowd. Period.

  7. We were never rewarded for grades, beyond praise. I was very good in school. We did get an allowance that ran up to $1.50 a week by the time I was in 7th grade. When I asked for a raise, I was told to justify the need, and my brother and I made up a budget that included getting our shoes resoled periodically. So we got $5 a month. When I started college my dad was out of work and couldn't give me any money, so I lived at home and worked a weekend job. By the time I was a senior I was fed up with never having time to do anything fun, and told him I would drop out for a year to earn some money. He said he would give me what I needed to stay in school. By then he was working again, construction. I racked up about $2000 debt to him, and he forgave most of it several years later. By then I had gotten a NSF fellowship and gone to grad school to get my PhD. I wasn't that smart or intellectual, but I had learned not to give up easily. Maybe I should have learned to have more fun in life.

  8. Anonymous7:50 PM

    PS Very interesting article on Hurricane Katrina coverage! Makes a very good case, IMHO.

  9. When I read a post in a blog, I must read carefully, because we live in different country, with different conditions. I will not explain about my country education system (I live in Indonesia, Asia Pacific), but I and my wife have one commitment to my son - 14 yr old - who will be a Senior High School student this year : GIVE HIM THE BEST WE COULD! We not a rich people, but every time we must ENCOURAGE each other. We must realize if we have enough money to afford a 'better education', we keep fight and pray to our Lord, and we must have faith to Lord! Lord will give the best for our son!

  10. Thanks for the interesting blog and interesting question...there is so much to say from the Dust Bowl story, of how farmers are awarded to not plant, of how some biased white folk whine when others are given incentives, and oh you questions are just amazing. With so many stimulating topics to tickle my thoughts, I leap to a issue of which I feel firm convictions: The value of intrinsic vs. extrinsic reward in education. I feel the over-use of rewarding with material goods can be as damaging as the use of or over-use of punishment (instead of natural or logical consequences). I am not sure the previous comment comparing receipt of a paycheck for employment with receiving monetary reward for good grades is sound. While attending elementary and secondary school, most kids are provided for. If not, that is another topic on another post that would include discussion about hierarchy of needs. As an adult, I need to be paid for my work to provide for myself and family. I would work for free, and practically do, if I did not need money to gratefully live the life I do. So my opinion as an educator, parenting coach and mom is to please allow the good feeling of the accomplishment of a good grade earned be the reward. As another post stated, yes, please, encourage work well done no matter what the grade with sincere, meaningful praise, and lend effective extra support for work that could be improved. Please remember that relationship with children, the gift of time and genuine interactions is by far more important than consumerist rewards. It is a wonderful thing to teach children the value, the integrity of cherishing good work for no other outcome than feeling a sense of pride in that simple accomplishment. And that all speaks loudly of my values. Oh yea and no, growing up, I was not rewarded beyond "good job" for my grades, and did not give my kids money or gifts, etc. for their their phenomenal grades, and suggest the gift of time to the parents of which I have the honor to coach.