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December 15, 2008 / JV

Students Getting A-rab Money?

teacherstudentsSo I’ve been wrestling with this idea of paying people for doing well in school. When I first saw economist Roland Fryer talking about “paying kids to learn” on CNN’s special The Black Problem In America, I quickly dismissed the idea as a bunch of bullocky. I thought it instilled in children capitalist values of fierce individualism, and a distorted vision of money as the sole motivator to learn, to work, and ultimately, to live. I figured that all the money Fryer and friends were handing over to kids could be better spent on things like text books, art and music classes, or teacher training. maybe if 4th graders weren’t eating hormone pumped chicken fingers for lunch they’d be able to focus more? Or if their recess wasn’t contingent on whether the teacher felt like walking them downstairs? I wasn’t opposed to rewards per se, but money struck a weird chord with me. It seemed to not even allow young people the opportunity to try to do something because they loved it, or to find something they loved enough to do it. For reasons unrelated to capital.

But then I talked to a friend about it and she seemed to like to idea of “paying kids to learn.” It was yielding results, she said, and for those children it was a tangible reward that their parents didn’t have the resources to provide. This made me realize that in many ways it’s become a privilege to even dream of doing something because you love it. She also pointed out that the money was put into a savings account, as opposed to handed to the child. I was like hmm. Then recently, I read that Melinda and Bill Gates are working on their new education plan (aptly named Education 2.0), and they are considering paying students at community colleges to enroll in and complete courses — “Performance-based scholarships”:

They would reward completion of a degree or certificate rather than mere enrollment. Pennington cites a pilot program in New Orleans that gave low-income students a $250 reward for registering for a minimum number of courses at a community college, another $250 when they got their midcourse grades, and $500 for finishing the semester. Students in the program earned significantly more college credits and were more apt to stay enrolled than nonparticipants even after the scholarship ended.

So now I’m like wait, is this a good idea? Empirically, it “works”. But are we only concerned with the outcome? What about the procedure… the underlying implications about values, and the overarching issues with American education at large? I mean, I can’t lie, I wish someone would pay me for getting a BA that is otherwise only really good for cocktail conversations. But I also think a decrease in tuition/living costs would relieve that burden of debt a little more directly.
Perhaps paying students is the gateway to making education more accessible? It’s starting to look like money is the ill and the drug.

Your thoughts on students getting Arab money?



Leave a Comment
  1. Lester Spence / Dec 16 2008 6:26 pm

    It doesn’t work empirically.

    But the thing is, it isn’t supposed to work empirically. The goal is not to eradicate the achievement gap but rather embed market values in education AND in students. Neoliberal governmentality.

  2. Kjen / Jan 25 2009 12:33 pm

    If I may be so cynical, I would say that handing these kids the money upfront only reinforces why so many kids try so hard in school to begin with – to get paid.

    The kids who tolled away getting the best grades possible, applying for honor summer courses, etc were doing it because they knew (either from their family background or from what they picked up in schools) that in the long run, their efforts would pay off in the form of prestigious degrees and well paid jobs.

    The implication – that ‘the point of working/studying/learning’ is how much money it pays in the end- frankly is already whole heartedly believed in our culture. I read somewhere, sorry can’t reference it right now, that in the 70s people sought more degrees in liberal arts/humanities, nowadays, everyone is going for the business degrees. So it’s no suprise that our school system would reinforce it.

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