Trevor Brookins

*In the never ending battle that educators engage in to inspire and teach young people, paying students has become the latest strategy. And while positive reinforcement certainly has a place in schools, paying students outright goes overboard in attempting to motivate young people.

Admittedly education is a system in which rewards are deferred until the end of the program. A student who has an A average throughout grade school is rewarded with admittance to prestigious colleges with financial aid awards. To refocus students away from long term rewards on to short term rewards reinforces a shorter attention span that already plagues American society particularly among younger generations.

Still there are rewards in the short term currently. Most schools have trips, meals, or programs for students who excel. Paying students would jeopardize these reward paradigms because of the likely higher demand for the cash rewards rather than the museum trip, and also because the funding for any trips would be appropriated to the cash rewards pool of money.

Paying students ought not to be implemented because it will further engender a feeling of entitlement among the next generation of Americans. In some systems, kids are being paid for simply reading books. Such a task is not exceptional and therefore does not deserve to be rewarded. As a society we cannot allow people to grow up with the idea that they are owed something because they simply did what was expected of them. Schools are not workplaces where people are hired to earn money; they are places of learning where children and teens are being prepared for life. Historically cash rewards have not been necessary to motivate students to perform. Either this new generation of kids is lazy to a degree never seen before, or teachers have become substandard in their motivation techniques and school administrators have lost their way in implementing these pay policies.

While paying students for average performance is clearly a bad idea that promotes entitlement, paying students for exceptionally good grades seems like a good idea at first glance. However if school are to institute this form of positive reinforcement what negative reinforcement of equal magnitude can be put in place? The natural idea would be to take money from students. But logistically this is not possible. After giving a kid $50 for performance in October, there is no guarantee that the same kid will have $50 to give back after poor performance in April.

Within the current financial landscape paying students is a particularly bad idea. Many school districts are cutting teaching and administrative staff and other personnel deemed unessential in a financial crisis but who were an integral part of schools just five years ago. To put student payouts as an item in the school budget is arrogant when assistant principals are being eliminated. Schools are funded largely through homeowner taxes. If Mr. Jones wants to reward his daughter with money for an outstanding report card, great. But Mr. Jones should not be taxed and thereby forced to reward Mr. Smith’s daughter for an outstanding report card. In bad financial times school budgets cannot withstand this program; in good financial times, there are better things to spend money on.

I certainly believe socialism to be a logical beneficial way to run a society, and a common perception about socialism is that it condones entitlements. But the key thing is to understand what one is entitled to under a socialist structure: healthcare and a living wage for instance. What one is not entitled to is a cash reward. A professor of mine said there are two groups of people that can never be repaid: those who took care of you in your infancy, and those who educated you. To receive information and the tools to process that information is invaluable. If money is to change hands, it should be going to the teacher not the student.

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War and he maintains a blog called This Seems Familiar. You can reach him at [email protected].