Grades and Economics

Should teachers use grades as incentives?

In school, several things are going on:

Teaching = preparing lessons, conveying information to students, assisting their acquisition of knowledge and skills.

Managing = taking attendance, keeping track of grades, writing kids up for various offenses.

Of the two, I want to say that the teaching is more important, but in reality, my immediate responsibility is to run a safe classroom, keep the kids out of the halls, keep them from fighting or doing other bad things.

There is a hidden side of school that idealistic reform rhetoric doesn’t acknowledge. School has become an economy of points. Students, like the rest of the world, work for rewards — in their case, grades. Teachers shape their behavior by using grades as an incentive. We justify this by telling ourselves that we’re only trying to get them to do what is really good for them. Does it matter how we achieve that?

Part of me says yes, it matters. Education should be about learning, not points. Kids should be curious about the world, themselves, other people, the past, the future.

Another part of me knows that the world doesn’t work that way. It hisses, “Accept reality – kids grub for points, not understanding. Use their greed for grades in ways that provide some benefit.”

In the real (i.e. adult) world, people don’t always do the things that would benefit them most in the long run – eating right, exercising, saving money, reading good books, eating organic food. The rewards for these activities are so distant or require so much effort that many people, though desiring them, don’t change their behavior to make them happen. The immediate reward – the brownie, the couch, the reality show, the video game – is right at hand and provides instant rewards.

Why should kids be any different? More

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