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Back to Feb. Ed Reporter

Education Reporter
NUMBER 169 THE NEWSPAPER OF EDUCATION RIGHTS FEBRUARY 2000

Candy & Trinkets for Good Grades, Behavior
Time was when rewards for academic achievement and good conduct included high grades, gold stars, smiley face stickers, and extra credit. Today, many teachers are supplementing or even replacing these with incentives such as candy, baked goods, and trinkets. They say times have changed and that students have shorter attention spans due to family and societal problems. These teachers point out that they are under considerable pressure from states, school districts, and parents to improve student performance.

Corporations eager to market their wares to schoolchildren are also getting into the act. Pizza Hut's "Book It!" program rewards kids with a free pizza for reading a certain number of books. McDonald's distributes photo ID cards redeemable for French fries and other goodies to students with good grades and behavior.

Some critics say these extracurricular rewards can turn classrooms into contests, where the prize, not the learning, is the object. Others contend that such enticements reinstate the flawed philosophy of researcher B.F. Skinner, who proved how behavior can be learned by offering food rewards to laboratory animals. This Skinnerian operant conditioning, they say, unfairly manipulates children and turns them into robots.

Stanford University psychology professor Mark Lepper studied the effects of giving children rewards for performing certain activities and found that it leads them to concentrate less on learning and focus more on the prize. He and his colleagues say students actually perform worse in the long run when given tangible or edible rewards.



 
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