School on our side of the world is finally out for the Summer! Yesssss! This past week I thoroughly enjoyed bellowing a celebratory childhood chant in unison with my two children. A real blast from the past from my elementary school days and part of it went like this, “No more homework, no more books, no more teacher’s dirty looks!”
As kids, that silly song said it all. Just knowing that we could look forward to getting rid of those three things for a couple of weeks was all my brother, sister and I needed to get us through our school year. We would bring home our school report cards, our parents would take a quick look, they would ask us if we had tried our best, we would answer (mostly honestly) and then our vacation days would begin. Not another mention of Ye Olde School Report Card again.
As we grew older I began to realise that this matter of fact report card process wasn’t necessarily true for all of my friends. For some, bringing home reports cards meant something more, something much more. On the surface, it all seemed pretty straight forward, they would present their report cards and then, based on their letter grades, they would be financially reimbursed for their apparent efforts! An intriguing interaction to me indeed.
I can’t say that I have thought about it very much since leaving school, but today whilst sitting having my hair cut, a conversation triggered my memory. My stylist told me about her son’s report card and how nicely his grades had improved. She was celebrating an A, 5 B’s and a handful of C’s. For her son this is a huge achievement as not too long ago he was failing school pretty dismally. We talked about how proud she was of him…but more importantly, how proud he was of himself.
That lovely warm and fuzzy conversation was blown to pieces when a very dear elderly lady came and sat down next to us. She too joined the chit chat about his report card and his much improved grades. She didn’t miss a beat this little old lady and was very quick to ask…”Soooo what did you give him?”…
My stylist was a little taken aback and scrambled for an answer, “Uhhh uhhhh we got him a pizza and did some fun stuff.” The little old lady looked so disappointed! I was crushed, not for her but for my stylist! She was made to feel like a bad mom for not richly rewarding her son with the goods because he had brought home the good grades!
Thinking back now, I remember some of my own school friends and their relationship with their report cards… and the fact that they held a cash value. Mmmmm I have always found this idea little unsettling, but couldn’t really figure out why…until putting words to it today.
Call me crazy, but I am a big believer in doing my best because it is in me to do so, and not because I will be financially rewarded because of it. Sure, in our society cash has become king, but shouldn’t the satisfaction of doing something well be reward enough? Isn’t that what keeps you doing it again and again (even after the money has run out?), trying to be better and better, because you can?
Don’t get me wrong here, as a kid, cash in the hand would have thrilled me beyond belief (quite honestly, speaking now as an adult the same thrill factor remains) BUT for me the biggest motivator has to be that nothing can top that feeling of having done something well because I can.
If by some great turn of events, a reward follows, that’s like the cherry on the top! I find that the quality and the depth of the motivation driving my action is different when I do something because I can rather than because of the reward that may (or may not) follow, don’t you agree?
Now, writing this today as a parent of my own two children I have a much deeper level of disdain for the Grades for Cash Rewards Program . This whole concept seems much more disturbing and its impact far more sinister when I look at it through the eyes of a parent, a teacher and a staunch developmentalist.
Here’s some food for thought, no sugar coating (or cherries) going to be served up here:
1. When you reward a child with cash for their grades, you are evaluating their performance based solely upon the grades reflected on the report card you are seeing infront of you. What that really means is, you are measuring your child according to their teacher’s yardstick! Your child is at the mercy of being evaluated by you based on how the teacher evaluated them! How scary is that? You know your child better than any teacher ever will, so why are you letting their opinion be reflected onto your child as if it was your own?
2. When you get super excited about an A, you don’t really have a clue as to what it took to earn that particular A in that particular class! For some children A’s come really easily (sure, sure, maybe your kid really is that bright…or maybe, just maybe, their teacher was feeling generous because she got it all this morning…you’ll never really know…now will you?). Sometimes a kid earning a C worked way harder than a kid who gets given an A, but who gets all the attention and the big bucks? Not really fair, now is it?
3.When your child, according to the criteria, gets a C- for a speech class because that’s what they ‘deserve’…Were they riddled with anxiety and embarrassment and couldn’t speak clearly and confidently ? Well, no wonder they got a C- . Public speaking might never be their thing so do we really need to give them fewer dollars to prove that point? Nope, they have already suffered enough don’t you think?
Does the teacher squeeze a comment onto the report card, right there alongside that C- explaining that despite the poor grade, your child did manage to get himself out of his chair and stand in front of the group and mumble through his speech? Did she mention that she was proud of his courage, for overcoming his temporary paralysis and that his effort alone was worthy of an A ? No, probably not…because report cards generally don’t allow for that sort of input. Besides, even if they did, it isn’t really up to the teacher to say those things…You are his parent and should be the one he hears saying those words, telling him that you know it was very hard for him, that you know he did the best he could in that situation, that you are proud of him, that he’s your boy no matter the grade, no matter what.
I could go on and on here…but that would make this a full on rant rather than a post…so I’ll end by saying…
Your child is worth more to you than the grades reflected on the piece of paper we value so much and call a report card. You know who they are, what they can do, what they struggle to do, what they are afraid of, what they hope for, who they dream of becoming. You don’t need a report card to tell you that, and they don’t need cash to know that you do either.
What you do need and more importantly, what they need, is for you to be on their side rather than on the other team, evaluating them against other children, evaluating them against themselves. They need to know that you believe in them, that you know that they have it in them to give of their best because that is who they are. Once they know that, and come to believe it because you believe it, they will try their best because it will feel right to do it and not because an A is worth five bucks.
You can’t put a price on who they are, and they deserve to know that.
What do you think?