What’s the going rate for an ‘A’ these days? Â How about the going rate from 1989-1994 when I was in High School? Â Let’s say I was given $50 for every top grade I earned…I would have graduated with a decent sized bag with a $ sign on it (which would have then been handed over to my university and never seen again). Â That actually sounds pretty damn good. Â Why could I not have turned my ‘A’s into cash and used that cash to pay for further education? Â It would have made that statistics class a lot easier to sit through knowing that I was paying with free money.
But it would not have been worth it.
A teacher of mine at UVic made us read an article by Alfie Khon on reading and learning and engagement in the educational process and I was hooked. Â He talked funny. Â He said things like “grades are bad for learning,” and “homework doesn’t work as well as we think it works.” Â Yet I had gotten into university because I had decent grades. Â I received a Passport to Education from the BC government (the NDP at the time, you know, the ones that seem to care about education. Oh ya. Shot fired!) Â and a few other monetary incentives based on my grades. Â So was I punished by these rewards?Not necessarily. Â You see I loved going to school. Â I didn’t love it all the time or all the subjects I studied all the time, but I did like the learning process. Â And as I got older, I loved it more and more for the sake of the person it made me and not for the degree or degrees I have received from my work (I do appreciate the degrees because they took a lot of work to get). Â Yet a lot of what I see in school from students are “Grade Hounds.” Â (nice version of the term) Â These are students who are fixated on the grade, the percentage, “passing,” and it makes me sad. Â I don’t blame them because they are being trained to do this. Â The system starts handing them out in grade 4 (holy sh@t!) and doesn’t stop. Â Parents want them to be good and apply pressure and start offering rewards in an honest attempt to get the best out of their children. Â But they’re wrong.
Todd Nelson’s article is a funny little take on how his parents denied him money and taught him the beauty of learning for its intrinsic value. Â When pining over not getting paid for his grades he says
Oh, the burden of growing up with intrinsic motivation held aloft as virtue â€“ before such a concept found modest traction in the education culture at large. But no â€“ we had to be raised on Socratic values, on the conundrum of a question like, â€œIf something isnâ€™t worth doing, is it worth doing well?â€ Take algebra, in my case: No! And yet … my answer cost me a second year in Algebra I. I showed them, all right!
read the rest of the article here
Back to Kohn. Â His book,Â Punished By Rewards,Â is a well-documented look at the problems associated with grading and reward-based systems of learning and motivation. Â Simply put, rewards work in the short term but do not have sustaining power. Â Telling kids they have to do a certain things to get an A is missing the point of doing whatever it is they are doing in school. Â There is so much more to come on this because it is and will ever be one of my crusading topics in education. Â Jerusalem here I come! (minus the bloodbath at the end of course)