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Sunday, April 20, 2014

Should Money Make a Student's World Go Round?

On this Easter 2014, I think about how many pieces of silver it cost to sell out our NYC public-schools system.  And, I highly doubt that any of the money that changed hands between charter-school interests and our Albany representatives will ever be returned by consciences filled by remorse.  Things are far more likely to change via the voter or the court system.   

I ponder how money can be used for good, but also for evil.  Ninety-four percent of the City's students who attend public schools suffer in the name of feeding greedy and overbearing charters at public expense.  I won't name any names because I read the other day that she didn't like being singled out.  But how could she not be?  Sadly, I wonder if money should make a student's world go round or if it should make anyone's world go round.

Some charter schools measure students' behavior in terms of real and imaginary dollars.  At Noble Charter School Network in Chicago, before the policy fell under sharp criticism, kids faced frequent suspensions, costing five dollars each. At the Coney Island Prep charter school, kids receive imaginary credits and debits in the form of PRIDE dollars based upon their behavioral practices. Similarly, at Harlem Success Academy 5, students earn "scholar dollars" by exhibiting good behavior, punctual completion of assignments and good overall grades. These "dollars" can purchase items, including candy, non-permanent tattoos and a trip to Chuck E. Cheese.  Might there not be better things for which kids might learn to save their money?  How about helping Mom or Dad with a 529?  

In N.Y.C., former mayor, Michael Bloomberg, devised a program by which low-income students could be paid for taking tests ($5-$10) and obtaining high scores ($25-$50).  Participating schools could receive up to $5,000 and individual students as much as $500.  

Money does make some people's world go round and, true, we all need money for survival and in order to maintain a comfortable lifestyle.  Yet, the value system seems "whacked."  I remember Rhee's D.C. merit-pay schemes and its accompanying erasure scandal.  The ends do not justify the means.  Money, in my mind, will never be more valuable than personal integrity.  For those who are primarily motivated by money, corruption is sometimes not too many steps behind.  

I would hope students find internal satisfaction in their own sense of accomplishment.  When students move on to college, not many will be paid for their grades.  If they have not internalized the satisfaction of doing well and developed a personal sense of responsibility, as separate and distinct from earning cash, they may default on their own education.  

We would do better to inculcate and reward other values.  I am glad when students do well on a test. I am happier, however, when I see students listening to each other, respecting divergent opinions and feeling comfortable to voice their own.  I value a person's sense of good citizenship, concern for others and desire to build a better world.  These things are not measurable on standardized tests and, even if they were, I would not choose to reward them with money.  I believe these things are of immeasurable value in holding our society together. 

There are many hallmarks in the lives of young children.  Rewarding them with money, cheapens the achievement.  When children begin to walk, should parents shake some moola to get them to move?  Is it ever too early to teach the importance of money?  Gee, maybe I could have used it to help speed up the potty-training process!  Happy to say, it's too late for that now!  When children learn how to ride their bikes without training wheels, should we cut them a check?  

It always seemed to me that parents who showered money and gifts upon their children were doing it more to assuage their own sense of guilt than to develop the character of their children.  They used it as a substitute for spending time and sharing real human emotions with their children.  For some, their high-powered, high-earning jobs drag them sorrowfully away from their beloved children.  In this case, I wonder if these parents made the right decision in being motivated primarily by money.  

Some parents, I realize, work two or more jobs to get by and it is sad, but unavoidable.  And they work these jobs because they love their children dearly and need to meet their basic material needs.  I'm betting children can sense whether people are motivated primarily by love or money.  For children, there can be no substitute for genuine love or the priceless pride a parent takes in an offspring's achievements.  The best things in life will never be measured in points on a standardized test or in dollars and cents.  

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