I remember once in my youth, I must have been about 11 or so, sitting on a schoolbus listening to two boys talking in the seat in front of me. One of them was showing off a wad of cash.
"Thirty-three dollars, man," he said proudly. "It's 'cause of the 2 A's and the 2 B's that I got. My parents are so excited."
I couldn't contain myself.
"Your parents give you money for your grades?" I asked, interrupting them.
"Yup," he said, matter-of-factly. "Ten dollars for A's, five dollars for B's, two dollars for C's and a dollar for D's. So the better I do at school, the more money I get. And I'm allowed to spend it on whatever I want."
To my adolescent ears, this sounded like a methodology of absolute brilliance. I couldn't wait to get home and pitch the idea to my mother.
"He even gets money for D's, does he?" she asked wryly, as I was sitting on the kitchen counter after school.
"Yes, but he doesn't get any money if he fails a class. Which, you know, fair enough," I explained reasonably.
"I should say so."
"So?" I asked expectantly.
"So, don't you think we should do that?" I flashed her my most winningest smile.
"So, NO," she said flatly.
My smile vanished.
"That's SO not fair. I don't get ANYTHING for my good grades!"
"You get to walk without a limp," my mother retorted dryly, returning to the dinner preparations. And that was the last of that conversation.
Thirty years later, and now I'm a parent myself. My daughter, Alex, just started kindergarten this year. This is the first year that Alex will be receiving school grades of her own; as a result, I've been thinking a lot about those two boys on the bus, as well as my conversation with my mom, as I struggle with what my Official Position on Earning Good Grades will be. On one hand, I do understand the argument that a child's job is attending school, and just as an adult is compensated monetarily for executing his job, so, perhaps, should a child, so he learns the value of hard work and money. On the other hand, school isn't a job, and perhaps earning good grades should really be a lesson in the sense of satisfaction and self-esteem that comes with a job well done. It's really quite complicated, when you think about it.
Ultimately, I suspect that I won't give Alex money for good grades; however, unlike my mom's ideology, Alex's reward for a good report card will likely be something more than two functioning legs. I suspect if she does really well, my husband and I will surprise her with her favourite meal, or some sort of special familiy outing or celebration. After all, I do believe that doing well in school should be honoured appropriately.
How about you: will you give your kids money for good grades? Or, in the alternative, will you simply refrain from parental violence? Or, you know, something in between?
Karen is a writer and photographer in Houston, Texas. You can read/see more of her work at Chookooloonks.
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