Here’s a School Incentive You Probably Never Thought of (and That’s a Good Thing)

Fourth-graders in Declo, Idaho, faced an unusual incentive scheme for reading: if they didn’t complete their work they could either forgo recess or have others kids draw on their face with marker. Several kids chose the latter punishment and, as you can imagine, this didn’t go over so well. It should be noted that the teacher had let the students choose these rules. From the Times-News:

When Cindy Hurst’s 10-year-old son arrived home from school Nov. 5, his entire face, hairline to chin, was scribbled on in red marker — including his eyelids. He also had green, red and purple scribble marks over the red, and his face was scratched by a marker that had a rough edge.

“He was humiliated, he hung his head and wanted to go wash his face,” said Hurst. “He knows he’s a slow reader. Now he thinks he should be punished for it.” …

As more and more schools look for better ways to motivate students, I am guessing this tactic won’t gain a lot of traction.

(HT: C.P.)

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  1. Coleen says:

    Lol. I hope it doesn’t gain a lot of traction.

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  2. Eric M. Jones says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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    • Seminymous Coward says:

      This was certainly not a good thing to do; it was ineffective, cruel, and poorly executed. All the same, calling this event “child abuse” weakens the term and detracts from its more serious uses.

      Also, do you legitimately think the teacher deserves to go to prison for this? Clearly, the teacher isn’t too bright and probably shouldn’t teach, but jail time seems vastly excessive.

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  3. RGJ says:

    …and in my state, you couldn’t fire that teacher.

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  4. Enter your name... says:

    If one “cool” kid had announced that he’d done it on purpose for the fun of getting decorated, then this would have stopped being a punishment and started being a desirable, cool thing, and it would have undermined the goal of encouraging kids to meet their goals in the first place.

    BTW, if you didn’t click through, about a third of the class failed to meet their goals.

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    • Pablo says:

      Could a third of kids failing actually be a sign of expectations more in line with what these kids will face in a competitive global job market? And could this better prepare them for that eventuality? Just saying.

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      • bob says:

        Exactly, and if we don’t let 9 year olds fail today, they’ll never expect failure in the future. Make them suffer now.

        Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only one on the planet who doesn’t want to make other people miserable, even if it would make me more wealthy.

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      • Enter your name... says:

        I personally believe it important for kids to fail. If you don’t manage to fail in the classroom, then you need to learn how to deal with failure in sports or music or dance or painting.

        My point was this: A third of the class failed to meet the goals. One parent was upset that her son was “singled out” for “being a slow reader”. He wasn’t singled out (a third of the class failed!), and the punishment wasn’t for “being a slow reader” (a third of the class isn’t slow!).

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    • Q says:

      “it would have undermined the goal of encouraging kids to meet their goals in the first place.”

      This is the problem with the incentive in the first place. Avoiding getting your face marked or doing more work should not be used to motivate students to do their work. Instead there needs to be some sort of intrinsic motivation that is fostered and/or a positive reinforcement in place. In other words, motivate the students to do their work by getting them interested and engaged in the work, and then reward the students who complete their goal. A teacher should never use humiliation as a motivation to complete work; it doesn’t work, doesn’t foster actual learning, and can be very detrimental to a child’s psyche.

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    • Allan says:

      Absolutely! The teacher should have “managed” the process to ensure that no children would feel humiliated. Also the time should have been fair given the capabilities of all students.

      I applaud the teacher’s creativity even though it had risks. Students are humiliated every day even when teachers follow all rules and norms strictly so that alone does not make it problematic. The students participated in the setting of the rule which should have a positive impact.

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  5. Pablo says:

    This is awesome. Trial by a jury of your peers and you choose the punishment from a limited set decided by said peers. This is the type of discipline that will save this country.

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    • Mark Russell says:

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  6. Jay Cox says:

    Funny enough, this made me recall my fourth grade year. I was smart in some things, but I was also a barely adequate reader and writer. Incentives were much simpler. If I didn’t get class work done in class, I had to do it during recess. That was humiliating enough. Did it work? Well, if the only problem was distraction, it did give me motivation to pay more attention in class. However, I do remember some material was legitimately confounding. The recess time did serve as a good “catch up” time, but it also socially isolated me more, and I was already a bit weird. I know that in any school scenario you have limited resources–namely time–so such unfortunate consequences may not ever be removed from possibility. But this–this takes unfortunate, unintended consequences to a new level. The kids picked the rules. I bet many kids wouldn’t have the capacity to foresee many of the consequences the of allowing others to mark on one’s face, whereas they would immediately see consequences of not going to recess, so they’d pick the former, and get consequences likely worse than the latter. And then there’s the teacher, which, I’d hope, would have better foresight than an elementary school student, but didn’t. Clearly there was already a motivation problem or why would she have let the kids decide the rules of incentive?

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    • Molly says:

      It is true we only have a certain amount of time in the school day. But it is ridiculous how much schools have to include now. Check out this site to see what has been added since the turn of the last century. Some of these things are great, some of them simply a waste of resources, including time. What do we want our schools to be? We need to decide if they are a propaganda machine for global warming and obesity, the three Rs, or something in between.

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      • Brian says:


        I looked at your poster reference. It is poor on so many accounts, I don’t have time to list them all. Just keying off of one thing: the section saying “And we have not added a single minute to the school calendar in six decates!” Well so much of what is listed doesn’t add to the time spent in school: lunches, breakfasts, title iX programs, athletics.

        Many of the things listed actually add minutes to the overall time spent in school: preschool, adult education, after school programs for working parents, full day kindergarten.

        This is not a poster upon which I would spend money.

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  7. James says:

    I can’t help but wonder exactly what makes this a punishment, when it seems that just about every kid-oriented event around has face painting. I guess context is everything, no?

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    • Cmurphy says:

      Really? You can’t see how this would be a punishment? Perhaps the memory of my childhood cohort is different than most but I would not have let them choose paper or plastic let alone something that was going to be on my FACE. Even the ones who purported to be my friends were not necessarily “nice” and their senses of humor would would considered rough by even a Mombasa stevedore’s standard.

      And this absurd folly is not “face painting.” Face painting is a service- the child (or his or her adult) has autonomy to choose a design, control over placement and some chance of removing it if they don’t like it.

      This is young children let loose on their peer with the specific teacher-sanctioned mission of “marking” a rule-breaker. It has the same chaos making potential as “mob+hot tar+feathers+vulnerable target.”

      Punishment? Yes. Those marks will be with the child long after the ink is removed and the scratches healed. Face painting? Really? I wish I’d grown up where you did.

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      • Mojo says:

        Please read the article again: *the kids chose the punishment themselves*. Not their peers!
        Not that I believe that 9-year-olds are mature enough to be allowed to.

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  8. Dennis says:

    This raises the question of when and whether shame can ever be a helpful part of shaping human behavior.

    We know that shame works. That is, it does act to change behavior. Clearly this case is “too far.” But since it is such a VERY powerful tool, ought it to be completely banned in classrooms?

    Keep in mind that I’m asking about shame in general and agree with most that in this particular case it goes too far.

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    • Enter your name... says:

      Shame is more effective at dealing with behaviors that are under your immediate control. Shame works to discourage disrespectful speech, willful laziness, or temper tantrums. It doesn’t work for things that are outside of your immediate control, like not knowing something, reading slowly, or having medical problems that result in poor sports performance (e.g., asthma in distance runners).

      The question here is whether the outcome was really within the immediate control of the students. It sounds like a long-term reading program. Even a slow reader could accomplish the work, assuming extraordinary advance planning skills, diligence, and the opportunity to implement the plan. (One parent quoted in the article said that a failure to complete the assignment reflected poorly on parenting skills, not on the students, because all good parents would have made sure their children were on track to complete the assignment on time.) A one-time shaming in the distant future isn’t really going to motivate kids to do their work now, and when the deadline loomed, the outcome was already outside of their immediate control.

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