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.)


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

Eric M. Jones

I vote that the teacher needs to answer a subpoena. This clearly seems to be child abuse.

Seminymous Coward

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.


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

Mark Russell

Which state do you live in? The state of delusion?


Probably a state with a strong teachers union and their ridiculous provisions for "tenure" among primary / secondary school teachers. Or, all of them.

Enter your name...

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.


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.


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.


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.

Mark Russell

I'm in the education bidness, Pablo. We don't like your kind of smart-*ssed, cutting social commentary. If you do it again, we'll hunt you down with our colored markers.

Jay Cox

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?



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.


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?


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.



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.

All Boys Boarding Schools

After reading this post I feel bad for students that are strictly punished by their school teachers. According to me these cruel teachers should be strictly punished by ate government and rusticate from their teaching position.

southside teacher

and yet, I've worked in schools where we were discouraged from keeping kids in during recess to finish work...