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.)


Oh my, what a terrible, cruel world we live in: a poor helpless kid has to choose between washing his face and forgoing recess, what a terrifying dilemma. The only consolation is he survived that act of brutality.

Mr. Tuxedo

I heard this story on NPR, and I immediately thought of the Zimbardo study revisited.

Cham Cuartero

This is just wrong... I was a gradeschool teacher before and our students had reading goals too, in fact they had reading logsheets that need to be filled-up each day. But still, as a self-confessed avid reader, I don't think this would work. Reading is something that cannot be forced upon a kid. When you don't enjoy it, you won't do it. Honestly, I didn't get my reading habit from school, so there's not much that the school could do to develop this wonderful habit. :)


The discussion is missing the point...incentive is helpful in schools/classes, and the issue is that there is no positive incentive system in the easier option here was to create a negative incentive.

What we should have is a dedicated extracurricular (ie, study of topics not usually covered by schools...anything from baking to horticulture, etc etc) that can be an outlet for the faster students, while the slower students get extra time without the distraction of bored faster learners.


To interpret this story, the essential thing to know is *why* the students were slow. Is it poor motivation, as suggested? Lack of practice? Lack of interest? Boring materials? Poor teaching? Laziness? Distraction? Difficulty or complexity of the material? Lack of parental support? Poverty limiting the supply of books? An attitude that reading isn't important? Or that poor performance won't have bad consequences? Is it lack of incentive? Lack of positive feedback and praise? Are there other issues, like bullying, or having to spend extra time on other subjects? Is it medical? Could it just be that some students are naturally brighter than others?

Without knowing what the problem is, there seems little hope of finding a solution. The students knew what was coming, they picked the motivation themselves. So why didn't they meet the objectives? Did anyone ask? And doesn't anyone think that their inability to complete an assignment was more important - in the long run - than a one-off punishment? An inability to read fluently is a lifelong disability. Are we now so innured to the idea of 10-year olds who struggle to read that it isn't even news?

Somebody ought to go back and find out what the problem was, and then sit down and figure out what the solution should be. The teacher's attempt failed. (Presumably. It would be interesting to know.) But being outraged over his methods, while failing to solve the problem oneself, gets us no closer to a solution. What *should* the teacher have done? And why did the newspaper not ask?



So a student was drawn on by other students as a result of a student determined punishment. Oh, and he was given another option which he chose not to take. And it happened to a total of 6 out of the 21 kids, so he's not being singled out.

According to the article this was permanent marker, probably a bad choice. Other than that I really don't see the problem. These kids had "accelerated reading" goals, so presumably they were all already strong readers. Many people here are assuming the kid had a leaning disability or something but that's not indicated anywhere and the article hints at the opposite.

Instead of jumping to conclusions about the teacher and assuming she's a terrible person, imagine the following scenario:

This is an advanced reading class and the students are expected to read during an assigned time each day. Some students routinely goof off instead, so rather than institute an arcane punishment like making kids sit in the corner the cosmopolitan teacher asks the kids what should happen if some students don't meet the goal. She know that, typically, about half of the students don't read as much as they're supposed to so there's no danger of one student being singled out for punishment.

The students, with unanimous agreement and excitement, decide that the offending students get colored on by their peers. Remember, kids do this stuff all the time, so it's quite a stretch to assume that this is thought of as "shaming" by the children; it's more likely thought of as fun for the kids that finish. Not wanting to force any student (even though every single one agreed to this) to submit to this, the teacher adds missing recess (to finish the reading) as an option.

Predictably many students don't finish (reinforcing the idea that most students don't think of this as a particularly heinous punishment ... some might have even though it would be fun), and many of those choose the face drawing. The kids laugh about it afterwards and the day goes on.

The next day you get a scathing talking to from the principal and a few days after that it's national news and a bunch of morons think you should go to jail.

If you are one of these morons, did it ever occur to you that one of the reasons we get such poor student performance in this country is that any time a teacher is passionate and respectful of his students, and does things in a memorable and unusual way he runs the risk of getting nationally bashed for his actions?



As a preemptive measure:

The article says he's a slow reader; this does not mean the kid has a learning disability. Furthermore there's no indication that the amount of material given was beyond his ability. It's possible, in fact likely, that the reading goals were tailored to each student based on his abilities. There's also no indication of why he didn't finish. For all we know he could have been talking to the other kids that didn't finish the whole time.

Edward scott

Clearly, the children who read more should be "taxed" at a higher rate. That is, some of their reading achievement should be redistributed to the those who refused to read. Everyone should receive a "C" for the class.

Seminymous Coward

I despair at having to point this out, but signifiers of academic proficiency primarily intended to evaluate student progress are not analogous to the thing that obtains food and shelter.