We recently got tickets via certified mail for Six Flags via the Read to Succeed program. The kids read for a little while. I logged it in on the website and voila! Free tickets to Six Flags.
There are a lot of programs like this. Free pizza! Free books! Free trinkets! Free junk! My mixed feelings on this subject simply cannot be overstated. I’m a good liberal parent and educator. I’ve read my Alfie Kohn, you know. Just in case you haven’t, Kohn’s 1993 book Punished by Rewards explains how all the ways both big and small that we bribe kids to do things undermines their love of learning and internal motivation. I don’t really disagree. Even before I had kids, when I was first starting my career in education, I agreed with Kohn’s basic premise, but his rhetoric rubbed me the wrong way. To hear him talk, a single gold star on a kid’s math homework will ruin his ability to learn math for math’s sake forever and ever. I don’t really buy that.
I’ve never been able to think that tiny motivators are such a big deal. My kids like stickers and if putting a sticker on their math paper cheers them up, I’ll do it. Similarly, I think there’s a fine line between offering a bribe and doing something nice for a kid after he or she does something hard or something worth being proud of.
On the other hand, I don’t like bribes. I don’t like to say to my kids, do this and I’ll give you something. So most of these free stuff programs bother me. If you want to encourage kids to read, it seems to me that a program like Reading is Fundamental has the right idea while something like Pizza Hut’s well known Book It program is going about it all wrong, as is Read for Success. But, hey, Six Flags is expensive and we read anyway, so I’m not going to feel bad about taking advantage of some free roller coasters.