Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Price of Integrity in a Capitalist society...

We had a very interesting conversation around the dinner table last night when Erik announced that his teacher had bought a huge pile of lollies for the class and would be handing them out for "good behaviour".

He enthusiastically relayed the breakdown of "points and prizes" and I'll admit, my hackles rose at the speed of light!

Apparently, the students in his class receive points every day for being helpful and co-operative, for two points they can receive a Chuppa-Chup, for five points they can receive a Push-Pop, and so on. It is up to them whether they collect the smaller prizes more often or the larger prizes by saving up points.

On the face of it, I can see lots of people - including the teacher, himself - arguing that this all about teaching children to work towards something, to have a goal, to feel appreciated for the effort they make to build the community. Having goals and working towards those goals is definitely something I want my children to learn, but not in a "pay me or I don't see the point in contributing to the welfare of my community".

Seriously though, I have to ask, what is the real reason the teacher is taking his hard earned money - from his meagre wage - and buying his class lollies? What is the reason Luey's teacher has a box of toy prizes in her room   that she hands out to children who have consistently read and recorded their reading on a sheet for four consecutive weeks?

Could it be the same reason twice as many prep students in Queensland were suspended from class last year than two years earlier? (although, punishment is the opposite side of this same coin)

Janet Hamlin -Associated Press
To me, bribing children - and that is really what this is, if we're completely honest with ourselves - is the last resort of the desperate. Parents do it all the time - I do it sometimes myself - when you just need the child to co-operate and nothing else seems to be working. When you feel powerless to effect change and time is of the essence, you pull out a carrot, you skip to extrinsic gratification. Teachers feel powerless to effect change in their classrooms without resorting to "extrinsic rewards", possibly because they can no longer appeal to children's sense of "doing the right thing", as so many children are more concerned with their own "rights" as individuals than the common good of the community.

Capitalism is based on the same idea of "rewards".  If you do A you will be rewarded with B short-lived satisfaction. The satisfaction must be short-lived to then propel you on to doing more of A to receive more of B. "More" is the key! We live in a "must have" society at this point in time. We are constantly being told we must have "this technology", "this look", "this lifestyle" to be happy. We're told it's all good and well to live a simple life without trappings, but WHO WOULD WANT TO. What we want is what is important, and what we want is the ring in our nose by which others can lead us to do for them - "If you do this for me, I'll give you what you WANT!" is the eternal promise of the Capitalist, and this is what children hear from the get go. The flip side of that is, "Well, if you WANT me to do this for you, you'll have to pay me - in Chuppa-Chups!" Co-operation has a price in Capitalist society, as does generosity, compassion, and welfare.

I asked Erik how many points he had accrued, and he told me four and said, he'd rather have a Push-Pop than two Chuppa-Chups, so he hadn't claimed his prize yet.  I asked him what he was doing to "earn" his points. He said cleaning up the room at the end of class with the other kids, and not mucking around in class. I asked him why he thought his teacher was rewarding the kids for being co-operative. Erik didn't know. I suggested that perhaps it was because his teacher has a mountain of work to get through each day and he is desperate for the kids to pay attention and help get through the work quickly. Then I suggested that even though Erik can muck around in class and still get average marks on his report, some of the other kids might need to concentrate more to get those same marks and when he mucks around with his friends, he makes learning harder for other kids.

Erik argued that he didn't muck around much, that it was other kids who did. I then asked why he didn't muck around and he said he wanted more points. I asked him if he'd muck around if he wasn't getting points and prizes, he thought of a few moments and let out an uncertain, "No?"...

So, I steered the conversation in the direction of "doing something because it is right, and good, and fair and not just because someone is paying you to do it:". We talked about how hard it is to be a teacher, to try to keep 23 or more students focused so they can get through the mountain of work set by the Government each year. We talked about how, at the end of the school day, once the bell has rung, his teacher doesn't get paid for all the preparatory work he has to do for the next day, and so he wants to get that work done as soon as possible, which is why he asks the class to help him tidy the classroom before the end of the school day. We talked about how, if he is spending $30 or so a month on lollies, that's money from his rather small wage that isn't going to his family. We talked about how co-operating and being considerate is something we do first and foremost for the people around us, so that everyone's lives can run more smoothly. We talked about how Erik could even tell his teacher that he didn't need points or prizes to behave because he understood that it was for everyone's benefit to just do it without needing a reward, and how much his teacher would probably appreciate that.

Erik came back with, "But just me doing the right thing won't change how the other kids behave. Just one person doesn't make a difference in a class of 23 kids!" (Honestly, I couldn't have written myself a better opportunity!)

I said it wasn't his job to change the other kids. He could set an example, but they wouldn't necessarily follow that example, and that wouldn't be the point of co-operating with his teacher. The point of co-operating with his teacher was to show respect and be kind and understand that even just him not mucking around could make his teacher's job easier. If Erik did his work, and helped out when asked, that would be one less person his teacher would have to worry about, and that would mean his teacher would have that much more energy to help students who needed his help.

Capitalism teaches children that they are important, they are individuals and what they need and what they want is important. I'm not saying their needs and wants aren't important, only that they are AS important as those of everyone else around them. Everyone is an individual. Everyone is equally unique. Teaching children integrity is teaching them to have values, to value something (in our family we teach valuing relationships) and to be true to those values. Certainly, children can value personal gain and be true to that as well, but where does that leave society?

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Good Job!