Most everyone knows about my particular issues with the public school system. The disturbing similarity (and there is no better word than “disturbing”, unless you count “revolting” or “terrifying”) between public (and some private) schools and prisons is not something that is purely in my own mind. Kyle Walkley at Yahoo! Content shared his thoughts on it. Ivan Illich, an Austrian philosopher and social critic, maintains that the school system is so broken that it should be dismantled entirely. The sainted and wonderful Maria Montessori (yes, that Montessori) felt the industrial bend was backwards, too. And who can say enough about John Holt and his many years of home-schooling advocacy after having worked in the public school system?
My own experiences and observations of the public school system recognize that the process is broken, especially for anyone with special needs – and by “special needs”, I mean autists, those with learning disabilities, those who are of an above average intelligence, naturally free-thinkers, and often those who are a combination of any of the above. Children spend usually thirteen years being “socialized” in a setting that teaches them rules of engagement with peers and superiors that does not accurately reflect what is expected in the adult world. The only other place where this happens is in prison.
To put it a different way, if you took a job where you were only allowed to go to the bathroom at proscribed times, where you had to sit and wait for your peers to get done to move on to the next phase of your own mirrored task, where you did not receive tangible compensation for your work, and where your value was gauged by a universal standard and often arbitrary determination, that wouldn’t be a job at all. You’d quit, probably citing abusive or hostile environments and unfair business practice.
So, if the purpose of public school is to make productive members of society – who do understand that their work is supposed to be done in return for monetary compensation – how does that compute? How does the school process equal the expected result?
And in this light, it’s really no wonder that kids who graduate are largely incapable of switching to a collegiate system (unable to be responsible for their own learning) or working without the dreaded “post-teen angst”.
Where I got clever yesterday
I am the lucky, lucky mom of not one but TWO glorious teenagers. </sarcasm> This means that any chores, assistance, or request of any kind is met with grumbling and complaining and often a half-hearted effort at best.
I started thinking about my own professional experience and that if I’m not getting paid something near what I’m worth, I simply have no motivation to do the job – no matter how much I love what I do.
I devised a suitably robust point system for Miles wherein he earns anywhere from 1 to 3 points for each chore that he does per day. There are his daily chores – all worth a half-point or a full point – and then there are the “above and beyond” chores that can earn as much as three points each. Points can equal real money (usually redeemable as Steam games or trips to a game store) or can be traded in for extra computer or video game time. A whole slew of rules apply since Miles is a natural rules lawyer.
You can download your own sample copy of it here.
Lili has her own system as well, but her concept of worthy prizes are different. She wants to go to anime conventions and such, with cost cast money instead of “points”, so she gets a weekly “salary” for doing what she’s supposed to do with a good attitude. She also has the option to earn bonuses by doing little above-and-beyond things.
They also each earn points for doing schoolwork, keeping in mind that we’ve been having problems with homeschooling because I was relying on their motivation to get their assignments done since I’m also working full time and going to school. That has created a pretty big lag and a heavy shift towards un-schooling, which I appreciate the value of but do not always like doing. Putting the points in place has inspired them both to start their own assignments again.
Not everyone agrees
Now, there’s a disconnect for some people who don’t believe that you should pay kids for their work, but my response to that is, isn’t the point of raising kids to teach them how to get along in the real world? If our work is devalued (or valueless) during childhood, at what point exactly do we learn to start valuing it?
Grades don’t count as “value”. They are abstract and often strange qualitative notations that don’t translate into anything concrete. The idea that kids should learn solely to take “pride” in their work is often backwards, too, because then you’re expecting an abstract concept (a much more advanced neurological phase) to take hold before a concrete concept (an earlier neurological phase). The argument that kids shouldn’t be “bribed” to do “what they’re supposed to do” is also blatantly hypocritical, because you certainly wouldn’t go to your job and do it because that’s “what you’re supposed to do”. You’re doing it because you’re getting paid. That’s how the cultural of economy works.
Using points as I have here instead of strict monetary value allows the kids to determine their own valuation of their time. Five points for an extra hour of video game time means that they have earned their down-time – they bought it – and they will not feel bad or guilty for using it. They are giving themselves permission both to be kids and to be humans.
I thought it was kind of clever. 🙂