Thursday, March 17, 2011

For The Love of Money

I've always been really opposed to bribing kids with money to get good grades. I was never bribed monetarily, though in junior high and the very beginning of high school, my mother enticed me with getting my ear cartilige pierced in return for getting nothing but A's (no A-'s) for two semesters straight. Took me awhile, but I got there. There was no compensation for getting what my parents still considered to be "good" grades, it was only the perfect grades they were going to reward. Besides, most of the kids I knew who were bribed were the kids whose parents were eager to see C's. The students getting straight A's are self-motivated.

Or, well, so I thought.

Since getting on this whole Princess kick lately, reading about it and re-watching the movies, and spending a LOT of time thinking about it, the law of unintended consequences reared its ulgy head. Feminism (to me, I suppose I should clarify) is about empowering women to do what they want to do and be who they want to be, to not feel the need to fit in to a mold or any "gender role." However, when telling girls that they could be anything, it's almost as if we've told them they have to be...everything. A study from Girls Inc. published in 2006 details what they call the "Supergirl Dilemma." Girls still have to be thin and pretty, but now they have to be smart and successful too. Instead of releasing them from the old chains of gender roles, we've expanded those roles to be more demanding.

Anecdotally, I completely relate to this. My friends and I did not simply "want" to go to college and be successful, we were going to. And we spent a lot of time talking about our physical flaws and dieting. And, well, me to a lesser extent (at least from what I remember) but most of my friends talked about partying to be social, and getting along well with everybody, and a few even still clung to the idea of "popularity." You had to be smart, pretty, fun to be around, well-liked by all, the president of every club you joined.

So when I think about girls aiming to get the best grades and be perfect, and not necessarily doing it for themselves, but doing it because of external pressures, it made me mad. What good is that? Teaching our children to be the best they can be for others? Don't we want them to be happy with themselves, to be truly self-motivated, to be what they want to be, and not what they think others want them to be and expect of them?

That's when it hit me: pay them.

Sure, it seems cheap (ethically speaking, of course) for kids to do well in school for money and not "for the joy of learning," but I'd want my kids to do well in school for their own personal reasons and no one else's. I don't want my daughter to go to school and get good grades and think that her reward is one small step on the road to perfection. I don't want her to do it to please me, to please her teachers, or to compete with her friends, I want her to do it to please herself. And perhaps that lesson will be learned in getting good grades for completely selfish and tangible reasons. She won't kid herself into being happy because she made me happy, she'll be happy because she can go out and buy another k'nex set. Or Legos. Or makeup or whatever my daughter will be in to.

I don't want my daughter's happiness to hinge on the happiness of others. She shouldn't have to please other people before herself, it should be the other way around.

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