Thursday, August 26, 2010

In Which Pete Rose Takes Up Teaching

I don't need an incentive to learn anything. Self-education is a big selling point of mine. My public schooling experience drove home the message more than a few times that if I wanted a halfway decent education, I'd have to go get it myself. Middle school in particular seemed particularly uninterested in teaching me things, greatly favoring the alternative method of placing me in close proximity with people who wanted to beat me up. (To this day, I still cover one eye when driving past it, so I don't have to look at it. Let's not discuss further.)

Had I left things purely to the schools, I'd be a hell of a lot dumber than I actually am. Besides, learning doesn't stop when school does. It goes on. After you get out of school, you need to start motivating yourself. It's one thing to learn when there's something on the line- when there's a job on the line, when there's a promotion on the line, a grade on the line, a life on the line. It's quite another to learn when there's nothing on the line except for a sense of self improvement.

Which is why this story troubles me. There is a site,, that allows college students to bet money on them achieving a certain grade. Currently, 36 schools are part of the program. This is technically legal, as while online gambling is illegal in the United States, that applies to contests in which you have no control, and you do have control over your grades.

But there's just something seedy about it all. It's betting money on school. The student's own money. It's one thing to create an incentive program for getting good grades; lots of places do that for elementary school students. There's a video rental place in town that offers free rentals for every A on a kid's report card. Plenty of parents offer their kids money for good grades. There are two key differences between those and this:

1. The elementary school student does not have any skin in the game. If he doesn't meet the goal, he doesn't lose anything. The college student does.
2. The elementary school student has a lot fewer financial concerns on his mind than the college student. The elementary school student doesn't have any living costs; the parents provide everything. The college student has some pretty crushing student loans looming right after he gets out.

It may be more of an incentive to hit the books, but more likely, it's simply an incentive to win that bet. If a student put some fairly significant money on a grade, and is skirting the bare edge of it going into a final exam, the pressure of that bet is going to be enormous. At that point, the possibility exists that studying may take a backseat to cheating. Money gets some pretty base reactions out of people. There's going to be somebody, eventually, probably sooner rather than later, that is going to forget about studying and just focus on hitting the goal grade by any means necessary.

Which teaches a lesson school was never meant to teach.

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