Cash for Grades May Not Be So Bad

One of my favorite writers at the New York Times broached a very interesting subject in yesterday’s paper (not that I actually read the newspaper it was printed on, but instead enjoyed scrolling through her piece on my laptop). Susan Dominus, columnist extraordinaire, doesn’t seem to think very highly of the New York City programs giving kids money for good grades.

For those of you who don’t know, giving kids money for good grades is a part of an experimental program here in New York being conducted by some very smart people from schools tattered in ivy. Of course, I’m being facetious here. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that if you give kids money for grades, kids will get better grades. The only difference between you and me running this experimental program and these “highly educated” professors running it is that they get paid a whole lot more for doing it.

But Ms. Dominus doesn’t think that this program is good for the future of our society—at least our financial future anyway. She believes that giving kids money for grades gives money added value. Ms. Dominus does not like the idea of reinforcing the value of money in the minds of kids, because in her opinion, it leads to “another generation overlooked with people, educated and not, whose ambition is limited to the goal of cash, and at all costs.”

Naturally, I beg to differ.

The problem with Ms. Dominus’s theory is that she fails to take a look back at her own childhood.

Now, I was born in 1984 so my scope of Ms. Dominus’s reign as a child/pre-adolescent isn’t all that concrete. Nevertheless, as far as I know, there weren’t any wide-ranging experiments in New York City offering kids cash for grades in the 70’s and 60’s (sorry, Ms. Dominus, if going back to the 60’s was an insult—I’m just trying to make a point here). And yet still, by the unfortunate fate of God, Ala, Jesus Christ and Ronald Regan, we ended up with three economic disasters since the inception of the 80’s, with each disaster pretty much originating at the hand’s of greed.

So how can anyone come to the conclusion, no matter how personal it may be, that giving kids money in 2010 could possibly create the next generation to initiate a financial sector-driven recession as Ms. Dominus suggests by saying, “Giving a kid a costly gadget or cash to get good grades? Somehow, suddenly, that all sounds very pre-crash”…?

Frankly, wouldn’t it make more sense to assume that giving kids cash for grades could have the opposite effect, especially since kids from the 70’s and 60’s were devoid of such a system? Individuals from those earlier decades might actually be more prone to a mindset of cash “at all costs.” Afterall, many of them entered the financial world knowing that they could either commission, network or my favorite, “build and sell” their way to a nice payday in which they have done very little, if anything, of substance.

In the 80’s, Wall Street bankers were living off the commissions of Middle America until the late 80’s crash. In the late 90’s, early 2000’s, internet start-ups were cashing in on hype faster than high school basketball players turning pro. And just recently, Wall Street was at it again, passing around packages of money, taking a penny here and a nickel there until, suddenly, the package unraveled before their very eyes. And what was the perception of money that led to these economic disasters?

Money was a game to these people. An entire generation—excuse me—two or three entire generations were done-in by those who thrived and lived off the notion that money could be had with empty promises, risky lending practices and without elongated effort or proprietary substance of any kind. The people born in the 60’s and 70’s who decided to go to Wall Street, and eventually Silicon Valley, didn’t see money as something to be earned, to be worked for, or as a consequence of creating something of value. Perhaps teaching them at a young age that money is to be earned by doing something of substance, value and merit, such as grades (which are some of the most important things in a young person’s life) could have taught these bankers and Internet boomers a thing or two about the value of money.

Also, Ms. Dominus failed to address one of the most important things these experimental “cash for grades” programs are dealing with: race.

It’s not as if these professors are trying to get Upper East Siders to improve their grades with money that probably is equal to no more than chump change in comparison to the allowances UES kids’ mommies and daddies give them at the end of the week. These programs are designed primarily for blacks in bad socioeconomic situations who don’t see grades as a way out of the projects. For them, cash is king and grades have no value. However, by linking the two entities, tying cash to grades, the results demonstrate that kids are increasing their performances in school, a result much better than the alternative.

Now, I would love to live in a perfect world where we don’t have to give any kids money for grades and everybody turns out fine. After all, the only thing I got for grades was a pass on a butt-whipping—which I was very thankful for. Unfortunately, we live in a society (which was, oddly enough, created by generations past) where money has been given so much value that little things like grades, to someone who comes from near-poverty, have no value at all. So while Ms. Dominus argues that “cash for grades” creates a motivation for money that is detrimental to our society, I believe these programs create a much needed motivation for grades that far outweighs the happenstance value such programs give to the old mighty dollar—an already high-ranking emblem in society that is so direly inflated in the minds of our youths that it really can’t gain but so much more esteem anyway.

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