This past weekend my brother-in-law posted a question to his Facebook page asking what people think about the idea of offering financial incentives to his boys (one in elementary, one in middle school) for the grades they earn. Neither boy is doing poorly and, in fact, are both bright and seem to have a variety of interests, so he is not trying to solve any particular problem. I believe his question might be motivated by the family news that three of our nieces recently received admission to some very prestigious universities: Princeton, Northwestern, and Carnegie Mellon. Apparently he is hoping for equally wonderful opportunities for his sons, and is considering how best to help them achieve their potential.
As the mother of two boys myself (slightly younger than my brother-in-law's boys), this is certainly something I think about too. And the fact that I homeschool both of them only adds to the level of responsibility I feel for preparing them to enter the adult world. As a quick aside, I am not an education expert, nor have I ever been a K-12 teacher. However, I have a graduate degree in business and worked for years in the organizational development and training field (focusing on training and motivating workers); more recently, I taught a variety of college-level and graduate-level courses at a large university, and I have a strong interest in educational psychology with a particular emphasis in learning and motivation. So, while I have not conducted any research on this issue of paying for academic performance, nor have I taught kids who were motivated in this way, I do have a very strong opinion about it: it would be a huge mistake.
Paying our kids for their grades sends a clear and unmistakable message that we care primarily about results, and that the quality of their output (as judged by others) is what matters. While encouraging children to work hard and do their best is, without argument, our responsibility as parents, this represents only part of the equation. What about input? How do we let them know that exploring, risk-taking, and boundary-stretching are equally, if not more, important? I would much prefer that my sons try something new or difficult and fail, than go for the easy project or the easy elective course just to get an "A", and therefore more money in their pockets. My goal for them is that they spend their youth figuring out what they truly like (and don't like), what their natural skills and talents are, and who they are as people, not as performers. If they both were to graduate from high school or college with straight "A's", I would actually be disappointed.