Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Rubber Duckies

If you work in a school, chances are you have dealt with fund raisers at some point.  Usually, my school ends up having a couple a year.  Recently, our principal decided to put together a fund raiser to raise money for 35 Chromebooks and a cart.  Definitely a good cause as right now we have a student to Chromebook ratio of 3 to 1, and there are times, especially as we get closer to Open House in the spring, that we are all scrambling to use them.  No fights have broken out, but I figure that is just a matter of time.

This particular fund raiser involved selling cookie dough.  Expensive cookie dough.  $17-a-tub cookie dough. The kind that will be delivered frozen and parents will have to come and pick up.  The kind that always gets me worrying about food safety.

To encourage the kids to actually sell the over-priced cookie dough, fabulous prizes were dangled in front of them.  The most enticing turned out to be rubber ducks on lanyards.  For every three orders, the kids received a duck.  These weren't just ordinary yellow ducks, mind you.  No, they were superhero ducks. They were designed to look like Superman, Iron Man, Batman, and others.  Sort of. If no one had told me what they were,  I never would have guessed.  The kids absolutely went crazy for them.

At our staff meeting on Monday, we learned that our quick one-week cookie dough fund raiser had netted us $16,000.  Never underestimate the power of rubber ducks! Yet, somehow I found that troubling.  I began to wonder, what are we teaching our kids when the only way to get them go participate is to bribe them with prizes?  Here we were raising money for computers that they would use, that they love to use, and that benefit their education.  This fund raiser was a chance for them to do something for their school, a chance to feel that they had made a difference.

I can't help but feel we took that away from them.  We told them we didn't think they were willing to contribute to their community.  We told them that you should only participate if there is something in it for you. 

I am sure many will disagree with me.  The ducks were incentives. They simply encouraged the kids to put effort into the cause.  They can feel proud of all the money they raised.

All that is true.  It just seems to me that we are more and more, as a society, conveying the message that the only things worth doing are ones that result in personal gain.  Instead of looking at how actions can benefit others and one's community, we seem to always to be asking, "What's in it for me?"  When we pay our children for good grades, when we offer trinkets for books read and AR tests passed, are we not trivializing the true accomplishment?  Are we not teaching them that the reward is the money or the prize and not the learning? Are we denying them the opportunity to see themselves as contributing members of society and part of a much bigger picture than just themselves?

Maybe I'm overthinking all this.  The kids got ducks and we got Chromebooks. It's a win-win. Right?


  1. You have raised very important questions! I am with you.

  2. I think about this so much, intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation. I do think the former can be learned and should be taught, modeled, and valued.

  3. This is something I think about often, especially the closer my own children get to elementary school. I agree with you 100%. We do an incentive drive with ducks/penguins/monkeys/something-on-a-lanyard every year to earn Time for Kids, and were told this year by our principal to only offer incentives if kids who had participated in the past asked about them...and no one could stick to it. Teachers snuck to the prize box in the office and handed the prizes out anyway. What does that tell you about the culture we've created? I love how you presented this issue!

  4. I LOVE this post for many reasons. Your voice is so conversational and natural, I feel like I have been talking (listening) to you just now. What a great trait for a writer! And the questions you raised and the point you have made are so, SO important. We often do things because they are practical, without considering the future ramifications and lessons that live on. Yes, the students got the ducks and the school got the money for the Chromebooks (and the buyers got the cookie dough) but what of that will remain in the children's minds 10 years from now? And what will they choose to do in their future lives because of what we have taught them through all this? Such good writing! I'll be back for more - thank you!

  5. I have always had issues with fundraisers because of the message kids receive if they don't want to participate. For instance, I'd rather hand over $17 than buy over-priced cookie dough. But in the past, we've had gift wrap, snacks, magazines—you name it. I hate, hate, hate the way those prizes are dangled in front of the kids.

  6. Thank you, everyone, for your comments. It is nice to know that I am not the only one who feels this way!

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