My new gym has cardio machines with televisions, which I initially disdained. I’m not much of a TV watcher (except for Survivor), and being entertained while exercising seems morally suspect. But yesterday I happened to have some earbuds in my pocket when I arrived at the gym, and so I figured “What the heck? Modern culture is so riddled with putrescence that my participation would be but a drop in the muck.”
Onto the elliptical trainer I hopped. With my ears plugged in, I turned on the tube and commenced channel surfing while swishing my feet and legs to and fro. I suspect that I swished less energetically than usual, due to the attention commanded by the shiny object and moving pictures, but that’s what I get for my moral decline.
I settled on the smiling face of Stephen Colbert. His guest: Professor Ronald Fryer, the researcher behind a controversial program in which students in some Big Bad Inner City High Schools get cash money for good grades.
How much money? $50 for each A. $35 for each B. $20 for each C. Every five weeks. Half payable up front, half upon graduation. Sweet, eh?
Note to any children of mine who may be reading this and developing an aggrieved sense of entitlement: No.
The program is a simple, desperate attempt to foster a culture of achievement in predominantly black inner city schools. Fryer says the achievement gap between black and white kids is the number one civil rights issue we currently face. Well, I don’t think it’s a civil rights issue, but it’s an issue, all right. A whopping big problem that no one has any idea how to fix.
Colbert, bless his heart, said that when HE was a youngster, students were rewarded for doing well in school by their parents not opening a big ‘ole can o’ whup ass on ‘em. Fryer agreed, saying that his sainted grandmother, the schoolteacher, used an incentive program she called “Bring Your Own Belt.”
But here we are, paying kids to meet pretty basic expectations instead of taking them out to the woodshed when they fail to measure up.
The program is in its infancy, so we can’t say whether it will alter the fates of the students. Preliminary results look good, but it’s a long way from pulling decent grades in the first trimester of high school to graduating and going to college. A mighty long way. As it stands, 50% of children who begin high school in the city of Chicago drop out. That’s thousands of kids each year, starting out their lives with nothing to stand on. What are they going to put on their job applications? No transcript, no list of extra-curricular activities. Zip.
The program, called “Green for Grades,” is privately funded. Not a single one of your tax dollars is going into the pockets of those ghetto kids. But it feels wrong, doesn’t it? Morally suspect, even.
Since I live a modern city life that involves very little physical labor, I haul my overfed self into the gym, where I can run for hours without traveling a single meter and watch sardonic comedians tackle the social problems du jour. And since those Chicago kids live a modern city life in which black children see no point in adopting the values of the institution called school unless a point in the form of currency is created for them, do we not owe it to them to make that connection now, while they are still the children of our village, and before they become the next generation of unskilled adults who can’t pass on a culture they’ve never grasped themselves?
Or should we break out the whup ass?