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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Are Rewards a Form of Bribery?

Are Rewards a Form of Bribery?

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When teachers reward behavior, we try to motivate students to do something, for instance, to improve an academic skill or to behave in a different way. The expectation is that the reward will strengthen the skill or behavior we want; if the child produces the “right” response or behavior (defined by the teacher), we reward, if not, we withhold. According to the American Heritage College Dictionary (Fourth Edition), rewards are something given in recompense for worthy behavior, most specifically (psychology definition), the return for performance of a desired behavior. The same source defines “bribe” as something offered or given to influence a person’s view or conduct. The extended definition identifies “bribes” as something that serve to influence or persuade. Based strictly on these two definitions, only one thing is clear to me: the boundaries between rewarding children and bribing children are blurred, and they even may be overlapping. Simply put, both rewards and bribes can be interpreted as an attempt to influence and change children’s behavior. In addition, bribery may involve the use of rewards. The best defense in using reinforcement procedures in the classroom, including tangible and non-tangible rewards, is that, when teachers reward behavior, we are trying to make our students more competent or help them change some aspect of their behavior in a positive way. Some teachers like using rewards; others object to their use, sometimes strongly. I would love to read pros and cons on this issue. Related Article: Should Teachers Give Rewards to Students for Good Behavior? A Psycho-Educational Perspective

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