Not long ago I posted about Ronald McDonald’s visit to my kids’ school. Now our district has a new program under which kids who have perfect attendance for a certain amount of time get gift certificates for ice cream at Dairy Queen.
Kids who stay home sick are disqualified from the prize. So the program gives kids who have contagious illnesses an incentive to come to school, and penalizes those who don’t. When one parent complained to a school administrator about the unfairness of penalizing kids for being sick, the administrator replied that kids need to learn that life isn’t always fair.
The program violates the district’s own Wellness Policy, which prohibits the use of junk food as a reward for academic performance or good behavior. (Nutritional information on Dairy Queen products is available here. Even the basic vanilla ice cream cone and the plain vanilla shake violate the nutritional requirements that the Wellness Policy puts on foods that are used as rewards. At least one child got a gift certificate for a hot dog, which also violates the policy.) The program also undermines the district’s own policies requiring sick kids to stay home (see page 7-8 here).
As is so often the case with the district’s use of material rewards, the program sends a negative, materialistic, anti-educational message: that school is so aversive that you need to be bribed to attend, and that ice cream is what every normal person really wants.
But apparently it didn’t occur to any of our district administrators that this program might not be such a great idea. Junk food, policy violations, advertising to kids, behavioral manipulation, contagious illness – what’s not to like?