On Incentives and Outcomes.

Average Bro points to a program in North Carolina that pays teenage girls a dollar a day to not get pregnant.

The group College-Bound Sisters was founded at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro by Hazel Brown, a maternity nurse who thought too many teens were having babies.

Brown said she hopes the program, which pays $1 each day to 12-to-18-year-old girls, will keep them from getting pregnant. In addition to remaining pregnancy-free, the girls must also attend weekly meetings.

The program is funded by a four-year grant from the state.

“Our three goals are that they avoid pregnancy, graduate from high school and enroll in college,” Brown said.

Under the program, $7 is deposited into an interest-bearing college fund that the girls can collect once they graduate high school.

Some recent graduates earned more than $2,000 and are an inspiration to those still in the program.

“I might want to be a teacher for a few years and then be a lawyer,” said 12-year-old Chelsey Davis. “I might want to be an actor or singer,” another girl in the program, Amanda Davis, added.

AB’s take on it, however, is pretty strange.

Essentially, they are paying young girls cash money to do something they should probably have the personal desire and willpower to do on their own. Much like the (somewhat successful) act of paying kids to do well in school, you wonder what message is really being conveyed here. Are these girls being taught to value their goodies, or simply that $1/day is better than a sweaty five minutes in the of some random boy’s Momma’s basement? I honestly can’t call it, and that’s likely why God blessed me with two sons instead. … this “pay kids for something they should do for free” thing is getting out of hand. We are already paying kids to simply attend school and show up on time. What’s next? Paying kids to not smoke weed? This is getting outta control.

It’s funny that AB take issue with conservatives for their reaction to the program while offering up a pretty boilerplate social conservative critique of the program of his own. (“Whatever happened to personal responsibility?”) He even tosses in some lazy patriarchy for good measure. The comments sections for the original article is filled with the same idea: these little girls don’t need money, they need some self-esteem and to keep their legs closed.

AB’s argument rests on the assumption that going to school or getting good grades or not getting pregnant in high school isn’t incentivized behavior. But if your parents are professionals and you are expected to go to college, you’re going to receive a steady stream of affirmation and structural encouragement to that end (decent schools, pressure to do well, SAT prep courses, etc.) — so much so that the risks/benefit calculations don’t even need to happen on a conscious level. Your parents went to college, all your classmates are going to college, so why wouldn’t you? For a kid in that situation, the costs of getting pregnant — parental disappointment, social isolation, the end of college plans — would be pretty major. “Personal desire,” as AB puts it, isn’t formed in a vacuum.

But while shame can be a damn good motivator, it’s only as effective as its context. If you don’t know many people who’ve graduated high school and you don’t know anyone who has graduated college or you go to a shitty school, that cost/benefit equation is completely different. Getting pregnant or dropping out of school doesn’t really take anything off the table because going to college was never a likely outcome. The kids in both scenarios are making honest appraisals of their situations and their incentives toward certain life outcomes, and making their decisions accordingly.

“Self-esteem” and “personal responsibility” are kind of beside the point. College-Bound Sisters is trying to approximate the same incentive structure and support systems that middle class kids take as a given, which — whether you agree with how they’re handling it or not — is what has to happen if you want those kids on the margins to aspire to and have middle class outcomes.

Anyway, knowing that middle class teenagers are far less likely to get pregnant and far more likely to go on to college, doesn’t taking AB’s position on “personal responsibility” and “self-esteem” mean implicitly buying the idea that lower-class kids are irresponsible lazy asses who hate themselves?

UPDATE: pprscribe and Leigh make excellent points.

ppr:

It does annoy me, though, how frequently these programs are portrayed as paying girls “to not get laid” or “to keep their legs closed.” The outcome measure being referenced is “not getting pregnant” (among other requirements, like participation in regular meetings). Presumably obtaining an abortion following conception could keep a girl in the program, so really it is a program discouraging *childbearing*. And certainly sex without conception would not be covered by the program. To frame it as a way to control young female sexuality is just silly to me, and reveals a lot about folks who jump to that conclusion.

Leigh:

I’m a big believer in incentives, and I’m a big believer in responding to the particular risks and opportunities that different groups (e.g., teen girls) face.  But I find the framing of this initiative troubling, as it seems to me it once again reduces women to our reproductive capacity, rather than incorporating and responding to the risk of teen pregnancy as one particular obstacle for low-income young women among many on the path to college and out of poverty.

42 thoughts on “On Incentives and Outcomes.

  1. Jamelle July 7, 2009 at 1:24 pm Reply

    I don’t actually blame AB for jumping immediately to the “why can’t we just encourage personal responsibility” solution; one of the terrifying things about assuming some degree of rationality among actors is that you realize that there is a whole host of undesirable – or even “deviant” – behavior which is perfectly rational given the circumstances. And if you accept that, 9 times out of 10, you have no choice but to acknowledge that as a society, we do a horrible job of deincentivizing rational, destructive behavior. Which isn’t a particularly nice thing to think about.

  2. pprscribe July 7, 2009 at 1:47 pm Reply

    Imagine a scholarship program in college where students receive a stipend, in sum lump sum, that works out to being some small figure per day (say, $1-$10/day over 2 semesters). In order to continue the program, students must, say (a) meet weekly with an advisor, (b) maintain a minimal grade point average, (c) not get into any academic or other disciplinary trouble on campus or outside of campus.

    Would these students be considered to be “being paid” for something–not get into trouble and continue to make good grades–“they should strive to do anyway”? Would the stipend be seen as “payment”/”incentive” and/or a benefit of being selected for the program?

    I am not saying that this particular program is or is not a good idea. Just that some of us can be judgmental when it comes to failing to see the links between these types of programs, and programs that we ourselves may have benefitted from.

    It does annoy me, though, how frequently these programs are portrayed as paying girls “to not get laid” or “to keep their legs closed.” The outcome measure being referenced is “not getting pregnant” (among other requirements, like participation in regular meetings). Presumably obtaining an abortion following conception could keep a girl in the program, so really it is a program discouraging *childbearing*. And certainly sex without conception would not be covered by the program. To frame it as a way to control young female sexuality is just silly to me, and reveals a lot about folks who jump to that conclusion.

    • Leigh July 7, 2009 at 2:08 pm Reply

      I had a similar response, which is, why is the emphasis on presence of pregnancy, when weekly meeting attendance, high school graduation, and college matriculation are also desired outcomes? Couldn’t this be reframed as “Students can earn up to $2,000 to stay in school” or “Students eligible for thousands in aid if they head to college”. I realize its launch by a nurse and the students’ reproductive capacity leads us to the distinction of pregnancy, but so do the less “neutral” considerations of slowing the alleged scourge of teen pregnancy. And I say “alleged” because teen pregnancy landed Bristol Palin on the cover of People, looking as sweet and cherubic as her kid.

      PS: This post is perfectly timed for my p.m. blog post, btw! Excellent work.

      • aisha July 7, 2009 at 2:37 pm Reply

        I agree with you mostly. However, there are plenty of programs with the goal to reduce unintended pregnancies (teen pregnancy is so passe). Since unintended pregnancy tends to be a barrier to acheiving long educational goals in this particular population why not work on that barrier?

        • Leigh July 7, 2009 at 2:49 pm Reply

          I’m not saying don’t. I’m saying this program appears to be focused on multiple outcomes. Why frame it as “don’t get pregnant!” as if it’s not a program focused on keeping girls in school and on to college? I get that preventing pregnancy is part of that, but again, part of, not the sole issue here.

      • G.D. July 7, 2009 at 3:05 pm Reply

        lol. anytime.

    • Jeremy July 7, 2009 at 3:15 pm Reply

      “Imagine a scholarship program in college where students receive a stipend, in sum lump sum, that works out to being some small figure per day (say, $1-$10/day over 2 semesters). In order to continue the program, students must, say (a) meet weekly with an advisor, (b) maintain a minimal grade point average, (c) not get into any academic or other disciplinary trouble on campus or outside of campus.”

      I’ve heard of such a program…it’s called graduate school!

      And, I think I should add to this point that Leigh is spot-on with bringing up the issue of framing. The way in which we talk about this program colors our perception of its paternalism. The news outlets should be reporting it as an innovative program to get young women from these backgrounds into college (by way of monetary incentives and pregnancy prevention), as opposed to the current media representation of “Look at this program paying girls to keep their legs closed!”

    • quadmoniker July 7, 2009 at 8:33 pm Reply

      Yeah, but you can’t reasonably tell whether a girl is having unprotected sex or not. It would be the honor system. Pregnancy is easier to spot and keep track of, and if the girls know that they might be more likely to stick with it. If they knew they could cheat it wouldn’t be a program with integrity.

      I’m wondering whether $1 a day is enough. Wouldn’t $5 a day make more sense. It would be more measurable, and would be lunch for the day or something.

      • G.D. July 7, 2009 at 8:40 pm Reply

        They don’t get the money every day. According to the article, the money is “deposited into an interest-bearing college fund that the girls can collect once they graduate high school.”

  3. bitchphd July 7, 2009 at 2:41 pm Reply

    Yes to the questions in the post.

    Yes also to Leigh; but I wonder to what extent “don’t get pregnant” basically *is* “stay in school” for girls in some schools. I really don’t know the answer, but I think it’s right that one of the biggest factors in girls’s avoiding pregnancy has been shown to be whether or not they have a sense of a future aside from that. And presumably the promise of having some money saved up would help. I know that for my own kid, his savings account is a *huge* part of his imagining his future.

    • bitchphd July 7, 2009 at 2:44 pm Reply

      And it seems to me that AB’s objections *really* amount more to a sense of resentment that the girls are getting “free” money. Which is interesting; I wonder if he’d be equally angry that my son gets an allowance? (Which isn’t tied to “doing chores,” by the way.)

    • bitchphd July 7, 2009 at 2:52 pm Reply

      Aaaand, having read Leigh’s post, I realize that her question was about the news coverage of the program, rather than about why the program would focus on pregnancy to the exclusion of other goals (it doesn’t). Teach me to read more carefully next time.

      • Leigh July 7, 2009 at 3:31 pm Reply

        True. Short of knowing more about how the program is structured, it’s the way it’s described that’s bugging me. For all we know, the founder does chant in each weekly meeting, “Don’t Get Pregnant! Don’t Get Pregnant!” “Ok, here’s your dollar.” and nothing more But based on her singular statement, it sounds a little more holistic than that. 🙂

        • Winslowalrob July 7, 2009 at 5:29 pm Reply

          Wait, will chanting ‘don’t get pregnant’ actually work? Now thats education!

          • Leigh July 7, 2009 at 8:54 pm Reply

            You’ve got to chant it at least 5 times and there’s some spinning in circles and jazz hands involved. But yeah, then success!! 🙂

            • Winslowalrob July 7, 2009 at 9:10 pm Reply

              It worked! I’m not pregnant! Praise Jebus!

              • G.D. July 7, 2009 at 9:11 pm Reply

                I got some tiger-repellant spray i’d like to sell you.

  4. missincognegro July 7, 2009 at 6:06 pm Reply

    I’m not a supporter of token commodities to reinforce/encourage desired behavior. I am also not clear from the original article whether or not the program in question promotes abstinence. If they’re smart, the program isn’t promoting abstinence. Boys and girls need to be taught safe, correct and effective methods for lessening the chances of pregnancy. Which brings up another point: Why is it that boys aren’t being offered token commodities to keep it zipped up? Why do these programs always targeting only girls? If we’re going to use token commodities, then boys and girls should be included. Again, I don’t agree with the approach, but, if it is going to be used, include both genders.

    The bottom line is this: Whether a female is 16 or 36, it must be understood by her that every time she engages in sexual behavior that increases the likelihood of procreating, she’s taking a chance. That’s with or without birth control. How many “Pill” or “condom” babies are now amongst us? That said, the consistent and proper use of effective forms of birth control should, without question, be used, not to mention practices that will lesson the likelihood of contracting an STI.

    • G.D. July 7, 2009 at 6:10 pm Reply

      “I’m not a supporter of token commodities to reinforce/encourage desired behavior.”

      Care to elaborate?

      • missincognegro July 7, 2009 at 9:08 pm Reply

        Token economies: If students do this, they’ll get that. If you do all of your work, I’ll give you 10 minutes @ the end of class to chat and chill, or, for every math problem you answer correctly and for which you show your work, I’ll give you a candy, or a homework pass, etc. This is yet another example, to be anyway, of the use of token economies to coerce the desired behavior.

        • G.D. July 7, 2009 at 9:11 pm Reply

          But again, aren’t kids who do engage in the desired behavior being rewarded for doing so, even if we’re not talking about candy or free time?

          • missincognegro July 7, 2009 at 10:33 pm Reply

            The idea is that this sort of behavior should and needs to be going on, because the girls make it so, and not because of the money they are going to get via a program. In other words, self-determination.

            • G.D. July 7, 2009 at 11:42 pm Reply

              so a kid shouldn’t be busting her ass in high school for a partial scholarship but busting her ass for the sake of busting her ass? I’m not sure that makes sense.

              that kind of behavior is always incentivized, which is why people engage in it in the first place. “self-determination” is a by-product of that kind of incentivizing and socializing.

              • missincognegro July 8, 2009 at 9:18 am Reply

                G.D. I don’t believe many of us work hard “just because…” So, We can close the loop on that argument.

                Conversely, most of us don’t need programs where someone is going to give us a dollar for every day we’re not pregnant, or whatever the case may be, because, in the long run, that sort of conditioning of behavior doesn’t work. Just like parents who give their childen X dollars for X number of As or Bs. While the motivation to do better may increase, it doesn’t improve one’s mindset re: achievement, learning, etc. All it teaches the child is that in order to motivate me to do something, someone is going to give me money or other gift for doing it. The difference between working hard for a partial scholarship and accepting money for so many good grades is that the former is more internally motivated, and the latter externally motivated.

                Most of us have identified goals, of our own volition, such as earning a partial scholarship, and do what is necessary in order to achieve it. We may have been guided in some way to a particular goal, but, it is self-defined, self-determined. When goals and aspirations are internally driven they are more genuine. When they are externally motivated, there is no internal structure to support them.

                • missincognegro July 8, 2009 at 9:26 am Reply

                  RE: scholarships, etc. Students who are so inclined, i.e. internally motivated, have been taught what it means to achieve something. They understand that to be a good student may lead to a scholarship, but, it will lead to so much more: greater opportunities, better understanding of the world, and the development of a persona that understands self-discipline, effort, and responsibility and accountability. One doesn’t typically learn these skills by being in a program, and being given money.

                  So, the two examples – girls in a program for money, and a student working towards a scholarship – are two different situations.

                  • G.D. July 8, 2009 at 10:20 am Reply

                    So, the two examples – girls in a program for money, and a student working towards a scholarship – are two different situations.”

                    It actually isn’t that different in this case. From the story:

                    Under the program, $7 is deposited into an interest-bearing college fund that the girls can collect once they graduate high school.

                    How exactly, is giving them access to college funds if they meet certain requirements different from working for a scholarship?

                    But I’m still not following. Is wanting to get into an Ivy League law school an internally motivated goal or an externally motivated one? What about “the best and brightest” who go to Wharton and then into finance and whose pay is made of mostly of performance bonuses? It’s not clear to me that either of those (or getting into a good college) is solely the function of internal drive.

                    my blogmate blackink once said that as a young kid playing football, his dad promised him a video game for every touchdown he scored. But BI went on to play Division I football at a major college program. His dad probably wasn’t buying him video games for performance by the time he was being recruited. So what was motivating him? A desire to be the best player he could? Social standing? Making his dad proud? Getting dough for college? Probably a little bit of all those things. So his motivations changed, but it’s not easy delineating where the inner begins and the outer ends.

                    Just like parents who give their childen X dollars for X number of As or Bs. While the motivation to do better may increase, it doesn’t improve one’s mindset re: achievement, learning, etc. All it teaches the child is that in order to motivate me to do something, someone is going to give me money or other gift for doing it…When goals and aspirations are internally driven they are more genuine. When they are externally motivated, there is no internal structure to support them.

                    Oh, so this is a “right reasons” argument. Again, I think you’re drawing a bright line between “external” and “internal” when there isn’t one. And you’re disregarding the fact that the broad, constant incentivizing and affirmation that goes on for kids in middle class environments — from parents, teachers, peers, coaches, etc. — is still incentivizing, even if we’re disinclined to view it as such and couched them in the terms you’re using, like “self-motivation.”

                    • missincognegro July 8, 2009 at 11:02 am

                      G.D. I am not clear what it is you’re not following. To me, the convo isn’t all that deep. I mentioned token economies, which apparently piqued your interest. I explained how I view intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation. You don’t see a clear line between the two, but I do. You view my rationale as “middle class” and “right reasons”. Okay. You don’t have to accept my reasoning, or even get it. You asked, I explained. You don’t have to get or accept my position. I will, however, consider your points for further reflection, but still maintain that such programs as the one about which you write don’t work in the long run.

                  • G.D. July 8, 2009 at 11:14 am Reply

                    ” You don’t have to accept my reasoning, or even get it.”

                    Ooookay. So then you basically just want to broadly asserting things. Noted.

                    No thoughts on the pecuniary and social motivations of the “best and brightest”? Are they something else? Was I off-base?

                    “…but still maintain that such programs as the one about which you write don’t work in the long run.”

                    Is there evidence of this somewhere, or is this a hunch of yours?

    • Leigh July 7, 2009 at 8:58 pm Reply

      Second G.D.’s question below. (Or maybe it’s above me, I get confused on these threads.) I agree w/you in principle about the desired gender equity here, but there’s no question that women disproportionately suffer when babies are brought into the world, in terms of raising and supporting the kid. I don’t know how much boys are penalized for this reality compared to girls. In that sense, targeting girls and not both boys and girls makes sense to me.

      Also, as a couple folks have pointed out up above, pregnancy appears to be measurable compared to sexual activity, safe or otherwise – and by guarding against pregnancy, vs. sex, for example, the program, what we know about it, becomes about childbearing, not about being sexually active.

  5. ladyfresh July 7, 2009 at 9:11 pm Reply

    it’s a capitalist society. its the rare person in this society does anything without financial or political incentives. you can address the moral issue in the program without directly addressing what motivates society overall. i’m finding the pedestal a bit annoying. while i understand ideally we these should be our motives, reality is that its a major incentive. we don’t work 9-5 jobs for the joy of it we do it for the money.

  6. missincognegro July 8, 2009 at 11:22 am Reply

    Okay. So you’re going the taking-my-ball-and-going-home route?

    G.D., let’s put this tactic to bed. It doesn’t work with me.I am contributing to the free marketplace of ideas, of which your blog is a part, and I chose to comment on your blog. I don’t need to convince you. It would be nice, but I don’t need to convince you. I realize that you have a stake in getting people to support your point of view. That’s why we write, but we should also be open to other points of view.

    No thoughts on the pecuniary and social motivations of the “best and brightest”? Are they something else? Was I off-base? the so-called, “best and brightest” are motivated by all sorts of things. But, I do believe that this group possesses a set of behaviors, both intrinsically and extrinisically motivated, which contributes.

    “…but still maintain that such programs as the one about which you write don’t work in the long run.”

    Is there evidence of this somewhere, or is this a hunch of yours?

    No; not a hunch. Just a lot of years spent in the classroom, and deciding some years ago, after conversations with others and my own beliefs, that token economies don’t speak to me as a teacher.

    • G.D. July 8, 2009 at 11:54 am Reply

      “the so-called, “best and brightest” are motivated by all sorts of things. But, I do believe that this group possesses a set of behaviors, both intrinsically and extrinisically motivated, which contributes.”

      How is the same not true for elementary and high school students?

      Last, I taught at a school, for six years, where grades weren’t issued to students. This environment helped to shape my thinking about external motivators and learning.

      Interesting. So there were no other benchmarks in place to monitor student learning? Quarterly meetings with parents? Were the kids just all kept together by age group? Or did they progress from say, fifth grade to sixth grade? (If so, don’t the social benefits of staying with your peers vs. getting held back — to say nothing of disappointing your parents — count as an incentive?)

      What do you think should happen to a kid who many not be “self-motivated” but finds herself on the margins, like the girls above? Do you try to instill it? Or does she just need to have it? (And how do you determine whether she does or not?) And if so, how do you instill it without affirmation?

      These aren’t rhetorical questions. I’m seriously intrigued by this.

  7. missincognegro July 8, 2009 at 11:29 am Reply

    G.D. I’ve also read a lot of things by Alfie Kohn. He talks a lot about token economies, and why they’re not effective. My beliefs were also shaped by Mr. Kohn’s writings. Here’s one quote that made me really question token economies

    Last, I taught at a school, for six years, where grades weren’t issued to students. This environment helped to shape my thinking about external motivators and learning. I think it also applies to programs like the one about which you wrote.

  8. missincognegro July 8, 2009 at 11:31 am Reply

    I neglected to post the quote:

    “Rewards, like punishments, produce only one thing: temporary obedience,” explains Alfie Kohn, author of Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes. “They never help kids think more deeply or become more enthusiastic about learning. I want to believe that at least the goal of these programs is admirable, even if the method is terrible. Sadly, however, schools often use these incentives not to promote meaningful learning but merely to raise scores on bad tests to make the adults look good.”

    • Leigh July 8, 2009 at 3:02 pm Reply

      ““They never help kids think more deeply or become more enthusiastic about learning.”

      That’s a pretty cynical view by Kohn. I was rewarded for good report cards as a kid and punished for poor report cards. While that was certainly positive and negative reinforcement via incentives, it kept me focused on the work and I realized over time the value of good grades, high class rank and the opportunities afforded me in college. I may have feared my mother’s wrath, yes, or wanted that cabbage patch kid, oh yes!, but by the time I was older it was – hey, maybe I’ll apply to Yale! (My awesome guidance counselor told me not to aim so high. Good stuff.) And by the time I was an adult, it was, whee! I love learning! Let me go get a PhD!

      Maybe if my parents hadn’t pushed me with reward and punishment I would never have gotten to PhD status? I don’t know. But I know I was pretty oriented in grade school to just reading under my desk and skipping my homework and not paying attention in class otherwise. But somehow I should have just become internally motivated? How does that work?

      /anecdote = data point

  9. missincognegro July 8, 2009 at 12:14 pm Reply

    “the so-called, “best and brightest” are motivated by all sorts of things. But, I do believe that this group possesses a set of behaviors, both intrinsically and extrinisically motivated, which contributes.”

    How is the same not true for elementary and high school students? G.D. I would hope that at the elementary level, children are learning how to learn, and are discovering who they are and the world in which they live. Which is why token economies is such a depressing concept to me: it begins in elementary school. By the time a young person reaches high school, they begin to respond, in earnest to the intrinsic and extrinsic factors.

    “Interesting. So there were no other benchmarks in place to monitor student learning? Quarterly meetings with parents? Were the kids just all kept together by age group? Or did they progress from say, fifth grade to sixth grade? (If so, don’t the social benefits of staying with your peers vs. getting held back — to say nothing of disappointing your parents — count as an incentive?)”

    “What do you think should happen to a kid who many not be “self-motivated” but find himself on the margins, like the girls above? Do you try to instill it? How do you do that without affirmation?”

    These aren’t rhetorical questions. I’m seriously intrigued by this.

    The school is a private school, and is able to operate according to a unique set of beliefs and practices. The over-riding belief is that students receive learning as well as are the agents of their learning. Students are motivated by right behavior because it benefits not only them, but also the group, the community, and not because something “bad” will happen to them. There were expulsions, because there were students who violated the community trust, i.e. drugs. There are lots of conversations in such a learning environment, because through the sharing of ideas, hopefully people can adopt behaviors that will benefit them in the long run. Students are assessed according to whatever goals have been established for the course, but, the student is measured on the basis of his/her 100%. So, instead of report cards, students are issued very long and detailed narratives. Formal meetings with parents took place twice a year, and then more as needed. There were students who needed more nurturing, and we worked with those students. We worked to find out why the student was struggling, and what would in fact motivate him/her. As far as affirmation: Students were affirmed on the basis of whether or not they were meeting learning goals, and not whether they could earn an “A”. A student who could contribute to class, make progress, and engage with others was considered successful. An interesting learning environment. There were students at the school who were on a five-year plan, i.e. re-do a grade, because, after extensive conversations, it was decided, and with student input, that this was the best way to go. There were grades, but, not as firmly carved out as in most other schools. There was actually a great deal of interaction amongst students between grades, and so the cliquiness of grade affiliation was less significant.

    • Leigh July 8, 2009 at 3:10 pm Reply

      “The school is a private school, and is able to operate according to a unique set of beliefs and practices.”

      Ah, there it is.

      A small place where students can be treated as equals by their teachers and parents? Where Concerted cultivation is practiced by the community? How is this different from what G.D. describes in the OP:

      “But if your parents are professionals and you are expected to go to college, you’re going to receive a steady stream of affirmation and structural encouragement to that end (decent schools, pressure to do well, SAT prep courses, etc.) — so much so that the risks/benefit calculations don’t even need to happen on a conscious level. Your parents went to college, all your classmates are going to college, so why wouldn’t you? For a kid in that situation, the costs of getting pregnant — parental disappointment, social isolation, the end of college plans — would be pretty major. “Personal desire,” as AB puts it, isn’t formed in a vacuum”

    • Winslowalrob July 9, 2009 at 9:35 am Reply

      miss, I really feel what you are saying about not wanting to teach kids that the value of work can only be judged by tangible rewards, and that we should get kids to read, do well, (or not get pregnant) because of the intrinsic pleasure those things bring. Still, the reality (as far as I have seen, and this is based on my time in US high schools, universities, and teaching undergrads) is that, meh, the latter does not happen that much and educators are fighting an uphill battle if the base their entire pedagogy on trying to get EVERYONE to learn for the value of learning. At some point programs like the one mentioned above have to be recognized as better than the alternatives (I do not know about teen pregnancy rates in NC in particular but I know a lil’ about the education system there because its close to DC and VA), and we should be able to criticize such a program without burying it. If it works, it works, and I would LOVE to hear the various profs and TAs (maybe not the TAs) that these girls run across in college and what they thought about the students. I would bet that these professors would be pretty happy, but thats just a hunch. Right now we are not at the point of demanding ‘good’ behavior because it feels good. We cannot set policy based on the belief that we live in the best of all possible worlds. We live in the one we have, and we have to do the best we can.

  10. Leigh July 8, 2009 at 3:13 pm Reply

    One of my commenters at Pov in Amer left some interesting links that teen pregnancy is an overblown crisis, and that it may be economically “rewarding” for society:

    http://uspoverty.change.org/blog/view/is_pregnancy_a_smart_economic_strategy_for_low-income_teens

    • Zesi July 9, 2009 at 3:45 pm Reply

      I think that’s not really accurate. Being a woman + 1 is not going to be easy during those first years. Certainly, on the cousin who has a GED or HS diploma, by the time she is twenty five, unless she has someone willing to help her go to school and look after the child, already been out of school for six years. I know more and more people are going back to school after the traditional college age, but time is a demotivator. 6 years on, in all likelihood, poverty wages with a child isn’t exactly an easy thing.

      And it’s something like 13 out of a 100 black female teenagers who get pregnant during their teen years. Not exactly a small percentage, in my opinion. I’m not trying to demonize these girls; it’s not an easy life for a young mother. Especially since she is now a mother–this is a life change that will affect her socially, mentally, and emotionally.

      And the increased price of birth control? What’s THAT all about, too?

  11. Zesi July 9, 2009 at 3:58 pm Reply

    I’m chewing this whole incentivizing debate, and I think this program sounds pretty good because it is a program. There seems to be more than “here’s the money” and it’s a great external motivator, in my opinion, because the reward is delayed and contingent upon both not getting pregnant and, in a kind of backdoor way, also encourages better grades (after all, if you’re going to college, you better get those grades up). Additionally, these girls have to do something beyond just not getting pregnant–they have to attend weekly meetings too.

    I am not sure how I feel about the money for grades programs, though. It makes me wonder if we’re just desperate, and really aren’t interested in other types of investment in youth. On the other hand, it’s not much different than parents giving money for good grades. Money is a quick motivator, but it’s not the only thing out there that can get kids to work. A lot of students want to be cared about, praised, and able to feel safe, which is something that money can’t provide. I wonder if kids who get paid by some external program are more likely to go on to college or tech school than kids from similar backgrounds who have good grades also? You hope by the time they’re 18 that their investment in education isn’t just a financial arrangement. Even though these students could probably get a good amount of aid, the college system is already markedly different from the free public education system, and would one more difference break the bank?

    Jury’s still out on money for grades, but the pregnancy program gets a gold star,

    Erin

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