Thoughts on the Segment “Can You Bribe a 9th Grader to Succeed?” from the Film Freakonomics

In my English class that I took in the Spring 2012 semester, we viewed three of the four segments of the documentary film Freakonomics, and we wrote several short assignments about them.  This post is my summary of the segment, “Can You Bribe a 9th Grader to Succeed?” as well as my thoughts on the issue at hand.


Education has always been very important to ensure financial security.  However, in America there seems to be a crisis of students not doing well enough.  Failing to graduate from high school can be a financial disaster, since most decent playing jobs require at least high school diploma.  (On a side note, nowadays, a high school diploma is not enough to ensure financial security; a Bachelor’s degree is often needed for a good-paying job.)  This essay focuses on a study done by University of Chicago researchers.  The study focuses on 9th graders at Bloom Trail High School in Chicago Heights, Illinois, a suburb approximately, a twenty-minute drive south of Chicago; it is attempting to find if students can be bribed into performing better in school.  Students will be paid 50 dollars per month if they can improve their and keep them up.  Presumably, the rationale is that such a program will get students to understand the connection between good grades and financial security by giving them an example of the money they will earn if they do well in school and get a good job.  The segment focused on two students participating in the study Kevin Muncy and Urail King.  Both young men have mediocre grades.  This essay will focus on whether bribing students is a good idea.

Bribing students can have a mixed response.  For some people, money is enough to motivate them.  On the other hand, some people will not change their habits even if they have a motivation.  The documentary showed that the program had a mixed effect on both King and Muncy.  Both of them improved some of their grades, but they also did worse in other classes.  Muncy was shown not changing his work habits very much if at all.  He is shown texting during class and playing a video game while at home.  Bribing might have some positive effect; however, the positive effect may be incomplete at best.

If I was in charge of the study I might do it differently.  First, I would give students money at the start as motivation for their grades.  If they do not keep their grades up, then they lose the money.  If they keep them up, they keep the money and earn more.  It seems to me that being rewarded at the start would make the reward seem more real to the students, and that would encourage them to do better because the reward is physical rather than just an abstract concept that must be made concrete.

In conclusion, bribing students to get them to improve their school performance is at best going to have a mixed response.  Some people will be motivated more than others.  Even those who are motivated may not be completely motivated to change their study habits completely.  To get students to achieve in school much more needs to be done.

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