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Posted by Kate, August 14, 2012

Should we pay children to read?

Yesterday, I tweeted a quote from an interview with children’s author, Olympic Games opening ceremony writer, scriptwriter and all-round excellent person, Frank Cottrell Boyce, on BBC Radio 4’s World at One Programme. He was talking about what British people (or people from the UK, but that’s a whole other can of worms) had learned about being British from the London Olympics.

For the next few days, you can listen to the whole interview here, running from 12.12 minutes into the programme to 17.30 minutes into the programme.

It’s a great interview, but, from the perspective of this blog post, the relevant thing is that he mentioned the role of money in motivation. He spoke about the role of the unpaid volunteers in the Games, and about the motivation of the athletes. He referred to Mervyn King’s comments about what the Games had to teach us. Frank Cottrell Boyce said, “There are things that motivate us more than money, like loyalty and fun and the desire to be brilliant.”

Then this morning, on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, Michael Sandel was interviewed about his book, What Money Can’t Buy, about the commercialisation of previously uncommercialised aspects of our life.

Michael Sandel spoke, for example, about the ability of prisoners in California to pay to upgrade their prison accommodation if the standard cells and company weren’t to their liking.

He also spoke about the practice of paying children to work at school and of paying them to read books.

I haven’t read his book, but Sandel’s argument was that the introduction of financial motivation into the process of reading for pleasure was wrong. Children should read for pleasure, for the love of reading. They shouldn’t regard it as a chore or a “job” for which they receive payment.

But reading books for payment might lead to reading for pleasure.

And the benefits – social, educational, economic and personal – of reading books, particularly of reading for pleasure, are well-documented. Here are just a few quotes from public research:

“Reading for pleasure is more important for children’s educational success than their family’s socio-economic status.” Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Reading for Change, Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA)

“A deep engagement with storytelling and great literature link directly to emotional development in primary children.” The Rose Review, 2008 Independent Review of the Primary School Curriculum.

“…research presents overwhelming evidence that literacy has a significant relationship with a person’s happiness and success.” National Literacy Trust

“Leisure reading makes students more articulate, develops higher order reasoning, and promotes critical thinking.” National Endowment for the Arts in To read or not to read, 2007

“There is a strong association between the amount of reading for pleasure children reported and their reading achievement.” Progress in International Reading and Literacy Study (PIRLS); National Foundation for Educational Research, 2006, Twist et al. National Report for England.

An individual who is better socially adjusted, better educated, more economically productive and happier is, surely, better for society than one who is less of all of those things. There’s even (pace Michael Sandel) a fiscal argument that it might be cheaper to intervene by paying children to read than it is, later, to manage the problems that reading for pleasure might have ameliorated.

At a visceral level, I don’t feel that it’s right to pay children to read.

But I am far from sure that this is a view I could justify rationally.

What do you think?

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