I wrote the following more than three years ago. I found it because I am a one trick pony who wanted to write again about bribery as a moral imperative. It is clear that this deeply held belief has come to be held more deeply than ever. I have been buying record numbers of “treats” to hand out like so many little placebos as I convince the youngsters that every sweet is an indicator that they are achieving like Einstein. Truly, it usually buys me a few minutes of reduced decibel level. As a matter of fact, I was working with a colleague a few days ago when she erupted with candy from God-knows-where, proclaiming herself a human pinata! Bribery is alive and well and living in school, my friends! That deserves a treat!
Do I want my kids to do the right things for the right reasons? Sure!
Do I tell my students that they should behave as if their grandmother is watching them at all times? Yup. God knows I shouldn’t be the only one carrying that macabre little thought around the world of the living.
Is there a little Lego set in my closet, awaiting my son’s completion of swimming lessons without melting down and leaving the premises once? Um, why, yes, there is.
Hey, I have never paid money for good grades! That is my ex’s job.
The kid is older than most of the other “Goldfish,” loves the water, but has remained absolutely terrified of going underwater. Water in his nose, eyes, ears or mouth is reason for extreme distress. He’s a tiny bit high maintenance. Previous attempts at swimming lessons have gone terribly wrong. It hasn’t helped that the teachers have had exactly one strategy in their “toolkit” when it comes to getting kids “used to” going underwater. It goes something like this:
Boy: “I CAN’T GO UNDERWATER!!!!!! NOOOOOO!!!!”
Aquatics Instructor: “You have to.”
Boy: (climbing instructor like a tree, screaming) “NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!”
Aquatics Instructor: “Okay, okay, you don’t have to go underwater.” Dunks him under.
Boy: Comes up sobbing and doesn’t stop until class ends and we can leave the Satanic waterpark, having learned the invaluable life lesson: Never trust your swimming instructor. Sweet.
This display would, of course, be followed by the natural born swimmer kid who is next in line executing a back flip with a half twist into the water. I am looking around as if to figure out which parent goes with that screaming, flailing child. Which works for exactly ten minutes, after which we are greeted daily with whispered “Here they come”s.
You get the idea, and surely understand why part of my preparation for this swimming session was calculated bribery. I didn’t tell him that he couldn’t cry, because I am not super pumped to shoot myself in the foot on any given day, but I did say that he would need to stay with the class for the whole time every day. This, he did. The first two days were painful, and did involve screaming, crying, and, yes, being forced underwater after being told he would not be. While this does not synchronize with my personal philosophy, we managed to make it out of there mostly intact (remember, the bribe requires not melting down AND leaving the premises). “Keep your eyes on the prize!” I said brightly. This referred to the unknown surprise bribe awaiting him, should he complete the session. Let’s face it, he won’t be getting a certificate for passing Goldfish! My bribe is kind of like the “Participation” ribbon that is so coveted by the mediocre athletes of the world. Only cooler.
The happy ending is that he turned a corner somewhere around the third day. Strangely, this coincided with the fact that he had a substitute instructor that day who was actually skilled and was able to give him some baby steps to take to help him move in the direction of surviving wetness of face. We call this Divine Intervention, and I am appropriately thanking the Universe. He WILL cry today because it is the last day, and he’s like that.
Sometimes the bribery thing works, sometimes not. I don’t honestly think that it made much difference with the swimming thing; he gets credit for making the progress that he made (as do all of the angelic host that helped him). He also gets a prize. If folks are really up in arms about this bribery thing, tell it to the Olympic committee.