Reformist Distractions and Educational Labor: Two Perspectives on Paying for Grades

Educational Theory 66 (5):581-598 (2016)
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In this essay Bryan Warnick examines two recent analyses of the practice of paying students for grades, with a focus on educational justice. Philosopher Derrick Darby argues against cash-for-grades programs on the grounds that such programs leave educational inequality intact. Warnick contends that Darby's arguments are incomplete. Increasing levels of educational “adequacy” is morally desirable, Warnick argues, even if inequality remains unchanged. There is also an obligation to engage in “localized practice reforms” that benefit small groups of disadvantaged students, even if such reforms do not change the structural problems that lead to inequality. At the same time, engaging in a close analysis of “cash” as an incentive does reveal specific reasons why the inequality that persists under cash-for-grades might be particularly troublesome. In contrast to Darby, Alexander Sidorkin argues that paying students for learning is not only allowed, but ethically obligatory. Schooling, for Sidorkin, is a form of labor and labor demands fair compensation. Warnick challenges the idea that schooling is a form of exploited labor by looking across a range of issues, including the nonpecuniary benefits of schooling. At the same time, it seems that schooling could become a form of exploited labor, given current trends. Overall, the justice of cash incentive programs remains an open question. The essay concludes with a discussion about how we can move forward with a philosophical analysis of cash-for-grades programs.



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