Show them the (future) money

Mental time travel motivates students, writes Tom Jacobs (no relation) on Miller-McCune’s online magazine. He cites a University of Michigan study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology by Mesmin Destin and Daphna Oyserman.

Researchers asked Detroit eighth-graders in a poor, predominantly black school to envision their adult job.  Nearly nine out of 10 expected to go to college, but only 46 percent envisioned an adult career requiring a college education.

Members of that minority “were more likely to invest current effort in schoolwork than those who did not, and these efforts paid off in better grades.”

Why bother to study if you see yourself as a future NBA star or a winner on American Idol?

In the second experiment, one group of seventh-graders looked at a graph showing how earnings rise with education. The other group’s graph “showed median earnings in Michigan and the very high earnings of top actors, athletes and musicians.”

Those who saw the chart linking pay with education were eight times more likely to complete an optional extra-credit assignment.

The children of poorly educated, erratically employed parents hear a lot more about rappers’ riches than they do about how to prepare for a middle-class life.

Years ago, I went on a field trip organized by two kindergarten teachers in a  district with many low-income, immigrant students.  They took every kindergartner in the district to San Jose State for a tour. It started with a pep rally.  A five-year-old stepped up the microphone and said, “I want to be a fireman.” A college student said, “I’m studying fire science so I can get a job as a firefighter.” A firefighter said, “I worked hard in school and went to college. Now I’m a firefighter.” They did three or four careers that way. Very cool.

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  1. Fire Science? That would seem to be a VERY expensive way to become a firefighter.

  2. SuperSub says:

    Isn’t this experiment racist according to some school districts’ policies regarding future time orientation?

  3. Mark Roulo says:

    “Fire Science? That would seem to be a VERY expensive way to become a firefighter.”

    Fighting fires is much more technically involved than 30-40 years ago. Back then it was very much a “put the wet stuff on the red stuff” operation. Today, things are much more sophisticated (e.g. actively attacking a fire by going inside a burning building is “normal” today … but the problem is that it is very easy to get killed doing so because of the room basically exploding. Putting out the fire from inside without creating fatal problems is non-trivial).

    Yes, one can become a fire fighter w/o college. But, all the local firefighters I met when my son (now 9, then 3+ … we spent a *LOT* of time at our local training firehouse) was very much into firefighting highly recommended a college degree, and fire science was a big help in getting a job as a firefighter.

    -Mark Roulo

  4. Mark Roulo says:

    Followup … see Flashover for an example of the exciting things that can happen when you go inside a burning building. If you try to put the fire out incorrectly, you can cause this … and die.

    -Mark Roulo

  5. greeneyeshade says:

    Let me add to Mark Roulo’s points that the Baltimore fire department had just that kind of accident in 2007, when a cadet died after a badly planned training session. Her mother and kids sued last month; 3 supervisors were fired after the accident and the chief resigned.

  6. Richard Aubrey says:

    Interesting that the payoff for kids putting effort into learning is…you’ll earn a million dollars more by the time you’re sixty five.
    The group with the least ability to defer gratification is given the longest payoff period.
    Strange that it works at all.

  7. The statistic that a graduate of a 4 year college will earn approximately 1 million dollars more than a high school graduate is actually incorrect. The correct figure is approximately 450,000 dollars (this figure has been misused continually over the last 15 to 20 years).

    Another problem is that according to Marty Nemko (see Is college a ripoff piece by John Stossel) is that the bachelor’s degree is the most overrated product in america (what it has become is essentially a license to apply for a job in the US).

    Learning is something that in some cases takes a lifetime of hard work.

  8. GoogleMaster says:

    How does this approach work to reach the ones who have already given up, who assume their future adult self will be dead or in prison like their fathers, uncles, older brothers, and any other adult males they know personally?