Like most of you, one of the handful of things I still remember doing in elementary school was Book It. Reading the books, getting the certificate, and going to Pizza Hut to get a star to put on my button, and my free personal pan pizza. I was bit surprised today to read that some people are trying to convince schools to end Book It.

Their first argument is that the program contributes to childhood obesity. I don't really think one 6" single topping personal pan pizza a month is going to have a significant impact on anyone. I also object to their characterization of pizza as "junk food." It can be a bit high in fat and sodium, but I wouldn't put it on the same level as a McDonald's cheeseburger or a Hostess cupcake.

Their second reason makes less sense. "The more kids see books as a way to get pizza or some other prize, the less interest they'll have in reading itself," argued Alfie Kohn, an author whose 11 books on education and parenting include "Punished By Rewards, which questions the value of incentive programs. Now I'm no expert in education, but I've always thought that if a kid didn't like reading, he's not going to read on his own, and if you give him some incentive to read, like pizza, he still may not like it, but he'll do it, and there's a chance he'll learn to like it.

I suspect a third reason they oppose Book It is an opposition to any sort of program that rewards achievement. I did not see any mention of this, but the idea has surfaced in so many educational debates lately that I would not doubt it is a contributing factor. I hope I don't have to explain how this is a bad idea.

Growing up, I loved Book It. My family did not eat out a lot, so that monthly visit to Pizza Hut was a special treat. I already enjoyed reading, but it was nice to get some positive reinforcement. So I hope this protest of the week blows over.


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