The other day, Governor Schwarzenegger vetoed SB 1709 authored by State Senator Elaine Alquist. Had he signed it, school districts would have been allowed and in fact encouraged to give nonmonetary incentives to middle and high school students for getting good scores on the state’s standardized tests. Prizes might include coupons for movies and restaurants and tickets to concerts or sporting events. Sounds like a game show– answer some questions and win prizes!

In his veto message, the Governor didn’t say he opposed the measure, instead saying it was unnecessary since there is nothing in current law prohibiting the practice. How about the laws of common sense?

Not only is it unnecessary, it is a symptom of a larger problem when it comes to education and preparing kids not just academically but also psychologically for life. The idea that we need to bribe children to excel should give us all pause. They can call it a reward or incentive but that’s just semantics. Let’s be honest, it’s a bribe.

Why are the grownups today constantly looking for ways to materially reward desired behavior? Why does almost everything nowadays with regard to children appear to be a negotiation over what the reward will be for doing what you are supposed to do?

What kind of message does it send to children? Is the message everything is for sale? Does that include their integrity? Their honor?

And what will they do to achieve the goals set for them? Lie? Cheat? Plagiarize?

In March 2008, Rutgers University released a study that said 95 percent of high school students say they’ve cheated during the course of their education.

"There’s a fair amount of cheating going on, and students aren’t all that concerned about it," says Donald McCabe, a professor of management and global business at Rutgers.

And his study also found that students don’t think plagiarism is really a problem. Why would they? The internet is full of websites where kids can get term papers written for them or just download them. Why do the rigorous research when you can buy it off the shelf?

In 2002, one courageous teacher in Kansas took a stand and failed 28 students in her biology class because she determined by using a website that helps teachers detect cheating and plagiarism that they had cheated.

Here’s the kicker. Parents and the school administration pressured the teacher to change the grades because the students said they had learned their lesson and wouldn’t do it again.

They learned a lesson alright. When in trouble, cry and stamp your feet and mommy and daddy will bail you out. If my mother ever caught me cheating, the only “reward” I would have received would have been a warm backside.

A child’s life should not be filled with artificial victories, phony successes and prizes for just showing up. They need to understand that sometimes the reward for a job well done or passing a test is the knowledge that you have accomplished something and that ultimate success in life is not measured in material wealth alone.

Adults who should know better are not doing California’s kids any favors by pushing ideas like Alquist’s “prizes for performance”. Shielding them from failure or giving them the impression that everything has a price will not prepare them for the real world.

To fail is to grow and learn. That doesn’t mean you accept failure, it means that you work that much harder to achieve success.

We need to teach children that a person’s honesty and integrity are not commodities to be bought and sold. And once they are compromised they are virtually impossible to retrieve.

Is it any wonder that we seem to have major scandals from Washington and Wall Street every few years? I guess in a world where the ends justify the means, we should expect it.