Motivating Students with the Time Bank Philosophy

I recently went to an informational session on Time Banks, where I got to hear about the philosophy behind Time Banking from its founder, Edgar Cahn. For those not familiar with the concept, Wikipedia's quick description of Time Banking is below:
Time Banking refers to a pattern of reciprocal service exchange which uses units of time as currency and is an example of an alternative economic system. A Time Bank, also known as a Service Exchange, is a community which practices time banking. The unit of currency, always valued at an hour's worth of any person's labor, used by these groups has various names, but is generally known as a Time Dollar in the U.S. and a Time Credit in the U.K. Time Banking is primarily used to provide incentives and rewards for work such as mentoring children, caring for the elderly, being neighborly--work usually done on a volunteer basis--which a pure market system devalues. Essentially, the "time" one spends providing these types of community services earns "time" that one can spend to receive services. Communities therefore use time banking as a tool to forge stronger intra-community connections, a process known as "building social capital".
Wales seems to have the most successful Time Bank so far if you'd like to learn more about a specific example. Let me assure you though, that Time Banking is not meant as a replacement for actual money - it's simply a way to provide services to a community, using the skills and passions already available within it.

Edgar Cahn told us a story about the previous service organizations he's been involved with. Some, like the National Legal Services program, helped millions, but when the organization needed support from the community to stay alive, he was baffled at how few people answered the call for help. He knew they were grateful, but still no one stepped up. He realizes now that these organizations had been sending the wrong message, basically saying, "I have something you need, but you have nothing I need nor want nor value." So when it came time to give something back, everyone was already conditioned as a pure receiver, thinking they couldn't possibly have anything of value to offer. Time Banking sets up a different culture - a culture of reciprocity. Everyone's time is valuable and everyone has something to give. To hear this in the eloquent words of Edgar Cahn, check out the interview below (especially the part from 4:52 on).

When I heard about these organizations' problems getting support from the people they serve, I realized many schools suffer from the same mistake. They provide services to students and rarely ask for anything in return. Even when we ask them to do homework, we're usually not saying, "I really appreciate you doing this work. It helps me out a lot." Instead, we send a much different message. "Do this work for your own good then I'll do you another favor by grading it and giving you feedback." This is essentially telling students that what they produce is useless - that they really have nothing to contribute to the world that's of value to anyone but themselves. Is it any wonder so many students lack motivation and even "good" students will often put homework off until the last minute?

So what can we learn from this? Well, we can make sure to give students a chance to learn in ways that do actually benefit their classroom, their school and their community, whenever possible. Yorktown High School in Arlington Virginia has a computer science program that does just that. They chose to switch their programming classes from C++ to Python, so that, among other reasons, students could more easily write applications that were actually useful. One of the students there wrote a program that allows teachers to easily submit tech problems to a group of student volunteers that fix them. So this school not only has more motivated students now, but with the help of their students, they also save a lot of money on tech support. This is an essential lesson to learn, especially now when so many schools are looking for ways to cut the budget. Let students give back. Let them contribute. Set up that culture of reciprocity and see what happens.

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Tags: education, homework, motivation, time-banking


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