Book It: The Power of Pizza Compels You!!

Anyone remember “Book It?” 

I only vaguely remember it, and, because I’m basically half-assed in my commitment to writing well-researched, insightful content on this blog, I’m not going to Google it. I’m going to go on foggy childhood memories for this one (note to any of my patients reading this: THIS IS A TERRIBLE, TERRIBLE EXAMPLE I’M SETTING. ALWAYS GO WITH RESEARCH AS OPPOSED TO MEMORY, IF YOU HAVE THE OPTION).

I remember “Book It” being a thing in fifth grade. I remember this because I remember it being overseen by my fifth grade teacher, who I wasn’t nuts about. I remember I wasn’t nuts about her because, at the beginning of the school year, she had me sitting in a desk clump next to Lisa Fisher, on whom I had a huge crush, but then switched the seating up so that I had to sit next to Misti Smith, who, while pleasant enough, suffered from the disadvantage in the young Doc’s mind of not being Lisa Fisher. Which then prompted the young Doc to write said teacher an anonymous note, requesting said seating arrangement switchup be reversed, only the young Doc didn’t adequately disguise his handwriting, leading to a hallway confrontation with this teacher which was indescribably embarrassing, insofar as it put the young Doc on the spot with having to invent a response to “Why do you want Misti and Lisa switched back?” that didn’t just, like, blow the whole secret about him having a thing for Lisa.

(I don’t, actually, remember what my response was. But I do remember tears suddenly sprung to my eyes, which surprised even me. The fifth grade limbic system, kiddos: always under construction.)

Anyway. Book It was an incentive program designed to get us to read books. I think it was something like, we tracked the books we read, and the more books everybody read, the closer the class, as a whole, got to having an in-class pizza party, featuring Pizza Hut. If you’ve seen the episode of “The Office” where Andy attempts to boost productivity by offering prizes, such as his ass getting tattooed, it was basically a fifth grade version of that. Minus the ass tattoo. Plus pizza.

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There was a progress chart. It did not resemble this.

So, pizza in the classroom was a big deal. In fairness, I suppose when you’re a kid, and you have no idea that someday you’ll grow up and be an adult and have money and be able (and willing) to have pizza multiple times a week, let alone write about pizza on the Internet, pizza was a big deal in general. But pizza in the middle of a school day felt like a particularly big deal. I mean, school spent so much time trying to get us to be healthy, or at least what was understood in the mid-to-late 1980’s as healthy. Drink milk, it does a body good. Follow that food pyramid, with all those healthy carbs and grains at the bottom. Fuck protein, it’s overrated and it’ll give you a heart attack. Blah, blah, blah.

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Google image search on “80’s food pyramid” yields this. God bless the Internet.

But even then, pizza was understood to be a “fuck it, let’s indulge” kind of food. Like, nobody’s ever said, “Man, I needed to really get my health back on track. I think the turning point back to real vitality and losing all that weight was when I started to make pizza about 70% of my diet.” And I think our young brains registered, even then, that if the adults around us were saying that, if we read enough books, we could have pizza in the classroom (that is, not just interrupting our healthy eating habits, but also literally INTERRUPTING OUR EDUCATION), they must really, really want us to read books.

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Pictured: more effective incentive program. Plus “Gilmore Girls” reference for Jill and Shellie.

Unfortunately, the adults around us weren’t behavioral psychologists, and they didn’t realize the covert message they were sending with “Book It:” that reading books was the kind of task that they didn’t think we’d do unless incentivized with pizza. Nor were they privy to the tons of research that suggests that, while operantly reinforcing a behavior increases the chances it will recur, token economies like Book It eventually make it nearly impossible to elicit the target behavior without that reinforcer. That is, kids who are rewarded for good grades with cash eventually won’t perform unless they’re getting paid; kids who are rewarded for cleaning their rooms with TV time eventually won’t clean their rooms if TV time’s not on the table; and kids who are burning through books en route to pizza eventually will fail to see the value in reading if there isn’t some serious stuffed crust on the other side of that equation.

Dude also trained pigeons to drop bombs. Seriously, behaviorism can accomplish anything.

Dude also trained pigeons to drop bombs. Seriously, behaviorism can accomplish anything.

But whatever, I seem to remember at least one pizza party happening as the result of our “Book It” efforts. I remember this because, at the time of said pizza party, Lisa Fisher was sitting across the room, enjoying her slice in the company of that one kid whose name I don’t remember, but who probably doesn’t have “doctor” in front of his name now, I’ll bet. Just sayin’.

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