Sunday, February 8, 2009

Whatever Happened to Intrinsic Value?

I take my daughters grocery shopping on Sundays while my wife does her homework. At the store where we go, the cashier gives the kids little play-money bills. They get all excited and take these play bills to a vending machine. After putting them in, they control a little grabbing arm that grabs out plastic bubble-balls. Once opened, these balls reveal stickers. What's on the stickers? Numbers. You then are supposed to put the number-stickers into a booklet provided next to the machine and save up these "points" to obtain prizes--little worthless toys of the store's mascot.

We did this today and I thought, "What the hell?" They get one prize and use that prize to win another prize. With the second prize, they can save it to win a third prize. When I was little, they just gave kids a free kid's cookie and we were thrilled.

I get it. Teach kids to shop. Teach them the value of spending money, saving money, begging to come back to the same store so they can try harder to get bigger number stickers to win a little folder with a picture of a shopping bag with a face and arms on it.

Why are we always teaching our kids to trade-up? Why is are things only done for the value of what they can be exchanged for? Whatever happened to doing something just for the value of doing something?

It spreads in their lives like a disease, climbing up their years and tainting their futures.

For example: my college students. For the most part, they don't say that they're there to learn (at least not at the beginning of my class). They're there to graduate and get a better job. A better job means more money. More money means more things. A bigger truck. A bigger house to hold more things. And on and on.

With that chain of events in their minds, why would they care how well they do on their narrative essays? The value of that narrative essay is, essentially, a single little number sticker towards a bigger TV when they graduate and get two or three promotions. It's meaning is totally lost.

We do this with our lives. Always looking down the road toward "someday" (as my bank puts it). You're supposed to save, you're supposed to upgrade, you're supposed to work harder to get promoted to a better job. At every instant, you're then just being handed play money to drop in a machine to get a plastic bubble-ball to save up number stickers to get something better.

A hamster in a wheel.

I want to teach my kids that you go to school for the value of it. You go because there are perspectives that you aren't familiar with that you can use or adapt to your own situations. You write essays because they're fun (if you're bent my way) or because they help you to make meaning out of life experiences or because it's a challenge that will empower you by overcoming.

You don't listen to music so you can get to the next song. You don't read a book to get to the back cover. You don't hold your baby in your arms so that they will grow old and leave you.

Of course, I didn't waste all this on them today. Luckily, my kids don't know about step three of their little prize-winning game. They get excited because "Look! I got a 3 and I used to be 3!" As long as that's enough for them, I'm thrilled.


jenniferchernoff said...

"because they help you to make meaning out of life experiences" This is exactly why I have this love/hate relationship with that class I told you about. haha. I love *what* she is teaching about, but being the learner who is eager to learn for reasons that have little to do with getting a huge salary, I find myself wondering why the prof. is catering the class to people who are trying for the huge salary.

I guess I just answered my own question there. huh. haha. It probably sucks for the prof to have to teach it that way too. :(

New-Dad-Blog said...

This is one of the many problems in our society. We are raised to think that the more we have the happier we'll be. If you could just have (a bigger truck, bigger house, nicer things) you'd be x amount happier. It's taken me 29 years to realize that is not the case.

Everyone is guilty of it. My senior year I signed up for a history of 20th centrury warfare just because I thought it was interesting. It did not apply to my major and my counselor freaked out."Why would you waste your time taking a class that won't go towards your degree?"

"Because I want to learn something new!" You twit!

Your resident smart-ass office assistant. said...

I am the devil's advocate. I think I have told you before one of my struggles in deciding whether or not to go to grad school is the amount of debt I will be in and the difficulty of finding employment afterward. I want to be educated and want nothing more in life than to be an English professor- and that is what I have to do to do it.
I am not interested in being rich or having a big McMansion in The Woodlands, but I do have a very pragmatic mind when it comes to finances because I have struggled before. I have had times in my life where i have lived in very unsavory places and forgone some food for rent. My biggest fear is being in that place again. When I was there, my great knowledge of the classics didn't offer me much comfort :(
Boy..was that a Dr. Phil session or what??

PG said...

well put. i know i am as guilty as the next guy about wanting what's next. i don't want to be, but i am in that wheel full on, and getting out of that hamster wheel is hard!