Raising the Next Generation of Trouble

I was in Staples last week, picking up a four-pack of Uniball pens I didn’t need because they were on sale for 99 cents. Eventually I will need a pen, or one of my descendants will. 

I was waiting, in no particular hurry, behind two women with a boy of about 5. There was some problem with the mother’s credit card. By the Cash Register is a little tree of Tootsie Pop-style lollipops, and the young gentleman wants one. “No” the mother says, but in a language that is incomprehensible to the boy, though clear enough to all adults. As mother swaps out a different card the boy plucks a pop from the tree and slips behind Mom, giving me one of those “I could spew pea-soup if I wanted to” looks.

The sucker is still wrapped, but the boy is licking it lovingly, wetly. The mother sees this, tells the lad she had told him “no” and returns the lollipop to the tree. I have never yet done my lollipop shopping in Staples and I am confident now that I never will. While the mother tries to get a pen working on the credit slip, the boy plucks the lollipop again and applies tongue. 

Now there’s some difficulty requiring a manager, and the mother with a little more heat tells the boy that he doesn’t deserve the lollipop given some previous misadventures at Wal*Mart. “But I want it” is the extent of his argument, but it’s evidently persuasive. The lollipop returns to the tree, the sales is finalized, the child whines, and from out of nowhere swoops in Mother’s friend, who I think of as the aunt. She plucks the wetly wrapped lollipop and another one off the display and plops two one dollar bills on the counter.

“Two!?” says Mom as the aunt hands them to the young gent and they leave the store. Now all done rather discreetly: no fits or tears or violence. But is this why, every semester, I find myself warning students that some error or behavior or plagiarist activity will produce a failing grade and they some weeks later react with astonishment when it does?



7 Responses to Raising the Next Generation of Trouble

  1. The_Myth says:

    Yes. 😉

    And it’s also why so many of your colleagues lack the spine to follow-through with any sort of “punishment” or other negative consequence in the event of student misbehavior. Many of them are just like the aunt.

  2. Sultan says:

    The mother need to pay for the lollipop. Her son, for whom she is responsible, had made the merchandise unusable. Not paying for it would have been theft.

    Then she should have thrown it in the garbage in front of him.

  3. Dale says:

    Actually, Myth, that’s a more telling comment than anything in my post. It’s not just the well meaning parents that cushion people from responsibility. Most of their schooling has presented them with faculty who want them so much to succeed that they take away the opportunity to fail, not realizing that this is the same as taking away the opportunity to succeed.
    Often it’s the student’s first employer that has to teach our students about standards and consequences.
    Thanks for bumping the discussion up a notch.

  4. Ira Socol says:

    Well, you do teach in a country where no leader, political or religious or even academic, accepts the consequences of their misbehavior. Has GWB apologized for lying about Iraq? Have Dick Dick Cheney or Condi Rice been punished for falsifying testimony? Has Senator Clinton apologized for faking her resume regarding her “battlefront” visit to Bosnia? And how many faculty are fired each year for putting their names on the work of students?

    This is a structural problem, based in US Right-Wing belief in born-again Christianity. The act does not matter – as long as you accept Jesus in your heart. It pervades American culture from the top down. The mother in your story is every bit the victim the child is. She should know better, of course, but no one has ever bothered to teach her.

  5. Dale says:

    Of course your post raises the question of how can we change this. Education is casually viewed as a change agent in society, both locally and on the larger scale, but it’s also the major agent for socialization into the culture, and in higher ed into a segment of our culture. So do we look to education to perpetuate and worsen the problem of individual irresponsibility, or to increase the level of intention with which we all live, taking responsibility for our actions? I’m currently at a Conference on Instructional Technologies gathering, and the rampant optimism makes me want to say education can improve society, but by the same token, I know I would have had a less cheery response at the time when I wrote the post.

  6. Ira Socol says:

    I do think technology can improve the feedback loop, and I do think technology can alter the perception of audience and the actual audience in a way that makes consequences more obvious, and I do think technology can allow us to interact in more sophisticated ways. That’s all cause for optimism.

    There was something wonderful in the YouTube “catch” of Senator Clinton on Bosnia, something brilliant in that (and I posted on this) a casual check of Wikipedia would have caused anyone to doubt her claims. The Senator is of a generation which has come to assign authority based on credentials, so she still doesn’t get it. Her reaction to being caught fabricating was to bring more references to bear (her “witnesses,” her “experts” – just as she did with NI, just as Exxon has done with global warming, and Bush with Iraq). The generation that is laughing at SEnator Clinton may have better “native” assessment skills – or at least “pre-skills” – and yes, if we can teach with intention, if we can utilize these “native” skill-beginnings, encourage them in the right paths, we might just be able to turn the boy in your story around.

    Anyway, gotta keep trying.

  7. […] 6 June 2008 by Dance I was debating whether I wanted to post this, but then I saw a comment at Paragraph City: […]

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