Today I taught Henry Thoreau's "Life Without Principles" to my sophomore college English students and the response was very interesting. For those who haven't read it or aren't interested in finding it to read, the premise of the essay is that we make the choices of how we spend our lives --- for things or for values. Thoreau argues that we should make a life and not just a living. He states that we should never compromise our values for stuff. What a timely essay to read right after Thanksgiving, don't you think? Cunning plan, wasn't it?
The first thing asked of each class was how many folks had a cell phone. Everyone raised their hand. They wrote down the total cost for their service and then had to divide it by their hourly wage. Or, if they didn't work, they were to use the state minimum wage. Then, they had to do the same with their car, insurance, and gasoline. There were a lot of gasps!
Next, they wrote down how much time they spend per week in class and multiplied it the same way, by the hourly wage, and then times four for the entire month.
Now, I posed, the first total figure is a debit. You spend it and never get anything back for it. When you use it, it is gone. Now, look at the education column; it is a credit. I asked: Does it go away when you are done? Which is the better value? More gasps.
Lastly, they had to write a journal entry of how they would rather spend their time instead of working for things. There was a lot of silence and thinking going on; I had to wonder how many went home to share this new concept with their parents.
Before you think I am brilliant, let me share that I did it, too. I wrote down my numbers and was quite surprised that, confidentially, I am making some pretty suspect choices myself. In fact, I had a hard talk with myself on the way home. I hope I was listening!
While the students may not remember a lot about American Literature, I suspect that this is a lesson that may just stay with them. And, perhaps, they will be happier than most. I hope.