Friday, December 05, 2008


I am in the middle of proctoring a two-hour macroeconomics exam. The thing looks like a bunch of random lines and charts and senseless questions, but the kids seem to know what's going on.

In the meantime, my eleventh graders are taking the English exam elsewhere. I will soon have a pile of papers to mark. And will I think, "Wow, guess I didn't teach these kids anything this year." The sad realizations of a teacher? Or will I be pleasantly surprised?

Proctoring is a special form of torture, reserved for the seventh circle of hell. You cannot talk. Read. Grade. Look out the window. Just pace the aisles for two hours, checking for cheating. 

Alone in my thoughts. OK, and I sneak out my camera and take a picture, without flash of course. This is what an exam looks like.

Here's a discovery, which isn't all that clever, but something to think about just the same: students at this school do not spend all that much money on shoes. Maybe this does mean something, something regarding economics ...

Back in Chicago, where most of my students were dirt poor, they wore expensive shoes: Timberland, Air Jordan, etc. Here, at this expensive, elite boarding school, where some of my students' parents are executives of multinational corporations, the kids wear ratty Converse All-Stars, cheap Pumas, Crocs. In fact, it seems that the more money in the family, the cheaper the footwear.

So, what does it mean? Is it just a fashion thing? Or are the parents well-off because they're frugal? Or are they teaching their children sound financial management lessons?

Or does it have more to do with the poorer kids back in the big cities? Are they targeted unfairly by marketers and their search for coolness? Do they spend what little they have on a few consumer goods that they can then show off?

These questions are not on the macroeconomics exam. Maybe these are issues for microeconomics. In any case, class, there are five minutes remaining on the test. 

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