Monday, December 17, 2007

Of cinnamon buns and justice.

Having a sleepless moment, and missing my daughter, I tuned in to her new blog and read this:
Today I’m in Philadelphia, where our fine friends at Spark are training the future leaders of our Jewish service learning trips. This afternoon, we spent a fair amount of time talking about the kinds of games and activities that help illustrate economic realities.

One classic exercise involves balancing a working family’s income and expenditures (Q: If you make $700 every two weeks, how do you pay for health insurance, rent, gas, electricity, car, and groceries? A: You don’t).

Our group agreed that ten years after a trip like this, you might not remember the name of the town you saw or the texts you read, but a simple exercise might stick with you. This brought on a sudden memory:

I was in sixth grade. My middle school principal came into our all-school assembly with a big bag of fresh cinnamon buns. (Clever educator - she had my attention already.) She divided the entire middle school into groups representing the populations of various continents. I was sent to South America, where I stood patiently with my hungry comrades.

My principal then went around the "world" distributing cinnamon buns according to the amount of wealth that existed in each continent. My fellow South Americans and I each received a little shred of cinnamon bun and watched with anxiety as she passed out the rest of the cinnamon buns among the other continents (maybe she'll take a second pass and give me a little more?)

She didn't come back. The exercise took a long time, and I must have tuned out by the time we got to the moral, blah blah, because I can't really remember what she said. However, the next moment is seared in my memory: when the period ended, I found my best friend nearby in North America and asked her how much cinnamon bun she got.

"Oh," she shrugged. "We got about a half a bun each."

Oh, man, I remember the exact moment of this shrug: where I was standing, which way we were facing in the room, the indifferent expression on her face, the sudden rush of rage I felt.

If the rest of the South Americans hadn't already begun dispersing towards their next period classes, and if I hadn’t been such a timid little kid, I'm sure I would have staged some kind of intercontinental coup ("Okay, now let's say every chalk eraser represents a machine gun...")

So that’s how a cinnamon bun and a shrug became one of the most memorable lessons on economic reality I ever experienced.

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