Thursday, June 16, 2011

Detective Johnny Wadd

A few days ago, I had an interesting conversation with Kareem, who as many of the blog readers know is a student of mine set to graduate soon. Kareem asked me about my opinion on several get-rich-quick schemes he'd heard of or thought of.

Kareem is an interesting student who spends a lot of time trying to come up with business ideas in order to "help people get even lazier" as he says. He goes through these random phases sometimes where all he can think about is money, getting rich and making more money.
"I've just been thinking a lot lately. Will Smith's kid. He's got it made. He's a have. I'm a have not. That's so unfair. All the opportunities he's already had and is going to get."
At first, I was shocked I was having this conversation with him, because I thought he knew better by now than to simply say life is unfair and do nothing about it.

I told him sure, life is unfair but his definition of "have" and "have not" needs to be revisited. There's plenty of "rich" people out there who aren't intelligent or productive members of society and will likely waste the hard-earned money someone in their family accumulated. What does it mean to be a "have?" Is it money, or is it some sort of knowledge, support structure, etc?

Kareem agreed, and also admitted that while he would loved to have been born into wealth, he appreciates everything he's come to learn in his current life.

Phew! Crisis averted. Or so I thought:
"So, would you star in a porn movie for a million dollars? I would do it. Then I'd use that money and start my own business."
This is where my kids would write, SMH. I obviously said no, I wouldn't do porn (despite all the demand) and explained my reasoning. He responds:
"I don't care if people know I did porn or somehow found out. If I was a celebrity, I would make a sex tape and secretly release myself so I could get some popularity and money out of it."
At this point, I'm thinking: Uh... who are you and what have you done to Kareem?

At the end of the day, this exchange supremely depressed me. Kareem has been one of my star-studded students over the past two years. His perseverance and intelligence is something to admire. For him to seriously consider porn as an alternative makes me feel like all the conversations I had with him over the past two years were meaningless.

Beyond that, it seriously made me question if I, as a teacher, could really "change" someone for the better. Maybe he was just having a bad day and felt like his struggles were futile.

The conversation also made me thinking about myself: growing up in an industrial town off Chicago, I did everything I could to land a gig in investment banking. I really didn't care when people told me I'd have to give up my life to do it. "Sell your soul" as they say. I didn't really appreciate being happy until it was too late and I was already pulling all-nighters crunching numbers and wearing out the shortcuts to copy and paste (CTRL + C and CTRL + V) on my keyboard.

Some questions come up:
  1. Will most people who aren't born into at least the middle class spend their lives trying to jump classes through the acquisition of quick money? And have they "truly" jumped classes just through the acquisition of money? Or does one need to acquire more than simply wealth to jump classes?
  2. Is that why most of my students don't understand the Teach for America program, when I tell them it's packed with kids from among the most prestigious colleges and universities?
In my opinion, Real Housewife of New York, Countess Luann said it best, "Money can't buy you class."

Okay, seriously, stop wondering why I know so much about the Real Housewives of New York and focus on the main point of this entry people!


Nh said...

Mista - are you seriously telling me you didn't have any stupid ideas in high school that would help you make tons of cash quickly so you could chill out forever after?? I know I did! Maybe not porn, but still. We've all day dreamed about having an unknown uncle die and leave us tons of money etc so we don't have to worry and can actually work on something we enjoy and believe in.

I the you are being a little harsh on the little one

Yo Mista said...

@ Nh:
The unknown uncle thing is a passive wish: you're not going out there doing something for money, while doing porn (especially when you don't have to) puts you at risk for disease among other things...

Also, depending on how you perceive yourself, it may or may not be a good thing to have acted in porn and then years later it comes out in the media or amongst friends you haven't told...

I'm not saying doing porn is a bad thing, I'm just saying the kid could've come up with a billion better ideas than porn.

janelle said...

Cultural capital is what they call what it takes to sustain wealth/fit in the higher economic classes. You may have more money, but until you have cultural capital -- the behaviors and atitudes and other attributes of the upwardly mobile -- you don't have "class" as Countess Luann puts it. Some of these can be learned, but in some cases, cultural capital is ingrained in the things we can't change (like race or gender or even height, hence glass ceilings people talk about). (Side note: NYMag's article about Asian Americans hints at this towards the middle-end

I'm not sure what your kids don't get about TFA, but I'm guessing that they don't get why people coming from prestigious schools would do it if they have the cultural capital to do more lucrative things. Idunno.

Yo Mista said...

@ janelle:
I like it, cultural capital.

Although, are you implying some races and/or genders are more upwardly mobile than others?

And, yes you are absolutely correct about why they don't get TFA. The idea that someone who went to [xyz top university/college] and...

1) went for free and now has to potential to "make lots of bread" and chooses not to, is unreasonable

2) had their parents pay and still decided to forego a lucrative career elsewhere and choose to teach sounds insane

janelle said...

Yes, I am implying that certain races and genders are more upwardly mobile. or maybe upwardly mobile is the wrong way to put it, but essentially, yeah. I hate to get all Pomona and shit (but I guess I already did?) but bell hooks - Where We Stand: Class Matters goes into this.

Just wanted to be clear about that last part. It's kind of sad that from getting to a certain position (graduating from a top tier school, having a bunch of money, whatever) means "more choices" to some people and "more opportunities to get even more position" to other people. Not that I don't sympathize with getting more money/position/whatever, but it's funny how class privileges mean different things to different people.

nh said...

whoaaaa pomonaisms! (which btw has come in super handy in gradschool, janelle!)

@mista - i think you are conflating "thinking" and actual "doing." i'm saying those are not the same, and thinking even "bad" thoughts can be good and important in terms of self-awareness, growth, catharsis, etc. (kind of like the argument that playing video games makes people less likely to be violent in real life)

so - thinking about doing something stupid is something we've all done, and doesnt really mean he'll actually ever do anything stupid. therefore, dont worry!!