Scrambled economics

Wealth is distributed — unfairly– but is not created or earned, according to a lesson called, “Economic Justice: The Scramble for Wealth and Power.”

The children sit in a circle. Some are wearing mittens; others are waiting expectantly with little plastic shovels. The rules of the game state that a few of the children must do nothing but sit and watch as the action begins. On the leader’s “Go!” the children scramble for 100 pennies that have been scattered on the floor in the center of the circle.

Of course, some players get more pennies than others. Those who’ve done well may give pennies to classmates and appear on a list of “donors.”

During the second part of this exercise students are asked to devise plans for a fair distribution of the pennies. They are asked to pass judgment on the other students who did or did not give away some pennies to others, and whether or not there should be a redistribution of wealth in America, and how to accomplish this redistribution.

Modern children all go to birthday parties featuring pinatas, so they have a lot of experience scrambling for goodies; all understand that aggressive grabbers will end up with more than others. But they often believe that the goodies are just there. It would be nice if they learned that there is wealth to distribute or redistribute because somebody filled the pinata.

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Comments

  1. “It would be nice if they learned that there is wealth to distribute or redistribute because somebody filled the pinata.”

    My cousins and I knew this when I was a kid. In fact, we snooped around trying to find the candy stash so we could steal pre-pinata booty – and we were “clever” enough not to take it all in hopes that our crime would go undiscovered. The value of this economics lesson? I don’t know. Perhaps “large cousins make useful stepstools when things are hidden in the top of the closet.”

  2. Richard Brandshaft says:

    You’d have to take that lesson in the context of the entire school year to know if anything is out of whack. Certainly, this is analogous to PART of the economy.

    How about a lesson where the little kids earn money and the big kids steal it from them? Or a reading lesson: the kid who can read the fine print on the contract best swindles the ones who read worst.

    And a lesson where the kids who earn the money get to keep it — until the conservatives disable the big bad government regulators.

    Or the kids honestly earn money — and then someone else rolls dice to see if they get to keep it.

    I see all sorts of possibilities — but it seems a little heavy for small children.

  3. From each according to his ability…
    …But a chance at being one of the forced contributors might be educational.

    Redistribution aside, I wonder if an unintended lesson is that competition is inherently bad or unfair. Especially since the exercise was based on a zero-sum game. If the picture of children as “aggressive grabbers” is unappealing, it might be useful to replace “competition” and “aggression” with “ambition” or “initiative” or “industriousness”.

  4. Mark Odell says:

    j.c. wrote: The value of this economics lesson? I don’t know.

    How about “Never steal more than you can carry”? 😉

    Richard Brandshaft wrote: How about a lesson where the little kids earn money and the big kids steal it from them?

    Actually, this occurs and is called “recess”.

    And a lesson where the kids who earn the money get to keep it — until the conservatives disable the big bad government regulators.

    Since “the big bad government regulators” are the ones engaging in taking, would you please explain exactly in what way disabling them renders those who earn the money suddenly unable to keep it?

    Bart wrote: …But a chance at being one of the forced contributors might be educational.

    Ask, and ye shall receive.

  5. Mr. Brandshaft;

    Yet asking the kids “whether or not there should be a redistribution of wealth in America, and how to accomplish this redistribution” isn’t too heavy for little kids? Your objections might be reasonable if zero-sum concept were implicit rather than explicit. But given this, it seems better to ask “and how might we have more pennies to distribute?”.

  6. In all this does anyone remember .. ‘self esteem’, it comes from earning a piece of the pie, not just being ‘entitled’ to it !!!

  7. Dave Sheridan says:

    To this teacher, the point of the lesson came first, with the game being devised or selected to make a point, not to educate or to stimulate thought.

    I was a volunteer teacher for an in-school program that introduced economic concepts, developed by Junior Achievement. It relied on a variety of execrices including lots of games, and allowed me to discuss the concepts the exercise illustrated. The modules were fun for the kids, and well designed. Unlike the example cited, the games related to aspects of how an economy actually works. There was one exercise that would have driven this teacher to apoplexy — it let the kids do something to earn pennies, and then asked them about fair distributions.

  8. Here’s an idea.

    When grownups go to a party, they often bring along some wine or something. How about a party where some kids are asked to bring candy to put in the pinata. Wonder how they would feel about letting those scramble who didn’t contribute.

  9. Blair Hansen says:

    Give every kid a copy of ‘Railroad Tycoon’, and they’ll learn more in one hour than the teachers of “redistribution” will learn in a lifetime.

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