Sympathy for AIG

When they talk about teaching empathy, it usually doesn’t involve feeling bad for financial workers who’ve received bonuses from their employers’ billion-dollar bail-out packages. But a class of fourth graders near Houston have sent letters — nice letters — to AIG employees, reports the Washington Post.

(Rebecca Chapman) stood before her students and stoked the populism in their young souls. Pretend you are taxpayers, she said. Now, think about AIG paying bonuses even after the government had committed $180 billion to bailing it out.

“Can you believe it?” she asked.

The children hissed and moaned, sounding much like the elected officials and talking heads who had been eager to out-outrage one another.

“I got them all riled up,” said Chapman, 29.

Then she turned the tables.

“What if you were an AIG employee?” she asked. Imagine if you had not been involved in the deals that ruined the company but were left to clean up the mess. What if you had to pay back money you felt you had earned? What if your family had received death threats?

A student suggested writing letters to AIG workers.

The children adorned their messages with peace symbols and smiley faces, rainbows and vivid red hearts. “Hi AIG. Not all of USA hates you,” wrote one student. “We know you’re not villains,” wrote another. “Keep working hard, dudes! Keep eating your vegatabos!” advised a third.

I find this charming — and odd.

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  1. An odd lesson, but a valuable one that it’s far too easy to demonize that of which you know little. And if indeed some of the ‘guilty’ (whatever that means) received a nice letter from a grade 4, what harm?

  2. I applaud the teacher for looking at both sides of the coin. She taught those children a valuable lesson- always look at issues from all sides.

  3. Homeschooling Granny says:

    Those AIG workers had contracts. Honoring contracts is a corner stone of the stability that makes an economy function. Look at the economic conditions of those countries in which contracts can not be relied upon to be honored.

    Congress never should have messed with bailouts, for which there are no standard procedures, but rather should have gone with bankruptcy, a game for which there are rules.

  4. Homeschooling Granny…”a game for which there are rules.” Indeed, the way things are *supposed* to work is that Congress develops legislation which has *general* applicability, and the application of that legislation to specific cases is a matter for the executive branch and the courts (whose role is constrained to operate within the framework of the law.) However, Congress in recent years seems much more interested in dealing with individual cases. I think there are two reasons for this:

    1)There is a lot more potential for political payoff (contributions, speaking engagements, future law practice or consulting contracts) when you deal with the specific

    2)Many Congressmen lack the conceptual intelligence to deal with things on the level of (for example) “how do we modify the corporate bankruptcy code to make it work better?”, preferring instead to deal with “what should we do about Company X?”

  5. My son had to write a letter to OJ Simpson. My kid was in 3rd grade and they were supposed to put them selves in his shoes and write a letter of compassion. I can still get outraged about it. Teachers need to butt out of the emotional intelligence trade. Read great books, sure, but this sort of “real world” exercise is stupid.

  6. KateC,

    I too would have been outraged if third grade students were asked to play the sympathy game without the benefit of having all the facts on which to base their decision. However, in this case, Ms Chapman presented both sides of an argument using the media to teach the students about the importance of having all the information available before you make a decision. IN this case, she used articles previously printed in the New York Times and Washington Post that shed some additional light on the situation that much of the media chose to ignore, for example: 1) most of the individuals receiving bonuses were retained with the company BECAUSE THEY WERE NOT INVOLVED IN THE BAD DEALS THAT SENT THE COMPANY UNDER; 2) many of these employees were planning to leave the company and were asked BY CONGRESS to stay for a salary of $1 with the promise of a bonus at the end of the year. I believe Ms. Chapman was trying to make a valid point, which is that we should not be making rash judgements about those working at AIG, when in fact much of the blame can be laid at the feet of Congress. And regarding your statement that “this sort of ‘real world’ excercise is stupid”…I would have to disagree. The main goal of education is to teach students how to succeed in the real world, and how to educate themselves, so that they can discern fact from fiction. All lessons which help students relate to the REAL WORLD in practical and relevant ways are important. Especially in this case where these students will be footing the enormous bill thanks to Congress and Pres. Obama.

  7. GoogleMaster says:

    This is Houston, where bidness is king.

  8. I just hope the kids can apply the lesson they learned here to the kids in the school known as “losers,” “retards,” or “spazzes” (or whatever terms are used now).

    Somehow, I don’t quite see that happening.

  9. These kids are in 4th grade. The teacher is reducing everything to black and white. By her standards, “following orders” and “doing my job” become acceptable excuses. I think any teacher with an small degree of imagination (which might be a stretch, because if they had such, they might not be teaching) could come up with a better scenario for a lesson in compassion for kids under 12.