Sunday, November 07, 2010

Truth or Consequences...or both....

When I was a kid back at Millville Grade School, you could always count on a few things. You could count on my old buddy, Stinky Wilmont, pulling some kind of prank to aggravate one of the teachers at least once a week, and you could count on one of the teachers applying the consequences of that prank to the seat of Stinky's britches. While those consequences never seemed to deter Stinky too much, they did manage to at least get the attention of most of the other kids in school.

I think that's what consequences are supposed to do. They're nature's way of letting you know when you've made a bad decision. Or a good one. It's a system that works pretty well, I think, when we let it. At least most of the time.

A lot of high schools are trying to figure out how to reduce their dropout rates. A worthy goal, no doubt, but apparently also a daunting task. I would imagine a lot of the difficulty in convincing young people not to drop out of school is the result of the lack of consequences if they do.

When I was in high school, conventional wisdom was that if you dropped out of school, you wouldn't be able to get a good job, and you might end up going hungry. And while I wasn't really looking for a job at the time, somehow the threat of not being able to get one in the future, and possibly missing a meal or two, motivated me to try to get through one more day of Mrs. Warner's Latin 101.

I suppose one of the consequences of quitting school today might still be the inability to land a good job. Of course, if you're planning on quitting school, you probably weren't setting your sights too high in the first place, and the consequences sort of end there.

Yes, if you drop out of school, your employment opportunities might narrow, but for the most part, if you have gumption enough to get yourself down to the city or county building and sign up, you won't have to worry about going hungry. You won't have to worry about having a place to live, or about keeping the place heated in the winter and air-conditioned in the summer.

In fact, if any of us decided that we weren't going to turn a tap for the rest of our lives, the government would still provide for our basic needs. It will pay for our birth, and it will pay for our funeral. Granted, the housing it provides might not be as elaborate as someone's who decided to stick with it, and the car we can afford might not be as new, and the health care we receive might not be as advanced. The cell phone the government provides might not be as fancy as some, and the free minutes it provides might be limited. But the basic needs are met, and the consequences aren't near what they used to be.

We wouldn't amount to much as a society if we didn't have compassion and charity for those that are unable to provide for themselves. But we also lose a lot as a society when we remove the consequences for people that simply don't want to provide for themselves.

There's a line that needs to be drawn somewhere between the two. I'm not convinced we've found it yet.



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