The hidden lesson:
Last night I phoned a good friend I have known for decades just to say hi.  He countered that he was going out for Cajun food with his wife and their twelve year old son – all three in fact old friends - and would I join them.  Accordingly we were soon getting on the outside of some excellent Louisiana style food.  On the way home, we passed a place where a school program was regularly held.  I have no authority other than her description of what went on there.

The purpose of the program was to help children learn how to be successful at business.  This seemed a worthy goal, since the small company has always been the backbone of the American economy.  In the first year of the program the students – elementary students on this first occasion – spent a day setting up virtual shops from which they would sell things.  The virtual money was traced with debit cards.  The students were expected to balance their books, keep track of all business transactions.  At the end of the day everyone could learn how much they had made.

It sounded and sounds like fun and an all around good idea.

The program was not repeated every year.  But from time to time there would be a day for participating in the program.  Each year the economic environment became more complex and more realistic.  I thought, what fun. 

By the final year in which the program was run, a few days were spent working at what had now become a sort of simulation of life, notably with family duties and expenses.  Well and good.

But she had a problem with it.  She said that it was obvious to everybody concerned that certain events were better than others.  And arbitrary things did happen.  But three things seemed to have the greatest impact on overall success. 

For success in this game of life there were three things that were important.  These were not explicitly laid out in the simulation but were evident as one played through it.  She called it, “The hidden lesson.”  And according to this astute and careful woman the hidden lesson was this:
Do not get married.
If you do get married, do not have children.
Make friends at city hall.

As far as the final point, I suppose it seems to me that the third didactic point writ large is American politics.  Businesses spend an enormous amount of money getting the government to adopt policies and these businesses seem to profit enormously.  The political dollar seems to be the best investment they can make.  Somewhere I read that Thomas Jefferson offered the opinion that if the rich were able to use their wealth to influence the political system that political system would eventually become their tool and they would use it to become richer.  Welcome to the third millennium, Tom. 

It seems lamentable.  But by no means everybody has a problem with it.  I was chatting with a cabbie the other day and mentioned how the job market was no longer a level playing field.  When I was a child the richest were only marginally richer than the working poor.  He responded with some energy that if somebody managed to make money, so much the better for them.  I hastily shifted my remarks to hurricane Isaac, which was taunting the area but never struck.  If anybody is a small independent businessman, it’s the cab driver, so I guess he knows more about it than I.  Besides, politics is not my interest.

But marriage and children certainly are my interest.  The hidden lesson is, “Don’t.”  Now maybe it’s true.  But I had heard that the first three laws of success were 1) get your sex life in order 2) get married and stay that way and 3) keep your first job at least two years.  If you can do those things, it is very difficult to stay poor.  Now that lesson may be out of date, but it is in contrast with the hidden lesson.  As far as having children, of course they involve sacrifice.  But according to the book Coming Apart, it is in fact those who are most successful who seem to take an interest in having children.  So it would seem there is more to the hidden lesson than simple candor.

I suspect no devious plot on the part of those entrusted with the education of our children.  They are already spending time keeping their privileges and the privileges of their own elite.  I think instead that they are simply reflecting the prejudices of the community.  And the community is becoming prejudiced against marriage and children. 

Perhaps some day an astute historian will make much of the trend.  Of course I think it’s all part of the lowered fecundity I see almost everywhere in the world.  It’s there no matter how you look at it. 

There have been 66,594 visitors so far.

Home page