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Friday, March 09, 2007

The Boy With No Candy - a children’s story

Category: Issue 6, Short Story Winners

In the land of beautiful children there was much merriment and play. All the children would hold hands and dance around the beautiful flowers. And they would sing songs and play games. And they would eat the fruits and nuts from the never-ending bowl, and they would all bring candy to share with one another as a treat. They dressed in beautiful colorful clothing, and they all wore new shoes.

One day a new boy came to watch them play. But his clothes were all raggedy and torn and dirty; and he was not good-looking like all the other little children were. They saw him as they danced and played their games, but no one said anything. They could tell that he was different, not like them; and that was a surprise to them, to see someone who was different, not beautiful or wearing pretty clothes. They seemed unsure of what to do, but they thought if they just ignored him and didn’t look at him or his dirty clothes then maybe he’d go away. After a while the new boy went away.

But the next day he came back and watched the beautiful children playing again. The children all saw him there standing quietly by himself, and then one of them said “do you want to join us?” “Yes” he replied. Then another child spoke up. “Did you bring candy?” she asked. Her name was Morita, and she wasn’t as smart as some of the others, but she made up for it by carefully memorizing all the rules. That way if someone forgot or didn’t follow one of the rules, Morita would quickly remind them; and that made her feel like she was just as smart as the others.

“I have no candy” said the new boy. “Then you can’t play” replied Morita “those are the rules.” The new boy watched them for a while and then went away again. Some of the other children were not so sure of how Morita had handled this, but they didn’t say anything because she was the one who always reminded everyone of the rules. And no one wanted to challenge her, because then she might find some rule that they had broken. So it was best to leave her alone.

The next day the beautiful children were all playing again, all dancing and singing around the beautiful flowers. And again the new boy came to watch them, quietly standing by himself a short distance away. And as the children saw him there again, they were no longer surprised by his presence or by his ugly tattered clothes or even by his homely appearance. They stopped singing and playing for a moment and looked at him. They were uncertain of what they should do. But finally one of them said “why don’t you bring some candy? Then you could play with us.”

“I don’t have any” replied the new boy. “Why not?” asked another of the beautiful children. This seemed to interest all the children, and they walked toward the new boy, trying to find a way to understand him. “Why do you wear such ugly clothes?” asked one of the beautiful children as they came nearer. “Yeah” said another child “and why are you so…” then she stopped herself in mid-sentence and blushed but hastily added “why don’t you get some candy from your mother?” “Or your father?” asked another child. “Or bring some from home” said another.

As they surrounded the new boy they were surprised now to find out that not only was he not a good-looking child, and that his clothes were even uglier and dirtier than they had appeared in the distance, but also he didn’t smell good. In fact he smelled bad, and this was something very strange to the beautiful children. They had never known a child to smell bad, and all they could think of was that it was somehow like the garbage that people threw out. That was what the new boy smelled like to them. The beautiful children didn’t know what to make of this, but one of them asked “why don’t your parents take better care of you?”

“I don’t have any” replied the new boy. “Where’s your father?” asked one of the boys. “I don’t have a father” said the new boy. “Why not?” they asked. “I never did” he said, unable to explain it to them. “Well then, what about your mother?” asked one of the girls. “She’s in prison” said the new boy. It seemed to the beautiful children that the new boy was nothing but problems and troubles, but being children, they persisted, trying to find the bright side to things. “So who do you live with” they asked him “where is your home.” “I don’t have one” he said. “I used to live with relatives, after my mom went away; but the occupational army killed them and then bulldozed our house.”

The beautiful children were not familiar with geo-political issues, but they were an optimistic bunch of kids. “You can come and stay with us” said one boy. “Yeah” said a little girl “and my mom can be your mom.” “And my dad can be your dad” said another. “And you can take a bath” they told him “and get some clean clothes.” “And bring some candy” said Morita. The new boy was amazed by their responses. “You are all so good” he told them “so generous and kind; but you must understand, no one could ever give back all that has been taken away from me.”

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Old Comments

  • “I just don’t think ethical behavior is worth much when we force people into it.  Sometimes it is, at least to me.  But I could never use that as an excuse to take your hard earned money.”

    So like, what if you forced me into behaving ethically, like not axe-murdering grandma to feed my cocain addiction?  Or like forcing me to intervene when someone else is about to axe-murder grandma?

    What counts as an excuse?  Is an excuse anything like a REASON?  Does it matter how hard it was to earn the money?

    Posted by julianyway  on  03/14  at  01:57 AM
  • In Rio they shoot children. The orphans live in the streets like filth - twelve-year-old prostitutes, beggars, thieves. Business’s hire men to shoot them to reduce crime.

    The street children ride the tops of city trains for fun, like surfing. Sometimes they fall and die. And it doesn’t matter to them or anyone else.

    Posted by Mikael Covey  on  03/14  at  02:47 AM
  • “I thought this was a thought-provoking story when I first read it.  Arghhh.  Every time Dave says “tax-payers”, I feel like arguing for taxes.  And I don’t even WANT to pay taxes!”

    Yay!  I think that if you reconcile this apparent contradiction (you may already have done so), you will see that what you are arguing for is not taxes, but funding education.  I would agree with that argument and it would be easy for me to help cover the costs of education *if I had the choice*.  Regarding education, the question is easy.

    I would not, however, hire agents and accountants to check out my neighbor’s finances and punish him for not helping to fund education.  I would ask him to help and argue with him if he refuses, but I wouldn’t steal or extort money from him.

    You are right about the black and white fallacy.  However, there are laws on the books in your country and mine that specify what actions a federal agent (IRS) should take in order to secure tax revenue from non-complying citizens.  The existence of these laws is a black and white issue.

    If your parents coerced you, I applaud them.  That is the job and responsibility of parents.  If they willingly stole or otherwise demanded money from their neighbors to do it, then shame on them.

    “So like, what if you forced me into behaving ethically, like not axe-murdering grandma to feed my cocain addiction?  Or like forcing me to intervene when someone else is about to axe-murder grandma?

    What counts as an excuse?  Is an excuse anything like a REASON?  Does it matter how hard it was to earn the money?”

    I am perfectly happy to pay someone to stop grandma from getting murdered.  But I wouldn’t take money from anyone to cover the cost (unless they gave it to me).  I wouldn’t want to force anyone to intervene.  I would do what I could to force the killer to stop.  Anyway, whether or not the money you “earned” is really yours can always become a messy question. If I don’t have sufficient reason to think it’s mine, then I should not try to use it to save grandma from the axe.  I’d be Ok using it if we’ve set up some kind of institution (or even bureacracy) that I control and to which the money could be willingly given/donated - that’s kind of like the govenment, but the government lives off taxes, not donations.  Hence the problem.

    I bet that children in Rio matter to some people, and that those people make some of the children into valuable members of society.  Green Peace?  The Red Cross?  Churches?  It would be great to be a part of a program that did something like that.  I wonder how much of the tax revenue that was wasted on blowing up stuff in Iraq (or studying global warming, or fighting the war on drugs, or educating us…) would have found its way to those institutions if the government hadn’t taken it.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/14  at  01:10 PM
  • “...you will see that what you are arguing for is not taxes, but funding education.  I would agree with that argument and it would be easy for me to help cover the costs of education *if I had the choice*”.

    Well yes, I’m arguing for funding education.  I’m also arguing that unless this is somehow “enforced/coerced”, it ain’t likely to be reliably funded.  And if it ain’t funded, then the next generation is too likely NOT to be well-educated enough to WANT to.  And if they don’t want to, they won’t volunteer their money.  And so on. 

    The state of education, even in Canada and the U.S., is abysmal as it stands.  I know because I’ve taught in three universities and one college; and the first, second, and even third-year students in degree programs generally could not use written English.  Students who could read and write well enough to even comprehend the course material were extremely rare.  We routinely gave passing grades to people who could not write a five-sentence string of coherant English sentences.  This was true to a slightly lesser extent even at Cornell.  Most of the things I would write in the margins of the students’ papers were not on the topic at hand, but were:  “This is not a sentence;” and spelling corrections.

    In Philosophy, we would LAUGH at the Business Major students, and the Kinesiology students, and the Psychology Students, and the Psychology Students.  But, in retrospect, it wasn’t, it’s not, funny. 

    The problem was that they’d arrive at university from high school, where nothing was going on.  (*I* did not let them into university.) Or maybe (most likely) it started (failed to start) in their elementary schools.  In any event, they came to us pretty much functionally illiterate, from an academic point of view.  They could read soup can labels, and send e-mails and text messages to each other, but that was about it. 

    They thought an “argument” was a pitched battle involving martial arts and wrestling holds and shrill screeching.  By the end of one semester, only 2/3 of the class would be even vaguely convinced that there was an alternative. 

    I’m not teaching these days, but I’ve done some tutoring and we have lots of younger people around, and the situation looks about the same to me. 

    Now, two points.  A) Public elementary and high schools are funded at present mostly with tax dollars.  Where the tax dollars go is determined (in a roundabout way) by the people who elect the people chosen to coerce the ordinary citizenry to give up their money.  The ordinary citizenry thinks education is a “good thing”, but most of them don’t know much about the issues, because they were educated in a system which was likely no better than the one in existence now, and possibly worse or at least harder to access.  (Hmm.  My parents didn’t finish high school, but on the other hand both of them were much more literate than most of my students.) 

    Anyway… people vote for political parties that (they believe) are going to make them feel good about themselves and who will give them what they want.  As it IS, people are too uneducated in this country (and in the States, I’d dare to venture) to realize how crucial education is, and so they tend to vote for parties that wave flags and talk about important and exciting stuff like “Bringing peace to Afghanistan” (whatever that means), and cheaper beer, (seriously) rather than for parties that express doubts about war and emphasize the importance of health care and education and of keeping the environment in working order.  (In Canada we have the New Democratic Party, which struggles against all odds and with little success to get the common people to vote in their own interests.) One result is that educators and health care workers, especially on the front lines, are notoriously underpaid, and have to work under conditions where they have limited ability to help (huge class sizes, case loads, etc.) 

    I’m so long-winded that I’m going to have to put the rest in another post.  AGHH.

    Posted by julianyway  on  03/15  at  01:06 AM
  • Post the Second: 

    Where was I?  Ah, yes.  I’m still arguing with Dave!  (stokeycat, look what you’ve done!)

    I’d put it like so:  currently our electorate operates under the principle of irrational self-interest.  Well, not even irrational, just ignorant.  Voters don’t recognize the value of education, and so give it short shrift when deciding what party to elect.  Political parties cater to whatever will get them elected.  It’s self-perpetuating.  I think we are extremely lucky that enough respect for education has been engendered and perpetuated in our countries that we have any education at all.  But it has.  No political party is likely to get elected by saying, “We promise not to put any of your tax dollars into education.  We are not going to fund ANY education:  we’ll let YOU decide where to put your education dollars, yourself.  And we’ll reduce your taxes by the same amount we would have put towards education.  Go for it!” 

    Nobody in Canada, at least, would elect a party that said this, because it would be outrageous.  Everybody knows that if the government stopped funding education, the poor and middle classes would not have to pay for it, and by and large they WOULDN’T, and then there’d be even less money for education than there is now.  (Also, nobody trusts ANY government when it makes ANY promise, but that goes across the board.)

    Given the present state of affairs, I am highly pessimistic about whether my neighbour down our (more or less lower middle class, soon to be commercial) street is going to see enough value in education to bother VOLUNTEERING his money towards it, unless somebody else comes and takes it from him, and then allocates it.  For god’s sake, think of what I could do with my tax dollars, if they were mine to spend?  To hell with the potholes in the road… I can drive around them.  Somebody else, who can afford it, will look after it.  I’ve got debts, man, and pets who need I-Pods! 

    So I guess thesis (A)is: Listen, it’s been hard-fought, but after a couple hundred years, people are used enough to having some tiny amount of their tax dollars spent on education.  It’s not a good enough education to expect them to allocate the same amount of money, even, to education, if left to their own devices.  I do not want this to be voluntary, at this point.  I WANT people to steal my tax dollars and put it towards (even rudimentary) education.  The alternative is too awful to contemplate.  I don’t even trust MYSELF!  I might want to give all my money to… uh… ME!

    B) This awful state of affairs might not exist TODAY, if the upper classes and educated echelons would voluntarily give more of their money to the furtherance of education.  Granted, a lot of wealthy people do, but a lot of wealthy people don’t, and compared to what the lower classes make, and have taken from them in taxes, I’m happy to bet that the proportions are uneven.  Every once in awhile you see a nice documentary about a nice rich person who funded some cool program in an inner city school, and now the kids are all going to college instead of selling crack.  But why is this NEWS?  Generally speaking, such donations are tax-deductable, anyway.  And yet, the people most able to actually help are only doing so in dribs and drabs.  Admittedly, when you see a drib or a drab, it’s notably large compared to what the tax-man takes from the working stiff.  But it’s not that much, compared to what the tax-man takes from the working stiff. 

    This is empirical and I’d have to come up with some actual sources and so forth to back it up, but I’m sure I can/could.

    So, thesis (B) is:  The proof is in the pudding. 
    And the pudding is already out there.  Enough people with money freely put their money in places other than education that the education system on this continent is in dire straits.  It’s not like they’re not freely putting their money where they
    WANT to put it.  It’s that they don’t want to put it towards education.

    I’m telling you, I want a Benevolent Dictatorship. 

    I don’t I don’t think Hobbes was even touching on education when he wrote the Leviathan, but he did discuss what it was/would have been like “in the state of nature” before Government turned out to be a good thing.  He was trying to figure out why anyone would submit to government in the first place.  His answer was rational self-interest.  Why don’t the (often well-educated) rich just GIVE their money for education?  They don’t see that it’s in their interests.  And they may be right. 

    I would just like to add, in conclusion, blah blah
    blah, that this is a discussion engendered by a story, a story that seemed to contain an assumption, that being, “no one could ever give back all that has been taken away from me.”

    Thanks guys.  It’s nice to get to rattle on once in awhile at people who can rattle back.

    Posted by julianyway  on  03/15  at  01:18 AM
  • When I was working for $8/hr as a campus security guard (despite my post grad educ.) I suggested to fellow guards that education should be free up through 4 years of college. They scoffed. That’d make the degree worthless, they said.

    Then I suggested that free college for everyone, to include masters and doctoral degrees, would not only make us smarter, more aware; it would also provide as many jobs (the education industry) as the defense industry does now. But they couldn’t see it.

    Thoreau said - the pupil is never educated to the degree of understanding, only to the degree of acceptance and reverence.

    Posted by Mikael Covey  on  03/15  at  01:37 AM
  • “Thoreau said - the pupil is never educated to the degree of understanding, only to the degree of acceptance and reverence.”

    —I don’t get it!

    Posted by julianyway  on  03/15  at  03:12 AM
  • What Thoreau meant was that education, as he saw it, was aimed at keeping the pupil a pawn of the ruling class - educated enough to be a productive tool, but never educated enough to question authority or think for oneself.

    I think that helps to explain our current level of education on this planet. We don’t want coal miners or soldiers to know that they are irreplaceably mortal.

    Posted by Mikael Covey  on  03/15  at  12:26 PM
  • As far as I can tell, the points Julie makes about the sorry state of education can be used on either side of this argument.  On one hand, forcing people to pay for something they ought to want prevents them from wanting and valuaing it.  On the other, the task won’t be done very well if you don’t have enough money to spend on it.

    In any case, I found this insitution, which, amazingly to me, is doing exactly what I want to do: http://www.independent.org/newsroom/news_detail.asp?newsID=24

    I can only imagine the demand for that kind of activity and the appreciation of it going up if public education were no longer free.

    There are plenty of schools that people pay for willingly, despite the existence of an alternative for which they are *also* forced to pay - those are private schools.

    There are also plenty of schools for older students, and the funding for them in almost all cases is voluntary.  That’s obvious for private university, but even public universities charge students just about the cost of their education (so the government funding tends to cover other university activities like research).  Of course, the research has synergistically improves the education, but the fact is that someone is willingly paying to have the students educated.

    I understand your argument with the security guards, but I also understand their position.  Pick anything, and provide it to someone for free, and you will see that they will perceive it as less and less valuable.  Doesn’t that explain the sorry state of education?

    As far as not trusting yourself, I can only suggest that rather than assuming that your own weakness is a general weakness of all people, so we should start forcing each other to behave better, give others the benefit of doubt and work on yourself instead.  On the other hand, I think you are viewing yourself through crap-colored spectacles.  I’m certain there are many people who have been educated about things BY YOU for FREE, simply because you wanted them to be smarter.  You’re doing it now.  grin  Unfortunately, you have a lack of faith that such behavior will grow and ultimately prove far more powerful than coercion.  Don’t you think the pen is mightier than the sword?

    I am enjoying this very much also. 

    I *think* your position and arguments also work for the obesity and health problems that stem from eating too much fast food.  The conclusion would be that taxes should be collected to provide restaurants that give away free, healthy-by-government-standards food to anyone who wants it.  The current lack of health would be the hypothetical “great disaster” that people would worry about when I came along and said “let people buy their own food instead of forcing everyone to pay for it.”  But really, there’s no empirical way to tell whether the current lack of health would be better or worse if government funding for public sustenance were in place.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  03/15  at  12:57 PM
  • The number of students who pay for their own education is very small. Usually the paying of it comes from parents. If everyone had to pay for their own education (from age six to twenty-six) few people would pursue it. And/or they would expect or demand an economonic system that provides jobs for ten to sixteen year olds to be able to work and pay for the presumed better life through education.

    You’re saying that you like toll roads better than freeways. I don’t know why. Ten bucks to get through the Mullholand Tunnel every day seems rather pathetic to me.

    Uneducated people cost you more in crime, prison, health care, wars, etc., than educating them would.

    Posted by Mikael Covey  on  03/15  at  02:13 PM
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