“It’s totally unfair!” my nearly twelve year old son, Levi, railed. “Mrs. Y teaches advanced math and sixth grade science. She gives out these tickets for good behavior that can be redeemed for the most amazing prizes; like dinner and a movie or board games, stuff everybody really wants. But some people have her for both classes. I only have her for science since I’m not in advanced math. So it’s totally unfair. Don’t you think so?”
“Well, not really,” I tentatively began, “What’s unfair about it?”
“Mom,” he rolls his eyes at the sheer inanity of my question, “ The people who only have her for one class can’t earn as many tickets. That’s what’s unfair.”
“But it doesn’t hurt you or take away from your chance to earn tickets that some other people earn more, does it?” I ask, knowing I’m treading on thin ice. “I mean, it may take you longer to earn the prize you want. But that’s how life works. Some people are better at some things than others. Some people earn more money or drive nicer cars or live in fancier houses. Everything isn’t equal. Plus if you really wanted to, you could work harder and be in the advanced math class. But you don’t seem to want to spend the time or effort to do that.”
“Well mom,” my son reasoned, “I am trying to be happy with myself at the level I’m at and not put undo pressure on myself.” I suddenly flashed back to a book a colleague of mine wrote several years ago entitled, “What to Do When Your Kid Is Smarter Than You.” I’ll have to reread that.
“That’s fair, Levi,” I conceded. “But life is what you make it. Nobody owes you equality. If you want to earn more tickets, think of a creative way to do that. Maybe you can stay later or earn extra credit somehow. But moping about unfairness is like buying into a socialist doctrine that we, personally, do not believe in.” I gingerly stepped off my soapbox and waited to see how my remarks had landed.
“Would you like to at least hear my solution?” He asked with a hint of arrogance that made me feel embarrassed for my philosophical outburst.
“Of course,” I nodded.
“Well,” he began, “I raised my hand and told Mrs. Y that I thought her system was unfair for the reasons I mentioned. She thought about it, agreed with me, and decided to amend the system. Now everyone can only earn tickets in one class.” He offered a self satisfied smile that landed like a gentle lob into my court.
I was, I’ll admit, speechless. Finally, I gathered my wits and responded. “Well, Levi, what you may lack in mathematical acumen, you more than make up for in ingenuity and boldness. I gotta hand it to you. You spoke up for yourself and were able to affect change. That’s awesome. I’m proud of you.”
“Really?” he asked doubting my authenticity.
“Really,” I answered. “Life will always set up obstacles for you to overcome. You used your intelligence, determination and creativity to do that. It’s like my dad used to say to me, ‘You can do anything if you put your mind to it.’” Then I thought about all the kids who had ostensibly been demoted to single classroom point earners.
“But just to be safe,” I added, “Let me show you how to throw a right hook in case any of those double point people come looking for you.”