Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Sat, 15 Jan 1994

Hi there from cold, very cold (down in the mid-20s) south Georgia. It's so cold the cockroaches decided to wear sweats rather than eat them. Anyway, I thought I'd explain what Barbara meant by wanting to be like "the fourth boy." She's referring to a sort of parable about the meaning of grades that I tell each of my classes sometime in the early part of each quarter. It goes like this:

Four boys enter a convenience store to purchase some munchies. The place is a madhouse. Cars are lined up outside to pump gas, people are screaming to have their pumps turned on. Inside, the place is jammed. Impatient customers are crowding the counter, vocally demanding that the clerk immediately check them out. Meanwhile, the harried clerk is nervously eyeing a suspicious person in the back corner of the store. In the midst of this bedlam, each boy brings a coke and bag of chips to the counter and each hands the clerk a five dollar bill. The distracted and frazzled clerk separately bags each purchase, takes the money from each boy, and returns to each boy five dollars in change. As the boys are about to leave the store, each realizes that he has received too much change. Each turns around and returns the money. Everyone applauds their actions; everyone praises them. "You all have earned an "A" in citizenship," the store owner announced as he patted each on them on the back. "You have proven that you are honest, upright young men." As a reward, he gives each of them a free bag of chips and a coke. All the boys, but one, proceed to prance around in the store like proud peacocks and then, like Little Jack Horner who just pulled out his thumb, rushed out to tell the world what good boys they are. But, did their performance tell the true story?

The first boy felt the clerk's mistake was his find. He was going to keep the money without a second thought if he could get away with it. "Hey," he said to himself, "this is a dog-eat-dog world. You have to get what you can even if you have to climb over bodies. Everyone else would keep the money so why shouldn't I. I'm no sucker!" As he opened the door to leave the store, however, he hesitated. "What if someone saw what happened and says something," he asked himself. "Hell, there'll be another time." Then, with some disappointment with his cowardice, afraid that he would be stopped and charged with theft, he turned around. Was he truly an honest, upright young man?

The second boy also wanted to keep the money. He did not feel he had done anything wrong. "After all," he said to himself, "the clerk gave the money to me. It's not like I stuck a gun in his ribs and demanded it as if I were a common thief. I didn't rob anyone." But, as he opened the door to leave the store, he hesitated and thought. "Hey, maybe I can get something bigger out of this for me then a few measly bucks. If I play my cards rights, people will notice me. Maybe, I'll even get a reward." So, he turned around ready to be praised and ready to publicly brag how honest a person he is. Was he truly an honest, upright young man?

The third boy immediately realized the clerk's mistake, but took the money anyway. He didn't feel there was an issue of stealing; it was just a stroke of good luck. "Hey," he convinced himself, "that's the throw of the dice. It's like the lottery. Someone has to win." But, as he approached the door he started feeling sorry for the clerk. And although he didn't feel any overriding obligation to return the money, he didn't want the clerk's salary to be docked for the mistake. "Damn," he cursed himself, "if the clerk wouldn't get hurt I'd keep it. Anyway, I'll get some thanks." So, he turned around. Did he deserve the "A" for citizenship?

The fourth boy, the quietest one of the four, turned around unhesitatingly, without a second thought, as soon as he realized the clerk had made a mistake, simply because it was the right and honest thing to do. He didn't feel he did anything out of the ordinary, and never said another word about it to anyone.

Does, then, as Polonious would tell Laertes, the "grade proclaim the person?"

Make it a good day.


Louis Schmier  (912-333-5947)
Department of History                      /~\    /\ /\
Valdosta State University          /^\    /   \  /  /~ \     /~\__/\
Valdosta, Georgia 31698           /   \__/     \/  /     /\ /~      \
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                          -_~     /  "If you want to climb mountains, \ /^\
                             _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -\____

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