Thursday, October 11, 2007

I don't know exactly how we got on the topic (which probably says something about how I run my class), but about a week ago one of my classes began discussing their families' specific financial situations. Actually, now that I think about it, it probably stemmed from the discussion we were having on how difficult it was for some immigrants to make a living with employments in urban factories.

Either way, I was shocked when the kids started rattling off how much their parents pay for certain monthly costs such as utilities, insurance, and rent. "Well my momma gotta pay all this. She got a car note, insurance, telephone, tv, cell phone, internet, rent, then she gotta feed me and my brothers and sisters... That's why she got three jobs." A few moments later, they started tallying: "well that car note gotta be about 200 a month, then you got rent at about 600, and insurance on top o' that..."

Since moving down here I've become aware of what parents have to do financially to keep their families afloat. I know about the loan sharks and credit officers and bill collectors. I realize that the majority of my kids have parents who are working long, hard hours, many times at more than one job. I realize how hard it is for many of these families.

What I did not realize is the degree to which my students are aware of their families' own financial situations. Perhaps it was because of my class (upper middle) or my ignorance (extensive), but I never knew what my parents were paying each month, and I never really had an idea how much money my father brought home each month. In fact, the thought never really crossed my mind; I knew we were about as wealthy as all my friends' families, perhaps a little wealthier when I got to high school. We weren't vacationing in Tahiti, but we were certainly living very comfortably.

Alternatively, most of my students, particularly the poorer ones, seem to know everything about their families' finances are concerned. What I began to wonder about this is how that knowledge transfers into an understanding of basic necessities and a measure of the value of money and hard work. Though they recognize where the money comes from, they don't seem to 'value' money that much (admittedly, does any teenager?) in the sense that they have no problem making frivolous purchases or dismissing a possible cost by claiming, "oh, my momma's gonna pay for that." I don't really know what this means, but I am fascinated by the disconnect, which I think I would see more in the rich kids I grew up with rather than my students.


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