I’ve mentored teens and young adults for more than 25 years now, and part of that role is inextricably linked to education in some form or other. Whether it’s finally helping kids make sense of the quadratic equation, or teaching them new strategies for dealing with conflict, I love the look that comes over kids’ faces when they finally get whatever it is that’s been stumping them up to that point.
(I equally love the feeling of learning a new thing myself and knowing “that look” has crept over my own face, though I’ve never actually seen it … which is good, because that would be weird.)
As you might imagine, over the course of a couple of decades, I’ve worked with an awful lot of kids and covered an awful lot of topics. One especially fun exchange is whenever I get to explain to a kid for the first time how money works. (And mind you, this is often during high school or even early college years.)
I take out a dollar bill and ask, “How much is this worth?” And they generally say, “A dollar.” And I reply, “Nope. It’s worth basically nothing.”
Mouths quirk in a mix of confusion and curiosity. It’s clear that I’ve got their attention.
I then take out my checkbook and show them a blank check. “How much is this worth?” They generally try to guess the “right” answer at this point. “Nothing?” they’ll ask more than state.
“Yes, that’s right. Nothing. But what if I write it out for one hundred dollars? Then how much is it worth?”
“A hundred dollars?” they suggest, still unsure.
“Nope. It’s still worth nothing. It’s just paper with printing on it, and now some of my handwriting. It’s worth nothing.”
Here’s where I really get them.
“Hold the dollar up to the check. What do you notice?” I ask, handing them the money and the checkbook.
First, they’ll look for words or numbers that match. Not finding any, the realization I was after soon dawns on nearly everyone …