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AIG Cheering Section

You can't make this stuff up: A fourth-grade teacher in Houston, who gives her students a daily economics lesson by letting them operate mock businesses and earn fake money and taxing them appropriately, recently made the daily lesson about AIG.

First she tore into AIG to make a point to the students. Their reaction, apparently, was predictable: They fumed at what they believed AIG execs had gotten away with.

But then the teacher, Rebecca Chapman, changed directions and asked her students to think about how they'd feel if they were AIG employees who didn't make the bad decisions but remained at the company to fix those decisions. She even asked them to think about how bad they'd feel if they were asked to give back millions in bonus money they felt they'd earned, and if their families had received death threats.

So the students, not yet being jaded about life, proposed that they write and send letters of support to AIG employees.

The current head of AIG's financial products unit - the unit blamed for much of the company's alleged shady dealings - said the cards and letters are hanging up on bulletin boards at the company and that they've made the AIG folk weepy and sentimental and what not.

Not sure what I think of this. The smartass in me wants to say something like "When I have kids one day, this is why they're attending private school!"

But that's too easy. Besides, when I have kids and they're old enough to attend school I probably won't be able to afford a private education 'cause it'll probably cost as much as college.

I commend the teacher for her daily economics lessons. That's awesome. And if just a few of her students remember those lessons, maybe they'll know how to balance books and prioritize spending and saving before they even graduate high school.

Maybe I'm crazy though, but for a hot-button issue like AIG's bonuses, I almost feel like academic opinion on that should be left to these kids' parents/legal guardians.

I'm not saying Wall Street bonus "education" is equivalent to parents debating over whether they or the schools should teach sex ed. But do you get the "sensitive" subject issue?

Think about it. Maybe I'm the parent of one of those kids. Maybe I'm pretty well versed in economic issues. Maybe it's my opinion that all the AIG bonus recipients - whether they were top decision makers or not - are the recipients of ill-gotten gains. Maybe that's the opinion I'm preaching to my family. So maybe I don't want my kid being groomed to be sympathetic to Wall Street bonus-getters at failed companies that are only surviving on tax dollars.

Maybe you think that sort of speculation is goofy. Maybe. But I'm the Devil's advocate here. And I'll put money on it: as this story plays out that teacher, for all her good intentions, is going to run into a few disgruntled parents.

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Wavemancali

The 90% taxing and claw back of the AIG bonuses was theft pure and simple.

If the Herald went under tomorrow because your marketing department defrauded the advertisers, did you still not write your columns? Do you not deserve to be paid?

Whether or not you agree with the teacher on this issue, it seems that it was the students who initiated the letter writing idea.

Unless you home school, your children are at some point or another going to be exposed to a point of view that you don't agree with. It's the parents responsibility to know what their children are being taught and react accordingly.

I think the 4th graders got it right. Those people got screwed.

James B.

WavemanCali, c'mon. You read this post. I didn't say anything about having a problem with the kids. I wrote very clearly that the kids asked to send the letters to AIG.

I questioned what some people might call emotional manipulation on the teacher's part.

And where did I suggest that any parent who doesn't live in a cave has going to like everything idea their kids bring home from school. You've given me some lashes in the past - some deserved, some maybe not - because from time to time I make certain generalizations. Well, don't make 'em on me. I didn't hold this isolated classroom incident up as an example of all things wrong with public schools. I held this isolated classroom incident up as a subject of debate. And as part of my devlish advocacy I suggested that some parents - remember, I'm not a parent - might get upset by the letter-writing gesture and take it out on the teacher. Let's drop all pretenses. We don't know if some of the parents in that classroom recently lost jobs due to the bad economy. We don't know if a parent from that classroom had to shutter her business 'cause her bank, which was bailed out, stopped giving loans. And in circumstances like that emotion often trumps fact. So I stand by the "debate" as I framed it. Knowing human emotion and how fragile it can be, it wouldn't at all surprise me if a parent or two or three got ticked off.

As for your argument about the bonuses, I don't necessarily disagree with you. Changing the rules after the fact seems wrong whether it's pay or sports that you're talking about.

But you're arguing apples and oranges here. To compare my salary to someone's bonus pay is crazy. Those people who got bonuses at AIG - from the top man to the lowest person in the pecking order - got that money on top of their salaries. That's why they call it a "bonus."

Ask me your question again, but supplant the AIG bonuses to AIG salaries, and we'll agree 100%.

And if the Herald went under tomorrow. No one here's getting paid, regardless the reason. That's the way it works.

James B.

WavemanCali, I forgot to ask: Did the Neti Pot work?

Kevin

I'm with you, James. Kudos to her for the economoics lesson. But for her to bias the lesson with talk about "feelings" and making the kids feel bad for the employees was a bit heavy handed.

Discussions about the bonuses would, I think, be better suited to high school...where it could be more of a discussion rather than a couched opinion.

Wavemancali

@James
Haven't been able to find a Neti Pot yet, I'll be trying a different pharmacy today.

But back to the debate ;)

So the teacher used "emotional manipulation" just like the main stream media and every politician in America. What of it? It is a valid teaching tool. The teacher presented the facts like the rest of America was getting them and the kids got whipped up just like the rest of America did.

Then they stepped back and taught the way the thing should be looked at and that is in a rational manner. Kudos for the teacher for teaching rational thinking over mob mentality.

As for bonus structure pay, let's apply it to an industry that it applies to.

Professional Sports.

Very often their multi-million dollar contracts contain bonus provisions based on home runs hit, passes complete or goals scored.

If the federal government decided to bail out professional hockey, should Sidney Crosby have to hand back the 2 million he got for scoring over 50 points? (this is a made up stat for dramatic purposes) No, he signed his contract based on the knowledge that if he played the game and scored those goals he would get X amount of money. To go back on that contract is fraud.

The federal government decided that AIG was too big to fail and it should be bailed out. When a company is solvent it has a contractual liability to pay its damned debts and that company owed those employees that money. If the company had not been bailed out (the way it should have been) they would not have received the money.

If you are going to save the patient you have to deal with the bloody cleanup and the recovery. Those bonuses came as part of the package of what you were saving.

@Kevin
In grade 4 I was playing chess with and beating my teachers.

I think you underestimate the maturity of what the average grade 4 student can create a valid opinion on.

insomniac

what's wrong with teaching a few kids to have empathy, and to learn to think or read beyond the headline. it might just make them better people

The CEO

OK, let's say you have an opinion and want to influence how your child thinks. Isn't it better to have a correct opinion? As Mr. Sanchez of AIG stated in his NY Times op ed piece the day after his boss testified to Congress, he had worked for a salary of $1 and a bonus of $270,00. Attorney General Cuomo had interviewed him, and somehow his address had been leaked to the press. Cuomo had let it be known that he had to stay at AIG to work through getting the company solvent, even though he had offers from private equity firms.

I suspect it was more than moral persuasion. He publically resigned in the op ed piece.

Democratic Congressman Sherman from California is very upset that AIG was deemed too large to fail. He would have preferred that they went into bankruptcy. He has publically stated that he is upset by the amount of money that went to English banks. Had the company gone into bankruptcy, those contracts could have been broken.

Since you are economically astute, I need not remind you how protectionism exacerbated the Great Depression, and how we must avoid this at all cost as we struggle world wide to overcome the current world-wide recession.

I point this out since, for your theoretical child, home schooling is a viable option.

I do hope, along with the benefits of diversity that you pointed out in your Passover/Easter Post, you'll also teach Journalism, fair, objective, balanced reporting; and Civics, to include some American History, such as The Great Compromise and where we went wrong around 1994, and the Constitution of the United States. When you get to the Constitution, and you hit the part about the powers granted to Congress, please explicit discuss the part about "Bills of Attainder" being specifically and explicitly forbidden. Then explain how the House just passed one anyway, to tax the AIG bonuses retroactively. The British used to do this to kill American Patriots and steal their possessions. How quickly we forget.

It takes courage to stand up to angry mobs. Congress makes sound bites to feed them for re-election. Sen Grasley suggested that the AIG executives commit suicide. He's a Repulican, the senior Senator from Iowa. Are you going to remember al this when you're being a teacher? I hope so! I hope I stayed within the allowable parameters of the debate.

Nathan

I think everyone on this blog have made some excellent points, but you all seem to be missing a crucial piece of the pie. I feel that the Washington Post author, Brady Dennis, should have mentioned in his second article, that Rebecca Chapman's class lesson was based on a previous article also written by Mr. Dennis ( see http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/03/18/AR2009031804104.html for details).

It was the original article which got Ms. Chapman thinking about the other side of the coin. It was the original article which contained a crucial quote from one of the financial executives at AIG

“They've chosen to throw us under the bus," said a Financial Products executive, one of several who spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing reprisals. "They have vilified us." Another pertinent quote: "People are trying to do the right thing," the same Financial Products executive said. "Guys have worked their [tails] off to try to get value for the taxpayer. This isn't money that's being advanced to us. People have performed the work and done it exactly as we asked them to do." I feel it necessary to point out (especially to those of you who are dubious of 4th graders abilities to think and feel for themselves) the very competent listening skills of Ms. Chapman's 4th graders who were able to reference these quotes, including the fascinating figure of speech, in their letters of genuine sympathy. It was their idea to write the letters NOT Ms. Chapman's.

I for one am grateful that Ms. Chapman is helping to raise a generation of children who are 1) capable of empathy 2) bold and articulate enough to express their feelings to people they have never met 3) are able to see the complexities and intricacies of an argument and find the solution for themselves. I have hope for the children of our future.

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