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Accumulating Mental Wealth -- Writer's Poke #425

I found a quarter in the parking lot the other day, and I smiled as I picked it up. 

“Guess what,” I told my wife later that night, “I found a quarter today.” 

“Good for you,” she said, without any sense of sarcasm.

I had no immediate need or use for the quarter, and I threw it into the change bin in the kitchen. At some point it will contribute to the purchase of a cup of coffee, perhaps.

Obviously a quarter doesn’t mean much these days, but I suspect that most people still take the trouble to bend over to pick one up when they see one. The point is, the quarter has value even if it has no immediate use, and even if it isn't worth much by itself. 

Every day I go into the classroom, I feel like, metaphorically-speaking, I’m giving each of my students the chance to pick up a quarter. Heck, most days, I feel like I’m literally giving each of my students the opportunity to earn back the equivalent of one class period’s tuition. And yet, I don’t always feel like they see the classroom, or college for that matter, as a place for them to  accumulate mental wealth. 

“If I pulled out my wallet,” I asked my students today, “and handed each of you a dollar, would you accept it?” Most of them smiled, and all of them indicated that they would. In fact, I cannot imagine any person who would reject being given a dollar. “So why do some students reject being given a dollar’s worth of knowledge?”

I fully understand that teachers cannot “give knowledge” to students; nevertheless, students do have the ability to avoid picking up knowledge, just like I had the ability to avoid picking up the quarter. Honestly, though: Does learning in the classroom take much more effort that bending over to pick up a quarter? Does it take much more effort that accepting a dollar straight from the teacher's hand?

My contention is that the effort is approximately the same, and yet, some students have not learned to value all of the mental quarters and dollars that are just laying around waiting to be picked up. Each individual piece of knowledge might not seem to have much value, but students could do a lot with the collected mental wealth over the course of an entire degree.

But why should it even require them to think in long-range terms? When I picked up the quarter in the parking lot, I hadn’t even considered the quarter’s potential value. I was just happy to have the quarter. Why aren’t students, likewise, just happy to receive knowledge? Some are. I know that. But why aren’t all students?

What are your thoughts on accumulating mental wealth? Who do you consider to be mental wealth millionaires? Billionaires?

“Wealth is the product of man’s capacity to think.” – Ayn Rand


  1. Perhaps the Ayn Rand quote is the answer to why it is that not all persons enrolled in any class are willing to accept the opportunity to pick up some facts and turn them into the wealth of the mind -- mental wealth -- wisdom. Perhaps not all who come into a learning situation have learned to think.


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