Laura Tropp's blog

The Crying Baby in the Room


By now, many people have seen the video of Trump yelling at a baby and its mother at one his campaign stops. At first he seems to welcome the baby and acknowledges the mother’s efforts to stop the baby from crying, but later he asks the mother to take the baby out and indicates that he was joking about welcoming a crying baby who is disrupting his talk.

As a mother who also has faced rooms where she was not sure whether her crying (or even just happily noisy) baby was welcome or at other times specifically told to remove her baby, I’d like to call attention to a larger issue beyond whether Trump doesn’t like babies. Do we want to be a society that not only values parenting, but also one that embraces the act of parenting?

To simply value parenting, all we need to do is what politicians regularly do already: talk about the importance of family. We can have television shows that feature all kinds of families and have lots of consumer products at the ready to make parenting easier. Yet, the act of parenting is different because that is when moms (and dads) are seen visibly interacting with, engaging, or disciplining their children.

This is not to say that the news media never cover act of parenting moments. Jet Blue produced a commercial, for Mother’s Day of course, about an airline crew encouraging passengers to smile at a baby because everyone would get a percentage off their next flight every time a baby cries. Every once in a while, I see a warm-hearted news story about a professor holding a baby during class for a student. I find the professor story particularly funny, as it’s a male professor holding the baby for a woman. As a female professor who once brought my baby to class, I can assure you that many people did not find the experience heartwarming. In fact, after that one time, I went out of my way to make my husband take any and all future babies of ours to work during necessary times. I did this because, in my experience, people tend to perceive men taking infants to work as sweet and helpful but women taking babies to work as being completely unable to balance their work and family life.

While we can find heartwarming images of people trying to help parents integrate their children into the world, in the United States, I would say it’s something that parents have had to work hard to do. I think of the big fight in Brooklyn over bringing babies to bars. I think of how a homeless mother’s life might have changed if she could have just been allowed to bring her kids to her job interview rather than leaving them in car, and then getting arrested for it.  My own town has recently been involved in a discussion over whether in it is inappropriate for the owners of a nail salon to have their toddler in the store during the day.

Trump’s baby story and these other minor discussions over the do’s and don’ts of parenting acts distract from some larger ideas. Do we want to be a society that not only encourages people (some people, at least, but that’s another blog) to have children, but also makes it possible for them to engage in public acts of parenting? Looking at other countries shows us that it is possible to change our economic policies and our attitudes about why we feel the need to hide our acts of parenting or protect the public from seeing them. Right now the baby in the room is what everyone thinks they are talking about, but the discussion we should be having is how work, play, family, and life should intersect.

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A Plagiarism Rubric


In light of recent accusations of plagiarism within portions of speeches delivered at the Republican National Convention this week, I thought it would be helpful for me to offer a perspective from the ivory towers of academia. Of course, political speeches are different than student papers, but it’s remarkable how similar defenses can be. From outright denial to deflecting blame (this is all Hillary’s fault) to questioning the amount that was actually plagiarized (Governor Chris Christie argued that “93% of the speech is completely different"), the various responses gave me flashbacks to sitting in my office, patiently listening to students’ attempts to wriggle out of the traps they had laid for themselves. In that spirit, I present my rubric for ranking the egregiousness of plagiarized work. I imagine this scoring system will be about as useful as the defenses themselves.



  • Paper completely taken from Wikipedia, but lists Wikipedia references at the bottom.
  • Paper seems otherwise legit, but is written with British phrasing and spelling, when the student is from Texas.
  • Student outright admits that the paper was co-written with his mother.
  • Paper is completely plagiarized from other sources, but the class was not in the student’s major, and he only took it as requirement “so it won’t affect my future anyway.”


  • Paper is clearly written by someone else, because writer sounds like an expert in American political parties, and this student couldn’t name the three branches of government, but you can’t find the original sources as evidence, and you have 50 other papers to grade and three kids of your own.
  • Paper was so good that you bragged about the sophisticated nature and quality of your student’s writing to a colleague and discovered that the student turned in same paper to their class as well.
  • Paper is plagiarized, but student asserts that you did not make your assignment clear enough and you are the hardest teacher and don’t recognize that she has other classes besides yours.



  • Paper is plagiarized, but student is a Senior, and her grandmother died (again), and her scholarship is running out, and she may even be deported because she’s an International Student, so there is no way you should even consider doing anything about this because you will totally destroy her life, and you wouldn’t want that on your conscience.
  • While paper is plagiarized, it’s only because the student forgot to turn in the correct version of the paper that had the quote marks and the works cited page attached.
  • The student did not knowingly plagiarize. He borrowed the paper from his roommate, who had plagiarized when he wrote this paper. So the roommate needs to be in this meeting, not the student. Don’t persecute the wrong person!
  • The paper may, on first look, seem plagiarized to the instructor, but the student insists that what’s inside the paper is just “knowledge everyone already has.”
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The Body / Self Image Dichotomy


As we complete yet another holiday involving the consumption of lots of food (in my case, BBQ and apple pie), I have to admit that I’m at a loss as to how to square this with my role as a parent who wants to help my children develop both healthy bodies and a healthy body image.

At times, the two seem completely incompatible on the surface. Michelle Obama has spent a good portion of her time as First Lady focused on the issue of childhood obesity by working on a campaign called Let’s Move. This year, the news media repeatedly have reported about the dangers of sugar. One even labeled sugar the new “snack crack.” At the same time, though, I constantly have seen messages about children and body image. The New York Times recently reported on a new study which warns that parental comments about how much a child is eating, or any other negative comment regarding food, even if well meaning, could have negative repercussions for years, particularly for daughters.

My daughters are now 10 and 7, and I’m worried that I’ve already done irreparable damage, even while actively trying to promote strong, healthy body images. I never disparage my or other people’s bodies, and I encourage my daughters to see their own bodies as natural. Yet at times, if they ask for a second helping at dinner, I do occasionally suggest that they wait and see if they are still hungry. Do they see that as my judgment on their weight? What about the times when I try to encourage them to have a piece of fruit instead of a cookie for a snack? Is that judgmental, or just responsible parenting? Is it my fault for having cookies in the house in the first place?

A new children’s book, Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Breaking the “I Feel Fat” Spell,  tries to fight children’s negative fears of feeling fat. This book wants children to feel comfortable even if they have body fat. Yet just this week, the New York Times reported on a study indicating several health dangers of childhood obesity, including increased incidents of cancer, stroke, and depression, as well as more of a likelihood of being obese as adults.

It seems to me that, in order to help develop healthy children in both body and mind, I need to create an almost surreptitious campaign whereby my children are not aware that I’m trying to keep fat off. Can healthy living ever fully be separated from body image implications? Realistically, some people are able to keep fat off easier than others, and some people crave more active lifestyles than others. The reality is that the above messages are often contradictory and overwhelming for parents like me. Which is more important: my child’s body or body image? Is there a way to achieve both? What solutions have you found?

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Fatherhood Privilege Walk


In thinking about Father’s Day, below is an assignment I work on with my students when thinking about families and privilege. Please add on in comments, if you would like.


Participants should stand should-to-shoulder in a room:

  • Take one step forward if you live in the same house with your children.
  • Take one step back if someone ever asked you where you got your child.
  • Take one step back if you do not live in the same country as your children.
  • Take one step back if you’ve ever been thanked for babysitting your child.
  • Take one step forward if you never had to compare the cost of diapers.
  • Take one step forward if you were able to hear your child’s first words.
  • Take one step back if you ever had to choose not eat so your child could eat.
  • Take one step forward if people have smiled at you while you were in a store with your child.
  • Take one step back if you have ever had to explain to your child why you were mistakenly accused of a crime because of your race.
  • Take one step forward if you can choose to work from home sometimes when your child is sick.
  • Take one step back that you sometimes worry in a custody battle that you would have no legal right to your child.
  • Take one step forward if you taught your child how to drive, danced at their wedding, or waved good-bye when they went to college.
  • Take one step forward if you tell your child they can be anything they want and you believe it.



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Mother Blame in a New Media Environment


Last week it was difficult to miss the story of the Gorilla kid mom. Surely, I can see why people are drawn to the story. For the media, it’s a suspenseful story. For viewers, it’s a dramatic window into the ethical decision to kill an animal. For parents, it’s their worst fear: you take your eyes off your child for a second, and you find your child at the bottom of a gorilla enclosure. Then, you receive hate messages from around the world over what people perceive as your parental failure.

This episode made me think, though, about how quickly many people blamed the mother (many don’t even realize that the child’s dad was there, too) for a child’s failure. This is especially troubling in a world where so much is blamed on and expected from parents.

In part, I blame our media environment, which is to be distinguished from specific media organizations. In an environment where there is so much access to news, studies, blogs, and advice, it’s hard to weed through opinions to find legitimate advice. Advice is often contradicting and changing. It used to be that the medical establishment would debate and vet studies before they were released to the public. Now, one can hear about new recommendations or discoveries instantly. In just the last few months alone, I learned that I actually should have eaten nuts while I was pregnant (to possibly prevent a nut allergy, which my son does indeed have). It turns out that mindfulness may be helpful to children in grades 4 and 5. Helping your child with homework turns out to be bad. Apparently, even the bottle you choose for your baby could influence their health.

At the same time, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media often feature a constant steam of fabulous moments that often inspire envy or guilt in others who are not achieving the same level of excitement in their own lives. Of course, these pictures are just the highlights of someone’s story that they have chosen to share, but you can’t really be sure. I remember my own trip to Disney World with a 4-year old, 2-year old, and an infant. Most of the trip was pretty much a disaster, with my husband and I fighting right in middle of the Main Street over whether we should just abandon the “vacation.” However, without the knowledge of our experience, a review of our vacation photos shows us having a great time. It looks like we bought my son brand-new Disney Crocs to celebrate as a branded souvenir, rather than the truth of our being desperate when he peed all over his last change of clothes and only pair of sneakers. Social media set up expectations of events and activities that seem to be perfect and immersive (like a trip to the zoo).

Instead of focusing on all the people who were blaming “Zoo Mom,” I’m going to celebrate those that chose not to.  People have shared with the public their own near misses. Others have questioned the lack of focus on the dad. The prosecutors themselves have questioned whether there was anything that could have been done to prevent the accident. I’d like to think that maybe we are at a point where mother blame will not be a default reaction to incidents like this.

Maybe I’m moving too quickly, but wouldn’t it be great if those who are so quick to blame children’s failures on mothers also praise mothers when their children experience a success?

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Mother Blame <br>in a New Media Environment

Assessment Report


In the spirit of what I have labeled “The Month of Assessment,” here is my personal assessment report:

A Work-Life Balance Assessment Report


Goal 1: Demonstrate to my children my devotion to them

Goal 2: Demonstrate to my College my commitment to them

Goal 3: Achieve work-life balance by accomplishing both Goal 1 and Goal 2 concurrently.


Scale: 1:Does not meet goals ; 2: Approaches goals 3: Meets goals ; 4: Exceeds goals


The evaluator used three “work-life balance projects” for assessment of these goals. These three assignments were chosen because the nature of the assignment allowed for assessment of one or more aspect of the goals using different techniques. The first “project” was the bringing of evaluator’s child to her workplace to attend a special event. This project received a grade of 2.5. The evaluator was able to achieve the goal of demonstrating to the College a commitment by attending the event. The evaluator was also able to show child devotion by taking child to event. Yet, event was not until the evening, so in order to fill the rest of the day, child was needed to be given ice cream and additional Minecraft time in order to allow evaluator to attend meetings. Evaluator was unable to focus on major reports and projects and therefore was unable to complete some projects planned for that day. In addition, two other children left at home with babysitter were upset that they were not a part of said outing. Thus, while evaluator approached goal, there was still lacking in achieving either Goal 1 or Goal 2.

The second project involved bringing work home. Evaluator stayed home during a bad weather day and conducted conference meetings throughout the day. This goal received a score of 1.9. The evaluator was able to demonstrate some level of work commitment and did conduct all meetings. However, the next day, several people at evaluator’s office commented that they have been seeing too much of the person virtually as opposed to in real life. This comment seemed to imply that evaluator was not demonstrating enough commitment to work by not being physically present. In addition, children felt ignored throughout the day, which seemed heightened by an ability to see parent who could not talk to or even acknowledge children’s presence during video conference calls.

The final project was comprised of two mini projects, where evaluator tried to ignore all work at home and all children at work. This goal received a score of 1.5.  While the evaluator was able for a period of time to ignore all child-related activities at work, an emergency allergy situation (which turned out to be not that much of an emergency) did disrupt the flow, which led evaluator to spend much of the rest of the day thinking about allergies, remembering that she needed to set follow-up appointments for all children, and then researching differences in various allergy medicines. The second mini-project, which involved ignoring all work during the day, was also disrupted when work called evaluator’s cellphone (which was ignored for first two calls) to report an emergency at work that needed attention (which turned out to be not that much of an emergency). Evaluator then was distracted by additional work that she had to attend to and was a distraction from “day of fun with kids” (which was already not fun, as it involved haircuts and children’s dentist appointments). Distracted evaluator accidently left behind child’s free dental gift at diner, and youngest child was distraught for the rest of the day. Evaluator then was forced to find emergency substitute gift.


The evaluator had laudable goals. However, the outcomes were not all clearly measurable. First, what defines “devotion”? Can devotion truly be measured? If measurement is by the amount of time children seem happy during the day, then the outcomes clearly failed. Yet, what is “happy”? Does hourly happiness matter as much as long-term happiness? In addition, this led to the question of what is commitment? Is commitment measured in terms of physical presence or the completion of tasks? If it is measured in terms of completion, then the goals were more likely to be achievable.


Action Plan

The above assessment demonstrates that there is room for improvement for evaluator to achieve a desirable level of work-life balance. The evaluator considers the following:

1. Buy additional toys to keep in office that can occupy children
2. Buy additional toys that can suffice to substitute when other toys are lost
3. Stop trying to achieve work-life balance
4. Reconsider definitions of happiness, commitment, and devotion
5. Take a year-long academic leave to try a new work-life balance between children and publishing

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Motherhood and Media


Last week, in advance of Mother’s Day, I gave the keynote address at the Museum of Motherhood’s Annual Conference. In the talk, I looked at the representation of motherhood and feminism in popular culture over the past year. I thought I would use this column to share some of what I have found.

The helicopter mom continues to be a major motherhood stereotype represented in the media. In some ways, the Helicopter Mom is an extreme response to the New Momism, identified years ago by Susan Douglas and Meredith Michaels. However, we also are starting to see the emergence of a backlash to the helicopter mom in the form of jokes and posts from mothers who recognize the toll it takes to live up to the ideal of the perfect mom. At the same time, newer studies have come out warning of the dangers of helicopter parenting.

Attempts to achieve a successful work/life balance have continued to occupy media time, with attention this year focused on the role of corporations in providing incentives and policies for more flexible parental leave. Yet, the complicated picture of actually convincing parents to take this leave still seems to be problematic: the worry of losing a promotion or being downsized often prevents employees from taking advantage of these benefits.

In continuing the conversation of all of the extra work demands placed on mom, Melinda Gates launched the Time Poverty movement. This seems an extension of The Second Shift, first explored in great detail by Arlie Hochschild. Gates differentiates her program by examining how the demands of work change based on location and access to resources. Therefore, she puts forward the idea that the solution to time poverty will be different for different women.

While the physical labor of women was recognized, this year the popular press also began to explore the emotional labor of women. They face the burden of the mental anxiety and energy that raising children demands. In the academy, The Slow Professor argued for a radical shift in how we frame work as faculty members.

Fathers were acknowledged this year in a new Super Bowl campaign featuring famous sports dads doing their daughter’s hair.

White privileged was explored by some, but when a women of color was arrested for leaving her children in a food court (though she could still see them) so she could go on a much-needed job interview, she was widely criticized.

Finally, Sheryl Sandberg acknowledged that Leaning In was harder than she thought, particularly as a single mom.

This year-in-review made me think about the areas where issues surrounding motherhood and work-life balance received recognition and where it still remains hidden. The ability of personal stories to take the place of examining deeper structural issues continues to be a problem. Motherhood and fatherhood also remain the focus of much of the “light news,” so stories about NFL players doing their daughters’ hair takes up more room than more complex stories about race, fatherhood, and privilege. What were your “favorite” stories of Motherhood in the media this past year?

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When You Can’t Check Your Privilege at the Door


When the faculty at my college voted to add in a general education requirement to incorporate issues of race and ethnicity, I saw it as an opportunity to have my Motherhood class fit into this requirement; I could use this as a chance to make the class not just about motherhood issues but about understanding them within the lenses of race, class, and identity.

I approached this project with much enthusiasm, the same way that I have developed all my classes in my over fifteen years of teaching. I consulted with other faculty, found new readings, and developed new exercises. I made sure that race, class, and ethnicity were not simply topics to explore but infused throughout the class. I checked my privilege (white, straight, middle-class woman) and tried to account for how that may frame my choice of materials or discussion. By the first week of class, I was excited and ready to go.

Things went well for the first day, when we mostly talked about what we were going to do in class. I have to admit that this was the high point of the semester. I’m now a few weeks away from the end of the semester, and I have to admit that much of my efforts to bring race and ethnicity into the classroom were at best challenging and at worse, an utter disaster. Halfway through the semester, I gave out an anonymous survey (encouraged by my institution) where I received proof that most (if not all) of the students felt the same way about the class.

I then had to mourn the class I wanted to have, versus the one that I had. I first blamed the surveys and the administration for encouraging me to give out the survey. How dare they encourage me to distribute a survey designed to find out that the climate of the class is not going well but then not have any resources to show me how to fix it? I blamed the students, too, for not being able to have a constructive conversation about race. I blamed myself for ruining a perfectly good class by trying to tackle tough subjects. A colleague (and a full glass of wine) calmed me down, and I used the spring break to try to figure out how to rethink the class and salvage the second half of the semester.

I found many colleagues, inside and outside my institution, to talk with about the class, and we have come up with a set of new strategies. To make this class work, I’ve had to shift much of my teaching style. I can no longer be as open-ended as I was. I’ve had to guide more of the discussion. I’ve had to tell students they were wrong (gently). I’ve had to discourage people from offering their opinions without a connection to class concepts and readings. I’ve had to find more specific and focused examples.

Slowly, it’s working. But, I’ve found out some interesting things. First, I can’t simply check my privilege at the door of the classroom. Acknowledging I’m white doesn’t change me from being a white woman trying to talk about race to a classroom full of students who have either experienced racism or not. I’ve also had to learn to change my expectations for this class and myself, including being okay with feeling uncomfortable for both me and the students.

This isn’t the class I had hoped to achieve, but it’s the class I have. I’m not going to be able to learn how to teach a class about race and ethnicity and motherhood overnight, and it may take years before the class functions the way I mean it to. But, I haven’t given up. Last week, we talked about how single motherhood is framed differently for mothers of color, and the students were able to discuss it without the classroom becoming filled with what students described as an “uncomfortably bad vibe.” My best moment was with another class, where I realized that that the skills I’m learning were adaptable to other content, and I was able to introduce a discussion of race into a topic that previously did not have that component. They were first-year students, and by the time they take my motherhood class in their senior year, it’s going to better.

Have you struggled with adapting your classes to have more inclusive discussions? What strategies have worked for you?

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When You Can’t Check <br>Your Privilege at the Door

My Life as an Instant Challenge


My son has been participating as a member of a team for Destination Imagination. It’s a pretty interesting organization, which I think of as a kind of sports league for geeks, culminating in a giant nerd Olympics (being a nerd myself, this is something I can get behind).

As a part of this activity, they compete in “Instant Challenges,” where they might be given a couple of straws, mailing labels, craft sticks, and a tissue, and have to work together in a short amount of time to engineer a bridge or tower or autonomous drone (I made that last one up myself). Or, they might be given a hybrid challenge, where they improvise a performance incorporating a supplied scenario and materials. My husband is volunteering as one of the team coaches, and he came home this weekend exhausted from the mental energy of watching over the kids as they practiced the challenges.

I have to say that, while fifty percent of me was sympathetic, the other half was thinking how much of my daily life as a mother, professor, and administrator can be described as a series of instant challenges.

Need to persuade four children out of an indoor hotel pool so you can be on time for an event? That takes strong improvisational skills. A child hurts her foot in the middle of a party, and you have to find a way to calm her while creating a substitute for a bandage out of cocktail napkins and stamps? Instant challenge. Students in your class switch from a respectful debate to personal attacks on each other over a heated topic? It’s an Instant Challenge incorporating key improvisational and problem solving skills. I’m sure most jobs have tasks where these skills come in handy, but I think mothering and teaching have to be near the top of the list.

I think this is why watching reality programs often can be so engaging. Watching Top Chef is more than enjoying a cooking completion; its appealing to me as a mom who has to engage in her own battle after coming home from work to prepare a healthy dinner with little time and random ingredients, all with the knowledge that much of it will be rejected by critics (my kids) as soon as I finish. In some ways it’s cathartic to watch contestants who think they have so much at stake, but you know it’s little compared with your own life of daily instant challenges.

When my son began this activity, I wondered how much it would help provide him with useful skills. Now, I’m wondering whether instant challenges shouldn’t be a part of all children’s curriculum? Surely, being forced to be a part of a team with people who think differently from you and learning to solve random problems with limited time and tools at your disposal might be the best way to prepare for a lifetime of work and family life that often are their own set of instant challenges.

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The Membership Economy and School Lunches


I set up one of those school lunch accounts for my children. I did this at the beginning of the school year, and now every time they want to buy lunch or purchase a snack, they can just give their names at the register.

I was happy with the efficiency of this system and did not think much of it until I started receiving these “low balance” notices pretty regularly regarding my son’s account. This was during the semester, so I didn’t have a chance to deal with the situation. I don’t know about the rest of you, but I only deal with things that reach “crisis” level mid-semester. A low balance on a lunch account doesn’t rise to that level, so I authorized the service to keep refilling the card and moved on to student problems, administrative messes, and grading. 

Anyway, during the wonderful time between fall and spring semesters, or during pauses mid-semester, like Spring Break, when many other people seem to be on vacation, I use this time to catch up on doctor’s appointments for neglected health care or to revisit those problems that had not met the threshold of crisis and I’ve been ignoring.

Well, it turns out that my son has been buying all sorts of food with his new “credit account.” In addition to lunch (and sometimes he bought more than one lunch at a time -- why would a school let a child buy more than one lunch? Do they think he’s on some kind of lunch date?), he’s bought snacks (I can imagine him shouting , “A round of Sunchips for the table on me.”) and treats and drinks and so on.

I went to him accusingly, starting off by ranting that, even if we put aside the health implications here (the break isn’t that long; I have to stay on topic), this is a financial irresponsibility. He looked at me completely puzzled.

He replied that he thought he was doing exactly as he was supposed to do. He said that I got him a lunch membership, so he was just maximizing his use of it.

I explained that this wasn’t a “membership,” but an account, and each time he purchased something, money was withdrawn from that account. He asked, so it’s not like Netflix, where you can get as many movies as you want? No. He asked, what about Apple Music, where he can listen to as many songs as he wants? No. What about Amazon Prime, where he can watch as many shows as he wants, or Hulu? I’m like no and no. And then it hit me that he really didn’t understand what I meant because he lives in a Membership Economy, and I’m trying to explain a system that involves spending money for each item.

I’ve already noticed that my children have a different understanding of money than I do on a practical level. They hardly ever see me use cash, as I charge most purchases. Now, I hardly even need the physical credit card anymore because my phone has taken over that function. In fact, when I was trying to teach my daughter how to make change, it took me a while to actually find some coins. Her experience wasn’t happening organically like it did for me. I recognize that many people do not have adequate access to credit, but for those who do, how is the concept of money changing?

In The Opposite of Spoiled, Ron Lieber discusses the responsibility parents have to teach children about money, and he offers useful techniques to do so. I’m wondering, though, whether technology and media industries are working against parents in this area. As physical money (and now credit cards) disappear, and as more industries realize that memberships are their way of ensuring profitability and control, how will we teach children about ownership, expenses, and the cost of consumption? For my son, purchasing more items made economic sense under a membership model in which he thought he was participating, but not so under what was in fact a consumer model.

If the Maker Movement is about teaching people how to retrieve the lost art of building and creating, do we need a similar program for children to teach the concept of money and purchasing?

In the meantime, maybe next year I will return to the good old days of having my son bring in lunch money. Sure, it’s another thing for both of us to remember in the morning, but it may just teach him a concept for a lifetime.

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The Membership Economy <br>and School Lunches


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