Ain’t We Got Fun

6 Oct

dessert“Is everything supposed to be fun?”  I looked at Banu* to see if she was teasing; she was completely serious.  I had just said to her, “We have the whole day just to have fun!  What would you like to do?”  This was a rare occurrence, of course; there are few days where there is nothing planned or needs taking care of.  This was as rare as a day in June in October.  I asked what she meant.

“Maybe it’s a cultural thing,” she began.  I already knew where this was going before she started to explain.  “In Turkey, everything isn’t fun.  It’s not supposed to be.  Fun is what happens as a reward at the end of everything else.  You work hard–you expect to work hard–and then, maybe, you’ll get a treat.  In America, though, it seems like everything has to be fun from the beginning, or it won’t work.”

I knew what she meant.  We have fluffed up and dummied down everything so that everyone will be enticed to do whatever needs doing.  We give “rewards” just to get others to do what they are supposed to do in the first place.  We have even reduced the number of things that need to be done by having other people do them for us.  We are indulged, spoiled.  We have gotten flabby.

No where is this more evident than in our school systems.  Give a student a “C” for meeting the requirements (the definition of C-work…), and they scream bloody murder for their expected “A.”  No more is an “A” awarded only for “publishable work,” as I was told to maintain when teaching for the University of Kentucky at the beginning of my career.  Today’s teachers often inflate the grades just to cut down on the screaming–or the bloody murder.  Give the kids what they want, regardless of whether it’s good for them or they deserve it–just keep them pacified.  Let them eat cake.

My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of Disney.  I admitted it before Banu could call it.  Much as we both love “Mary Poppins,” a “spoonful of sugar” may not always be the best way to take one’s medicine.  No wonder we are a society of diabetics.  Not all jobs are meant to be games, though there’s nothing wrong with enjoying one’s work and finding the fun where one can.

Banu’s beef with the “spoonful of sugar” method has grown out of her graduate work in American education (don’t get her started on her student-teaching experience), which has done little to convert her to our “progressive” way of doing everything.  And I’m glad:  I may sound predictably like the old fogey of a passing generation, complaining about the current kids’ music (that’s not music!), but she is young enough to be my daughter!   That she prefers my music testifies to our shared good taste.

It wasn’t always this way.  Even back in my own not-so-distant childhood, rewards were saved for special achievements.  Just completing chores—and we did have them—wasn’t enough to warrant a treat.  We were expected to do our work, to make the grade, to finish what we started.  Life was just as uncertain back then, I guess, but we weren’t allow to have dessert first—or have it in place of dinner.  My husband used to tell the story of being served the same cold spinach he refused at dinner for breakfast, then lunch, and then and only after he had managed to get it down was he allowed anything else to eat, let alone dessert. Today his parents would be hauled in for child abuse; then, they were respected for being firm. I hate to say, “back in the day”–it’s cliché now–but back in the day, we worked, we earned, and on the special occasion, we might be given something extra.  If we were lucky, not because we were entitled to it.  It wasn’t “barefoot in the snow 20 miles uphill” hyperbole; it just sounds like it now because such standards seem so archaic.

Beggars were not choosers.  You liked what you got, not necessarily the other way around, or you “lumped” it, as they say. I was teaching a class recently where I gave out fortune cookies for a writing assignment (even our object lessons have to be fun, sweet); a student crumpled his up and threw it in the trash.  “I don’t like fortune cookies,” he whined.  “Don’t you have some Oreos or something?”  “No,” I said evenly, trying to keep my temper in check, “and that’s too bad, because that’s your assignment, and now you either won’t have one, or you’ll have to fish yours out of the garbage and eat it anyway.”  Even then I was afraid he’d report me to my dean for not offering multiple choices for all eating and writing pleasures.

Tennessee Williams’ “work like a Turk” may apply best to Banu’s ethnicity (though I suspect Williams just appreciated the rhyme), but Americans used to be known for their work ethic.  Even today we aren’t the only ones who have fallen prey to easy way.  I think of a certain Nobel Peace Prize given before the recipient had done anything to earn it–just on the “promise” that he might.  I wonder if the Swedes are wiping egg off their faces as our government bombs the bits out of Syria.  Not that ISIS doesn’t deserve what it gets—and more:  it’s just funny, that’s all.  Funny, but not fun.

*Banu, my Turkish graduate student roommate whom I met while teaching in Cyprus

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2 Responses to “Ain’t We Got Fun”

  1. Luttrell, Jennifer (LRC) October 6, 2014 at 7:42 pm #

    Hope y’all had fun that day. ☺ Typo: 7th paragraph, 4th sentence, allowed instead of allow. Love you!!!

    • brileyrebecca October 6, 2014 at 9:49 pm #

      Thanks! Sorry ’bout that! And we did have fun: we had dinner with you all! xoxox

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