Where Kids Learn to Gamble

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t pursue higher education for your creative writing. I’m just saying, “Are you sure you want to put yourself in debt to try to learn something un-teachable?”

I visited an arcade recently: skee ball machines, coin shooters, air hockey tables, car racing simulators. This is the place where kids learn to gamble.

Apart from the classic standbys, most of the arcade consisted of kid-marketed gambling machines. Buy tokens, put tokens inside of machines, and let the coin arbitrarily fall. Perhaps your coin will fall into a slot labeled 1000. One thousand? Then, the machine belches a train of golden tickets into a greedy kid’s hands. He finally achieves this grand jackpot after loading the betting machine with $43 worth of tokens.

With a thousand tickets bunched in his arms, this kid swaggers up to the prize counter. Stuffed unicorns and inflatable dolphins and play pop guns dangle from the ceiling. But he’s a few thousand tickets short. Should he spend another forty to try to win big again or just settle for a coloring book?

Arcades are where children learn to gamble. They learn that, yes, it is worth it spend loads of money on a game that’s merely frustrating for the very small chance of a minimal prize. In that way, in fact, those betting arcade games are much like college.

We teach our kids wonderful things: tickets are worth more than fun. Instead of flocking to the air hockey tables, the kids head straight for the ticket machines. If you can shoot a token through a pinhole, you may win some paper tickets which then can be exchanged for Tootsie Rolls.

Walk into any casino and adults act the same way. They’ve been conditioned to be overly optimistic. Conditioned to believe that a pair of eights might win the table. Or that a coin dropped through a slot will luckily fling through a pinhole.

So, let’s apply this again to college. We gamble first about $20,000 for the first year of college. That’s at a really decently priced school, room and board included. Most kids are paying more than this, through loans and grants and very flimsy scholarships. Well, that’s an investment for the first year which will eventually make you quasi-miserable. The part you’re paying for, anyways, isn’t the fun campus life: it’s the courses and books and cramped dorms. You’re paying to work your butt off.

And so say you’ve slaved away at an institution of higher learning, made it out alive. Now you own a shiny new college degree, but what can that degree get you? A job with a good starting salary that will help you make a down payment on a house? Well, not always.

If you then entrench yourself further in debt by going to either medical or law school, you may get a good job. Or maybe you decided your passion rested in history. Or philosophy. Well, now you can hold very interesting conversations at the local coffee shop, maybe teach some meditation classes at the Family Y. But beyond that, you’ve got nothing as far as job opportunities go. So you’ve gambled loads of money and have no tickets to show for it.

It is not acceptable in America, however, to try to succeed without college. If you’ve already reached success, though, we will be perfectly fine with your success. Ask Mr. Gates or Mr. Zuckerburg. But if you’re just trying to succeed, we will not take you seriously. Instead, we’ll demean you and not believe in you. If you don’t bet all your chips on college, well, you’re obviously very, very stupid.

If you don’t believe that a pair of eights can win the game, then you’re the one making the bad bets. Well, how did we learn to bet so intelligently? This casino mentality, spin-the-wheel mantra—it begins in childhood. So, show me your hand.

A pair of MFA’s in creative writing with an English degree from Yale high? Well, okay, sure… we can make you a literary genius. But we did the same to Stephanie Meyer. Maybe it doesn’t matter what cards we hold in our hands, but instead how good we are at origami-crafting those cards into something fantastic.

Like… a career.


6 thoughts on “Where Kids Learn to Gamble

  1. I admit I get confused among alegories, metaphors and analogies. Whatever you drew between arcades and college degrees (analogy, I think) was done effectively.

    I agree that a college degree is no guarantee of a job (any job). But a degree that a student puts his or her heart into and makes the most of is not wasted. New ways of thinking and new experiences open up to you in college if you open up to them (unlike the fairly mundane and predictable world of the arcade where even the “surprises” are somewhat predictable). I say this as a college professor who retired way before she was ready to and never felt a day of “burn-out” in her professional career. College is expensive but it isn’t just about finding a job–it’s about finding yourself. And that’s worth the money. (But I know you have to pay back those loans!)

    1. Yes, but some degrees don’t mean anything. That’s why I’m not going get a creative writing MFA or anything, because I don’t need one to be a good writer. It’s not a complete waste no. But definitely a gamble. Especially in today’s job market.

  2. MMmmmm … I worry when people who say, ” In this job market” or ” In this economy”. There are ups and downs all the time. We have political changes which effect our economy and jobs, etc. Nothing is predicatable. What is predictable is how you prepare yourself to deal with these things. Education is the way to get as much knowledge about every little aspect of your life. There is no need to get bogged down with huge loans. Take your first two years at a community college. Get a feel for where you want to go. But never think that an education ia a waste of money or time.

    I got married a month after my 18th birthday. I wasn’t fortunate enough to go to college until I was 42. I went to a comuunity college. I never went to a university but sure wish I had. Being a grown-up is hard, I wish I hadn’t hurried.

    Remember …. our great grandparents were encouraging us to get a high school diploma. I suppose that says it all ….!!!!

    Hang in there ..

    1. I’m still going to college, just not for creative writing for english. Because, it’s hard to find jobs for certain degrees. And say, we send a kid to university using government money… for him to study acting. A degree helps, but it’s still a gamble. It doesn’t guarantee a job, but it’s helpful, provided you get the right degree. I just think sometimes we offer degrees that don’t DO anything. Too many philosophy degrees and such, when all you can be is a professor, then. Maybe colleges should be held accountable for the unemployment it causes.

      1. I agree – some majors can get you nowhere. I have a nephew who has a Masters in Asian History. He cannot get a job. But – do you think he would have listened to his parents or guideance counselors? No.
        It’s always your decision as to where you want to put your education energy. You are probably one of the rare ones that has reconized that.

        Good dialog ….

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