When her husband died, YOLANDA was left with three cars: a sedan, a truck, and a 5-year-old jeep. Yolanda decided to sell them all and buy one new car.
To Yolanda, these cars had more sentimental value than monetary value, especially since her husband had left her with plenty of money. She wanted to make sure each vehicle would go to someone her husband would have liked, so she planned to interview prospective customers until she was satisfied the cars would “go to a good home.” A family friend, VINCE, volunteered to help Yolanda. He passed the word around to his friends, and one by one people bought the vehicles
The sedan was bought by MONICA, a struggling community college student who worked part-time. Her brother lent her the money, and he told her to take her time paying him back. However, she was eager to rid herself of debt, so she took on extra hours at work even though her grades suffered as a result.
FRANK, a firefighter, bought the truck. He did odd jobs in construction during his free time between shifts at the firehouse. He liked to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity and other groups that helped folks in the community. He paid cash because he had received a bonus for an outstanding act of heroism in the line of duty. It seemed like a good way to use the money.
MADELINE and PHIL bought the jeep. They already had two cars, a fairly new Cadillac Seville and a Lexus. However, Madeline was a Girl Scout leader, and she wanted the jeep for camping trips.
A week later, Monica decided to give her car a good cleaning. When she removed the floor mats to vacuum, she found a $100 bill. She called Vince to report her discovery, and he said, “Oh, just keep it. Yolanda’s husband was famous for hiding money in odd places. He had plenty of it, but he didn’t completely trust banks because of what his family lost during the Depression, so he’d squirrel it away for emergencies. Yolanda doesn’t need it, and you can give it to your brother to reduce your debt.” Monica decided to follow Vince’s advice.
A few days later, Frank took his truck in for a detail job. While he was waiting, ERIC, an attendant, came up to him and said, “Mister, you should be glad you came to a reputable place because I just found ten $100 bills under a mat in your truck.” Frank called Vince and told him about the discovery, and Vince repeated the story about how Yolanda’s husband had a habit of stashing money. Vince again said, “Just keep it. Yolanda won’t even miss it.” Frank felt funny about keeping the money, though, so he donated it to Habitat for Humanity. That decision made him feel better.
A few weeks later, Vince was on the phone with Phil, and he told him the stories of the found money. Phil called Madeline at home and said, “Go look under the mats in your jeep and see if there’s any money there.” Sure, enough, she found an envelope with twenty $100 bills in it. Madeline called her husband back and told him of her finding, and he then called Vince. Vince said, “Please don’t tell Yolanda; she’ll wonder whether money was left in the other cars and then the good that came out of those discoveries will be lost.” Phil agreed and said, “Besides, we bought the car and that implies we bought anything that was in it. That’s a common rule at garage sales, isn’t it?” Madeline argued with him, saying, “We didn’t ‘buy’ the money, nor do we need it. We should tell Yolanda and let her decide what to do. I doubt she’ll wonder whether her husband had left money in each vehicle.”
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Here are the six characters in this story (in order of appearance). Who, if any of them, is most
responsible to tell Yolanda about the money found in her vehicles?
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I have used this case study with two different groups. Once I used it with a group of my students, and once with a group of high school teachers at a faculty development training. Both audiences had a wide range of responses. Some people thought Vince had a responsibility to tell Yolanda since he “helped her sell the cars.” However, when others pointed out that he did not act as a broker but only passed the word around, some changed their minds. Others thought Monica should have the responsibility because she found the money first. Several in each group thought only Madeline and Phil should return the money, but not Frank or Vince, because “they didn’t need the money.” I asked the group how much money a person had to have in order to be in the category of “not needing any money,” and they argued about that, and the result was that again some people changed their minds. A few in each group thought no one needed to tell, that Yolanda gave up her right to know about the money because she had not been “careful.”
Mostly, this case study elicited responses that were not firm. People couldn’t make up their minds, or they kept changing them. As a reading activity, it worked wonderfully because people made lots of assumptions they could not back up with information in the story, so when they reread it, they changed their decision.
At the end of the activity, I asked if they would have felt differently if they had known the story was a “true” story instead of a piece of fiction. The teachers said they assumed it was a true story; the students said the story could not be true. Since in actuality it was a bit true and a bit fiction, I haven’t made up my mind whether this is important, but I am mulling it over.
I will definitely be using it again because it helped me introduce critical thinking and reading in a provocative way.
–Maggie Miller, Faculty, Reading, Austin Community College, TX