How bad are they? lesson plan to accompany the February 2003 Newsletter

Preliminary information

Time: 60-90 minutes??

Level: Upper Intermediate/Advanced

Aims:
To give extensive & intensive reading practice
To give freer speaking practice

Assumptions:
That the stds will find the dilemma interesting
That the language in the text will not be too difficult & that it will be interesting vocabulary.

Anticipated Problems and Solutions:
Some of the vocabulary may be challenging - check out the text & pre-teach at relevant stages as appropriate.

Aids:
The text by Julian Baggini Friday January 17, 2003 The Guardian

Procedure

Stage 1 - Intro to the theme of moral dilemmas

10 mins tch<>stds, std<>std

1. Dictate the following & in pairs the stds decide what they would do. If necessary you could look at the 2nd conditional, a memory jog, & tell them to use it in their discussions.

1

2. Feedback - elicit ideas.

Stage 2 - Reading - pt 1

20 mins tch<>stds, std<>std, tch<>stds

1. Put up the headline on the board 'How bad are they?' on the board & tell the stds they are going to read the article. Elicit ideas as to what it could be about - prediction.
2. Handout article & give them 15 seconds to work out what it is about.
3.
Feedback - what do the stds think about the situation?
4. Stds read the first part of the article - you could leave it at that & not get into the second half - & answer the questions below. Then compare in pairs.
5. Feedback.

Stage 3 - Reading - pt 2 - from 'But given that this was a crime' - this could be optional,  you might decide to only use the first part of the text.

10 mins tch<>stds, std<>std, tch<>stds

1. Stds read to answer the question - 'What are the two reasons for feeling that this kind of crime is less serious?'
2. Feedback & general class discussion.

A few questions:

Part 1

1. What hapepened to the Crosdale family?

2. How did the author of the article react when he heard the story?

3. What do you think are 'Whisky Galore' & 'Waking Ned'?

4. How does the author feel about what the Crosdale family did?

5. What punishment did the family receive?

6. What punishments do burglars receive?

7. What punishment does the author feel would be more appropriate?

Part 2

8. What are the two reasons for feeling that this kind of crime is less serious?

 

Stage 4 - Language focus

10-15 mins?

Possibly pick up on:

• vocabulary connected to 'crime'
• analysis of the discourse - how the article & argument develops. For example, situation > reaction > deeper reaction > solution > comparison of solutions > question > answers > conclusion.
• there are a few examples of conditionals
• etc....

Stage 5 - Follow up tasks - a few possiblities:

• roleplay with the Crosdale family - interview

• more moral dilemmas - poss. ask the stds to come up with some of their own

• letter to the editor, agreeing or disagreeing with the article

How bad are they?

When the Crosdale family discovered a cash machine that wouldn't stop giving out money, they withdrew £134,410. Now three of them are in prison. Was their crime really that bad? Philosopher Julian Baggini considers their case

Friday January 17, 2003
The Guardian

Free unlimited cash. Along with consequence-free sex, it has got to be the ultimate dream of the contemporary consumer who wants it all and wants it now. And it's what the Crosdale family of Coventry thought that they had found when they, along with many others in their neighbourhood, discovered an obliging cash machine that just couldn't say no. On repeated visits to the machine, the four of them took out £134,410, and with a shopping list straight from Alan Partridge, they splashed out on an Alfa Romeo, a Jamaican holiday and a sofa.

The first reaction of many people to this story is, I suspect, like mine. I laughed. Indeed, the chance discovery of unearned loot is a feel-good comedy staple, from Whisky Galore to Waking Ned.

But if you begin to think about it you can start to feel like the ashamed schoolchild who has just been caught drawing smutty pictures. For why should theft be funny? These people were thieves. We are much less likely to laugh along with people who take money from cash tills in shops, or who walk out of department stores with digital cameras stuffed down their trousers.

And let's be clear that this is theft. If you walk past a shop and the window has been smashed, you know it is theft to reach in and take what you want from the display. The fact that the merchandise was readily available and all you had to do was take it does not make it a gift. The broken cash machine is just like the broken window. Due to mechanical failure, accident or vandalism, what usually separates you from the booty has disappeared. But it is still theft if you go ahead and take it.

That is what the courts have decided, and now Mr Crosdale and his daughter are to serve 15 months in jail, while his son will spend 12 months behind bars and his wife awaits sentencing. More Shallow Grave than Buster.

Theft it may be, but these sentences are absurd. In the light of Lord Chief Justice Woolf's guidelines, issued last month, that first- or even second-time burglars should not face custodial sentences, they just seem perverse. And the Crosdales are very unlikely to reoffend, unless, of course, lightning strikes the same cash machine twice. So a slap on the wrist and a modest fine or light community service would seem much more appropriate.

But given that this was a crime, why do we instinctively find this kind of theft less serious or even harmless?

There are two types of reason. One is purely psychological. We can imagine what it is like to be in such a situation, and once in it, all of the social conventions and cues that help to prevent theft just disappear. You are not confronting a person but a machine. You don't have to make an effort to deceive anyone, you just put your card in and take the dough. It doesn't feel like theft because the transaction is completely impersonal and we do not have to be surreptitious. And the threat of being caught does not seem real.

On this rather pessimistic account, what stands between us and a life of crime is not moral goodness but opportunity. Put simply, most of us don't have the stomach for the prolonged and repeated deceptions that a life of crime requires, nor are we willing to risk getting caught and punished. Take away these restraints and we would steal at will.

But there is a second, more principled explanation. As Mr Crosdale said: "It is a victimless crime and the bank gets its money back from insurance anyway." This is probably how most people view taking money (or pilfering goods) from large corporations: it harms no one and benefits the thief. So what's the problem?

It is not quite true that such crimes are victimless. We all pay higher prices in shops, for example, because companies need to add on the costs of stolen goods and security measures. Our insurance premiums would also be lower if people never made fraudulent claims, or insurers never had to pay out to unlucky building societies whose cash machines go wrong.

But these reasons are not very persuasive because people know that the cost of their individual thefts is negligible. Society only benefits if large numbers of people refrain from taking advantage of broken cash machines, making bogus or exaggerated insurance claims or otherwise diddling big business. And even then the cynics might say that we can't trust businesses to pass on the savings anyway.

And so the "no harm done" mindset feels vindicated. But could it be that all this shows is how barren and inadequate a moral viewpoint is that only looks at the particular consequences of individual acts and undertakes a strictly utilitarian calculation accordingly? Do we want to be the kind of people who are only willing to refrain from doing wrong if others do the same and we all benefit? The kind of people who, if we see wrongdoing, shrug our shoulders and join in, afraid that if we don't others will get ahead and we will just be mugs?

The alternative view is that leading a moral life requires us to be the kind of person who does the right thing without always stopping to work out if we gain or lose by doing so. We do what is right and hope that others will do the same because we want to be that kind of person, not some kind of egotist who is forever trying to work out what acts will serve our own petty self-interest.

If that sounds pious and idealistic, then perhaps the pessimists are right and it is only prudence that stops us all from being thieves. In any case, the Crosdales are as much victims of bad luck as their own greed. Many otherwise blameless people in Britain today know that had they put their cards into the generous cash machine, it could have been them facing a year behind bars.

· Julian Baggini is editor of The Philosophers' Magazine (www.philosophers.co.uk) and author of Making Sense: Philosophy behind the Headlines (Oxford University Press).