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Signaling: The Play

Summary:
My friend Jason Ford wrote this little play, inspired by The Case Against Education.  Enjoy! Three Mercedes By Jason Ford (The Admissions Office at Foxmoor College in the Philadelphia Suburbs. Bart Amblin, the Head of Admissions, is seated at his desk.)   BART (on phone) Send in the next candidate please. (Enter Melissa Morely, fashionably dressed)   BART Melissa, thank you for coming! I view this interview process as both a chance for us to learn about you and also for you to find out if Foxmoor is right for you. We offer a world-class academic environment, respect for the student’s voice, and a commitment to teaching every student ethical leadership so they can go help the world with all the challenges we face. Why are you interested in enrolling at Foxmoor

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My friend Jason Ford wrote this little play, inspired by The Case Against Education.  Enjoy!


Three Mercedes

By Jason Ford

(The Admissions Office at Foxmoor College in the Philadelphia Suburbs. Bart Amblin, the Head of Admissions, is seated at his desk.)

 

BART (on phone)

Send in the next candidate please.

(Enter Melissa Morely, fashionably dressed)

 

BART

Melissa, thank you for coming! I view this interview process as both a chance for us to learn about you and also for you to find out if Foxmoor is right for you. We offer a world-class academic environment, respect for the student’s voice, and a commitment to teaching every student ethical leadership so they can go help the world with all the challenges we face. Why are you interested in enrolling at Foxmoor College?

MELISSA

Thanks for inviting me! Well, it’s like this. My dad Joey Morley was a top Mercedes salesman. You’ve heard the ads, right? (Singing) “Morley Mercedes”

MELISSA AND BART

“For only the best.”

MELISSA

You got it! It’s a great dealership. We’ve been in business 30 years. So I graduated from high school last year and was gonna work at the dealership, which I’d been doing all through high school. If you count appearing in the ads, I’ve been working there since I was a baby. But then dad collapsed and died on the showroom floor a few months ago.

BART

That’s horrible.

MELISSA

Thanks. (Composes herself). Anyhow, he didn’t leave a will and me and my four brothers and sisters couldn’t figure out who was going to get the dealership, so we’re just going to sell down the inventory and then sell the dealership altogether and split the profits. So, I’m gonna be without a job, right? And any dealership where you get a decent commission—the high-end stuff—they want a college degree. Got me to researching. Turns out college is a great investment. I did my research and found the ROI on your college—

BART

ROI?

MELISSA

Return on investment. Anyway, the ROI on Foxmoor College —figuring tuition and future increased earnings—is the best in the Philadelphia area. So I thought we could make a deal.

BART

College isn’t about the money you earn.

MELISSA

It’s the selling point for me. Looking at your price– I want to offer you three new Mercedes in exchange for four years of  tuition. That’s a great deal—do the math, it’s almost wholesale. Take a look. (Hands brochure) I circled the ones we’ve got available.

BART

We don’t do trades. We’ve got–

MELISSA

It’s perfectly legal. We traded one car to a contractor in exchange for adding some rooms to our house. But the key to trades is you have to report it as income to the IRS. My dad always said, “Sell, but don’t lie.“ Do you want to test drive this model? I can have it here in under an hour.

BART

We’ve got a financial services office to deal with…

MELISSA

I saw that your chief executive Dr. Ferris…

BART

Our college president.

MELISSA

Yeah. Sorry. Anyway, he’s 52 and recently divorced. Wouldn’t he want a Mercedes? I can forward you a link to send to him.

BART

I’m sure he isn’t interested. Let’s get back to the point of this interview.

MELISSA

You might be surprised. Could you call him?

BART

We can deal with finances later. Let’s talk about your academic interests.

MELISSA

I don’t have the cash on hand. But you know what…this presents a unique marketing opportunity. We could do a live broadcast. Hey, when I point to you, I’m going to hold up the phone and you say, “Help Mercedes Missy go to college.”

BART

Can we please take this seriously?

MELISSA

Oh come on! it’ll be fun.

BART

We’ve got limited time here.

MELISSA

I’ll be quick.  (Turns on phone) Hey, everyone, it’s Mercedes Missy with big, big news! Mercedes Missy is going to college! We’re broadcasting live from the admissions office of Foxmoor College. Mr. Amblin, tell us about Foxmoor. (Turns the phone on Bart.)

BART

Um…Foxmoor College is one of the most highly rated small Liberals Arts Colleges in the country with some of the world’s leading professors and a commitment to diversity and…

(Turns the phone back to herself)

MELISSA

And that means it’s awesome! The perfect place for your favorite car girl to get smart! Now because it’s a special day, we’ve got a special sale! For the first three buyers who qualify, we’re giving ten percent off all new models. Ordinary is fine for ordinary people, but I know some of you out there want only the best! Are you that special one of a kind we built the C Class Coupe for? Ron from Jenkintown, thank you! Eliza from Mount Airy, you got yourself a deal! Oh look at that! Sid all the way from Reading, you made it under the wire! I’m so sorry, Carolyn from Narberth, you missed by the tiniest second. But don’t worry! Be sure to stop by Joey Morley’s Mercedes for more great deals! (Hangs up phone) Got the money now. Let’s sign the forms. Thank you for your patience.

BART

Did you really just sell three cars? Wow. We can’t sign any form. You haven’t applied yet.

MELISSA

I don’t need to apply. No credit checks necessary–I’m paying cash.

BART

That’s great. But we’re a selective college. We only admit one out of every six applicants.

MELISSA

No offense, but you should sell some franchises. You’re leaving money on the table.

BART

This isn’t a college for everybody.

MELISSA

Okay, I’ll make you a deal. I was looking over the options you offer. How about I pay full price, but you don’t have to worry about the dorm option?  And you throw in a free parking space. This offer is only good for today. (Hands him a pen)

BART

It’s not about the money. We have to see if you’re a good fit here.

MELISSA

Based on what?

BART

We take a holistic approach. Strengths, interests, life experience. We’re trying to bring together a diverse pool of students who will insure a rich intellectual life on campus and build a community that encourages people to do good for the world.

MELISSA

All right. What do you want to know about me?

BART

What was your high school grade point average?

MELISSA

I ain’t stupid. (hands over papers) I pulled a 3.8 at Upper Merion Area High School and SAT scores that are competitive for who you got here now. I did my market research.

BART

That’s good. So what are your academic interests?

MELISSA

Well, the economics major is the best ROI, so that’s a no-brainer.

BART

Is there a subject you want to study out of general interest?

MELISSA

Look, I could sit here and tell you I’m gonna get really interested in philosophy or something. But that’s lying, not selling. I just sat through one of your philosophy classes.

BART

Did you get permission before doing that?

MELISSA

There were lots of empty seats. Besides, if you wanted to buy a car from us, we’d let you take it on a test drive. So what’s wrong with…

BART

Next time, ask. I’m sorry you didn’t find it interesting. But keep an open mind. You may find you like the classics once you delve in. We look for people who are academically motivated.

MELISSA

And maybe you get some people like that. We got this twenty-year old trust fund kid who waits outside the door the first day the latest S-Class Coupe is available. So we say “We’ve been saving the rubellite red metallic for you!” And he’s always driving out of there with the papers signed by like 7:15 a.m. We’d love it if all our customers were like that. But we gotta make deals with anyone. Two or three students were talking with the professor about Socrates and most of the rest of the class were on their smart phones. So you already have lots of people like me. What’s one more?

BART

Smart phones. It’s pathetic.

MELISSA

But you admitted them. Why don’t you judge me against them?

BART

We’re looking for those people who want to discuss Socrates. Maybe it’s not that many, but I celebrate the ones we get.

MELISSA

One of the students fell asleep and that’s real distracting, you know? At least I’ll stay awake so I won’t bother the students who want to talk about Socrates. So you get my money, the Socrates fans can talk about Socrates, and everyone wins.

BART

Maybe this school is not for you.

MELISSA

Keep an open mind.

BART

Fine, I’ll ask the standard questions. Outside of academics, what skills can you bring to Foxmoor that will help us as a community?

MELISSA

So besides paying all this cash, I gotta work for you?

BART

You’re not just the consumer here. Foxmoor is a community where people learn from and help each other so they can then go help the world.

MELISSA

Hmmm.  Okay, here’s one thing I can do.  I’ve organized a lot of displays when we’ve had sales drives. Balloons in the corner, sheet cake with pictures of the cars, that sort of thing. One time, we had all the staff dress like it was the prom. So if you need someone to organize a formal dance…

BART

That’s not what I mean. Let’s discuss some specific examples. Do you play a musical instrument?

MELISSA

No. But if you need to hire musicians, you’d be amazed at how cheap you can find them. We had a Christmas sale and we brought in the bluegrass band, the Big Sandy River Boys to “a country style Christmas sales event.” Here’s their card. (Bart doesn’t take it.) Now you think bluegrass wouldn’t work in Philly, right? But we had a great sales week and they were working for…

BART

Yes, right. Were you on any sports teams?

MELISSA

I was at school until 3, at the dealership until 7, and then home for dinner and homework. Sorry if I didn’t have a chance for piano lessons and soccer. But my dad really needed the help there. His health hadn’t been good for years. Never admitted it. So that’s how I spent my time. How does that fit in with that holistic thing you were talking about?

BART

Fair point. Sometimes I wonder if we define these things too narrowly. I spent a lot of time when I was a kid visiting my grandmother in the nursing home, but was told that wasn’t the sort of thing you put on a college application.

MELISSA

Don’t you hate when people get all superior when you’re the one helping the family? I love my sister, but she’s never helped out at the dealership and is always giving me crap that I wear too much makeup—which you have to do to get sales. And then she thinks she’s so superior because she’s reading books all the time. But I’m putting her food on the table.

BART

That would tick me off too. The last standard question is as follows: Foxmoor College is an institution committed to diversity. How would your planned college experience help us achieve this goal of becoming a more diverse and inclusive community?

MELISSA

You know, I shouldn’t put down my sister. That dealership thing is the only thing we argue about. Otherwise, real sweet, real smart, reads a book a week—and I mean, hard books—for fun. She could apply here for next fall. Believe me, you admit us both, you got diversity. You won’t believe we’re from the same family! And she might even care about Socrates. Especially if I say that I don’t.

BART

That’s not what I mean. Many people of our community who come from a place of privilege are taking a good hard look about how they treat people of color both consciously and unconsciously. Do you have any thoughts about that?

MELISSA

It’s not something we talked about at the dealership.

BART

I wouldn’t have expected you would have, but..

MELISSA

If we don’t treat a customer right, that’s money out of our pocket. When the Philadelphia Eagles break training camp, we always get like a dozen players to come over and buy a Mercedes. Black players, white players, one guy from Samoa….

BART

So you treat people of color nicely only to get money out of them?

MELISSA

Okay, so you don’t want to let in people who are prejudiced, right? I know where you’re coming from. Had this one guy apply at the dealership and he seemed real good until he said something bad about Arabs. They buy cars too, you know? So forget hiring him. Anyone can stand up in school assembly and say we gotta fight racism and prejudice and stuff. Me, I learned to treat everyone good every day so that we could keep the dealership going.

BART

Interesting perspective. So got any questions for me?

MELISSA

Am I getting in?

BART

I’ll be honest; you’re an unusual candidate. But maybe it would be good to have someone like you.

MELISSA

Please let me know soon. Classes start in a week.

BART

You have to apply by January 15th, unless you wanted to go early decision. In any case, you’d be applying for a space for next September.

MELISSA

I can’t afford to wait a year. Try to get into the car sales business with only a high school diploma and you’re looking at selling used Chevys at Big Ed’s Car-o-rama if you’re lucky. And the commissions suck. If we want to make a deal, it’s got to be for this year.

BART

We’ve already selected the class for this year.

MELISSA

I told you I don’t need a dorm room. I show up, you take my money, who’s going to care? Except your finance department who will thank you for making it easier to pay your bills.

BART

We spent a great deal of time putting together the best possible class. We strive for a variety of interests, talents, backgrounds.

MELISSA

Am I going to mess up that perfect balance you have? Don’t try to tell me this is precision engineering.

BART

Look, I said you’d be a strong candidate. But you have to go through the process like anyone else.

MELISSA

How about we do a one-semester trial? If you don’t like me after one semester, I’ll leave, no questions asked. But in the meantime, I’ll be great for you. What harm can it do to try?

BART

It would undermine the integrity of the admissions process. Do you have any questions for me?

MELISSA

One thing. You’ve talked about your students helping the world. So how do they do that here? Got any charities you do?

BART

Is that a serious question? (She nods) The Tygard housing project borders the campus and we do initiatives over there.

MELISSA

(Opens her smart phone to look at picture of the area) Oh yeah, your college looks like a mansion next to a dump.

BART

Please don’t call it a dump. We know there’s a disparity and we try to help. If you’re interested in working on that initiative, I’ll make a note of it. Our students tutor their kids, act as mentors.

MELISSA

That’s awesome. How’s it going?

BART

Okay.

MELISSA

Just okay?

BART

We get a lot of first-year students coming in who are enthusiastic about helping the world. They sign up to volunteer to help tutor and do it for a while. It’s rare to find a sophomore who still does it.

MELISSA

I bet that’s like our sales drives. We announce a new one, get the staff fired up, and everyone’s super into it on the first day. But keep it up a few weeks and people lose the energy, they forget to wear their buttons…

BART

That’s human nature. But people miss the point of a college education if they never volunteer.

MELISSA

Morely Mercedes is real involved in charity. We donate a few cars every year to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. They raffled them off at their annual gala. I was the company representative at the gala last year. (Shows Smart Phone) Here’s a picture of me there. You know what we could do? Throw a big scholarship fundraiser gala on campus for the kids at Tygard. Invite everyone at Tygard, call the newspapers…I know how to do this.

BART

That’s a really interesting idea. If you get in next year, I urge you to try.

MELISSA

“If”? I can’t afford “if”. You need to tell me now if you’ll take me. If not, I’ll go to the college in the area with the second highest ROI. If they don’t take me, I’ll go the third highest, and so on, until someone takes me. Why not you guys? Don’t you really want that gala to happen?

BART

It might be good. But I really shouldn’t change procedures.

MELISSA

Can I talk to your manager?

BART

Well, I’m the manager here.

 

MELISSA

Okay. Then thank you for your time. (They shake hands)

 

BART

Thank you. It’s been good..and interesting..talking to you.

MELISSA

(Starts to exit) You know what? You can have my idea for free. You really should throw that gala.

BART

It’s a good  idea. Although I don’t know if we could convince the students and administration to go along with something like that. You’d need to convince a lot of people.

MELISSA

You heard me sell three Mercedes. (exit)

 

(Bart pauses for a moment and then opens door.)

BART

Melissa! (Picks up phone) Juan, is there a young woman walking past your office? That’s her. Could you please tell her to come back here?

(Curtain)

Bryan Caplan
Bryan Caplan is Professor of Economics at George Mason University and Senior Scholar at the Mercatus Center. He has published in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the American Economic Review, the Economic Journal, the Journal of Law and Economics, and Intelligence, and has appeared on 20/20, FoxNews, and C-SPAN. Bryan Caplan blogs on EconLog.

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