Could the recession be good for kids?

A seasoned elementary school teacher recently made a comment that startled me. She described some of her third grade students as hollow. "I didn't have this kind of kid when I started teaching thirty years ago," she added.

I've known this teacher, who I'll call Mary, for a long time. She's the kind of teacher who comes in early and stays late, and who returns student papers the next day. She has a collection of what I call "teacher sweaters," festive and colorful, keyed to the seasons and holidays. More important, Mary is attentive to children -- her own and those she teaches.

She teaches in a prosperous, basically suburban town where many of the students would be considered "privileged." They live in large houses and have their own rooms, their clothes are stylish, they take lessons. These are not the students we label "at risk." They don't act out, they do well enough in school.