One Man's Trash Is Another Man's Trash

"The Ethicist" is Randy Cohen's long-running advice column in the New York Times. Each week, Gabriel Delahaye's "The Unethicist" will answer the same questions as "The Ethicist," with obvious differences.

This week: two different white women spit in the faces of everyone. Ever.

I am a public-school teacher. Years ago a school official had us place all old computers in the hall for trash collection, to make way for new models. Hating this waste, I gathered many old computers into my classroom and continued to use them. Now I am about to retire and must clean out my classroom. Rather than leave the old machines to be trashed, may I sell them and donate the proceeds to charity? — Mary Kompass, Furlong, Pa.

Considering how important computers and technology are in the education of children in the Information Age, I would first like to congratulate you in making sure that your charges worked only on the most out-dated equipment. Garbage, basically. While their peers continued to keep apace with the most interactive and technologically advanced learning aides, making of them highly sophisticated members of a new world, your students were essentially eating digital paste. Brava. And this has been going on for years, you say? May every child feel foolish and confused by the world of tomorrow!

Not that I don't see the difficulty in your situation. If only there was some ecologically sound way to dispose of a computer, or donate them to people who can't even afford used computers, much less throw all their computers in the garbage because they were getting brand new computers, or for that matter keep the old computers around in addition to the new ones just for kicks because they're kind of meddlesome and annoying. And even if there were programs like that, how would you even find them. Impossible.

You should definitely take those old computers, sell them, and give the money to a good cause, like the "Buy Mary Kompass a Clue Foundation."

Update: Kompass asked her tech supervisor about her plan. He thought it improper for an individual to dispose of school property and said he'd look into selling the machines. Kompass still intends to take her question to the superintendant.

Nicely done. I've always said that one of the most important lessons you can ever teach a child is that after asking a question, one should impatiently ignore the response and immediately go over someone's head.

A sidewalk sale in my neighborhood proffers used books and toys to raise money for a charity for seriously ill children. My daughter and I stop by a few times a week, but there is little good to buy because two men purchase the newer items to sell for profit on eBay. Is it ethical to resell donated items when our children would like the books and toys, too? — Beth Anne Melkmann, Manhattan

First of all, I've never heard of a permanent sidewalk sale that you can visit multiple times every week, with the exception of the guy in the 2nd Ave. subway station who sells cigarette butts and torn issues of Redbook magazine off of an AIDS quilt. And then there's the whole part about two men who apparently stand around all day in front of a permanent sidewalk sale waiting for the best toys to become available and then immediately buy them and I guess one of them takes the toy back to eBay headquarters while the other stands guard just in case another new toy becomes available, and meanwhile, they tell everyone who comes by just what they are up to? I'll have whatever you're not having. Ding dong, you're crazy.

The part that really bothers me, though, is that you can afford to live in Manhattan and apparently not work—what with all this time to go shopping with your daughter all week long—and yet you can't afford new toys? It sounds to me like those two guys are just trying to make ends meet, and you're basically coming to their work and slapping the Dora the Explorer out of their mouths. How would you like it if they did that to you? Oh, right, you don't work.

Unless, of course, it's because your daughter, Whitney, is adopted from China, and you don't think she can appreciate new toys. I have no problem with that.

Previously: Full Metal Sadness