I think this would have been in one of my textbooks around 1990 or so, 4th to 5th grade material in Kentucky.

A boy gains access to a time machine of the "visit your future self's body" sort. I believe either a parent built it or a scientist met on a field trip. He uses it at least twice to explore career paths. One was as a football player and one as a mechanic. In both, he was dissatisfied. As a player, he was tired, and aching from injuries. As a mechanic, he realized he'd never finished school and was stuck in a dead end job that didn't earn much money.

Finally he talks to the scientist and, I think, comes to the conclusion that the future is not set, that he can be whatever wants, but that he needed to stay in school to maximize his opportunities.

It was a short story, probably under a dozen pages, maybe as few as 2-3.

  • 1
    Must've been a popular choice. I recall reading it around the same timeframe in a Washington textbook.
    – Mark
    Commented Dec 13, 2016 at 23:52
  • @Mark: Doesn't surprise me. It very much had a message of "you can be whatever you want" and "stay in school, kids".
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Dec 15, 2016 at 2:35

1 Answer 1


This is "What Are You Going to Be When You Grow Up?" by Gregory Benford. It was published in one of the Harcourt Brace Treasury of Literature volumes (and also in the anthology Spaceships and Spells).

I discovered that you could search Google Books for schoolbook readers by entering a query that includes


With that and some keywords, I found the story. Here is another search result showing little parts of the teacher's edition of the book, beginning on page 190, where the story starts. By entering page numbers and other words in view, I was able to push the small window of viewable area around, enough that I could verify this was the correct story, then find the title and author's name.

Keyword search excerpt:

1 6 CHARACTER'S MOTIVATIONS What different motivations have led Mark to choose a career in football? (Accept reasonable responses: He doesn't want to be a garage mechanic; he likes football; having decided on a career makes him feel better and less confused.) inferential: DETERMINING CAUSE-EFFECT 1 7 PLOT: CONFLICT Mark knows it is wrong to use the time machine. What does this tell you about what might happen? Why?

  • Thank you! I included an excerpt of the search results, as pulled from what Google pushed back, enough to establish the matching elements. I trust that you are right.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 12:34

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.