I do not remember a great deal of the lessons I learned in elementary school. For one thing, I attended a public school, meaning I did not receive top of the line education. Made to sit restlessly in desks for eight hours a day, recess seemed to be most students’ favorite subject of the day.
But for the sixth graders who attended my elementary school, springtime meant that we got to begin a unit on entrepreneurship, one of the few subjects that made us excited about learning. To get each of us excited about the project, we spent an entire week learning about the founding of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. And while cold sugary desserts were quite appealing to us as the spring weather grew warmer, it was the prospect of earning money that excited most of my fellow classmates.
A Lesson in Entrepreneurship
At the end of the unit, our sixth-grade class would be broken up into groups where we would be responsible for creating some sort of business. Our target audience would be our fellow classmates and each group would have to create a marketing campaign as well as actually creating and selling whatever product we had selected.
Since our unit on entrepreneurship had been dessert-centered, most of the groups went for edible products. Some even paid for pizza to be delivered during lunch and then charged more per slice in order to turn a profit. My group decided to make custom ice cream shakes. Buying huge tubs of vanilla ice cream and a wide selection of candy bars, the “Sweet Shop,” as it was called specialized in blending your candy bar of choice with vanilla ice cream.
The idea was a success! In fact, we had the entire sixth-grade class lined up for our custom shakes. As a ten-year-old who never had to do much aside from taking out the trash every now and then, this was my first experience with manual labor. I wanted people to like the product my team was selling, so I worked diligently to make sure the ratios of ice cream to candy was perfect.
All this hard work paid off, as we sold out of our supply in less than an hour. After all was said and done, we had earned $160, not shabby for a bunch of twelve-year-olds in the 1990s.
After the week of student-run businesses had come to a close, each group was told that they were to turn over our funds to our teachers, who would then give us our earnings. Weeks went by, and none of my classmates had heard anything further from our teachers about the money we had earned. This was especially frustrating, as each of us was responsible for putting up the capital for our own projects, which meant lots of allowance being spent on a school project.
A Lesson in Regulation
Finally, almost a month later our principal gathered the sixth grade together in the auditorium for an announcement. “I know many of you are wondering what happened to the money you earned,” she began. “The administration has decided that it would be irresponsible of us to hand over so much to young students. So after much thought and deliberation, we have decided that we are going to keep the money and put it towards a field trip for the entire class.”
You could hear a pin drop in the room after that announcement. We had all worked so hard and now we were being told that we would not be receiving the money we earned. While this was a great primer for dealing with IRS in our adult lives, what our teachers and administrators were really teaching us was that there was something inherently “bad” about earning money.
It is this same attitude that follows students throughout their entire education. Instead of being told how wealth created by entrepreneurs has fueled innovation and created countless jobs, we are taught that seeking money is somehow something to be ashamed of. As children, we understood this to be false. We understood that raising capital and putting in the work needed to get a business idea off the ground was grueling. But the money we earned, as a result, was the light at the end of the tunnel. One that was now being extinguished by the educators that were supposed to be teaching us the value of entrepreneurship.
That experience has always stuck with me. During my own experience as a teacher, I made sure that I would never be this kind of educator. When I saw my students trying to earn an extra buck by selling drawings to fellow classmates or making bracelets and selling them to friends, I always gave them an approving smile.
If we want to teach our children to be self-sufficient adults, we must teach them the beauty of entrepreneurship. Wealth creation is what makes the world go round. We should be teaching our children the beauty of earning money, not demonizing it.