Sunday, March 9, 2008

Shaping the minds of America's youth

Background & History
Both my wife and I are teacher's kids. I've never really thought of teaching as a profession, but I am very excited as it's now a volunteer opportunity and an outlet for me to think and talk about something outside of technology that I realize I like a lot too -- capitalism and entrepreneurship.

Oh my - did I just say that dirty word ? - Will this blog get censored because I dared to utter the term 'capitalism' ? If so, it won't be the first time that people have wanted to tell me how awful I am for appreciating a free-market economy where your rewards are a function of your ideas, ambition and ability to produce. Don't people get a lot of joy consuming the fruits of their labor ?
Junior Achievement
That wasn't my point of this post, so back to to the teaching thing... In high school, my fondest academic memories were of playing the drums in the band (percussionist I prefer) - and a little known/recognized after-school activity called Junior Achievement also known simply as JA.

JA for me was fun because despite being 14/15 years old, I was able to make money during the cold Michigan winters (I caddied on a golf-course every summer from the age of 13) by making and selling coat-hangers as well as hand-warmers and Christmas ornaments. Everything we sold, our team of 12-15 high-schoolers produced ourselves. Weekly, we'd get together or 3-4 hours at night and we'd work as fast and furiously as possible.

I didn't even realize I was learning anything, but we also had 'officers' whom were elected to oversea such aspects as finance, payroll, administrative/secretary duties and of course the President of our company. - All of this was run not by school teachers, but by volunteers from the local General Motors powertrain factory.

I mentioned not too many months ago that I wondered if JA had a presence in the RTP, NC region. Surprisingly, 2 weeks later an e-mail memo at work came out looking for volunteers to sign up to help with Junior Achievement. I couldn't have been more excited and quickly signed up (requesting Middle-School/High-School classes)
The consumer side of capitalism
I just got my e-mail this past week. It's a class of only (13) 6th graders, and rather than making money, it's going to be classroom lessons - but I'm still extremely excited. Where else are kids learning about the importance of balancing a budget, making smart choices as consumers, or risk management and the role of insurance ? I wonder if I'd get in trouble trying to relate by helping them compare the opportunity costs of "Boots with the fur" vs. "Reebok's with the strap" ?

I know I didn't learn about these things from school, fortunately I had parents and older-siblings to learn from. I can only assume that if for even a few of these 13 kids, I may be the only person to ever talk to them as real people about real issues that they'll face. They are only 3 years away from being allowed to drive a car, you think buying a car at 16 years old is easy ? - You think paying for the insurance is cheap ? - or optional !?!

Well kids, I'm really hoping that together we are going to have a lot of fun learning about these topics. Don't expect me to give you or even to know all the answers myself. All I ask from you is that you come with an open mind and to think about how this may not be just another day in school, rather instead may be one of your first days learning some of the applicable realities of life.

Best Regards,

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