Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Black Market Candy Pushers

According to Time4Learning, in 2012 there were approximately 1.77 million kids in America who are home-schooled. That's 3.54 million American parents who believe they are smart enough, dedicated enough, organized enough, and patient enough to teach their kids everything they need to know to get into college or do whatever comes next.

In a regular school the math teacher specializes in teaching math and the history teacher specializes in teaching history. As a parent who has committed to home-schooling your kids, you have to be an expert teacher for every subject through all age groups. There are resources out there to help you, but you need serious skills to pull it off.

But there are some serious flaws in the traditional schooling system. Home-schooling, by definition, is a non-traditional learning environment, and by contrast, regular schools create rules that stymie non-traditional education. The following example seems to be universal and cross-generational. It was true when I was in primary (elementary) school in Australia and is true half-way across the world in Israel, where my kids go to school. And this is it: students are forbidden to sell anything to other students at school.

When I was about 10 years old in the early 1980s, there was a "maze craze". I capitalized on the fad and spent my lunchtimes drawing complicated mazes which I would then sell in the schoolyard for 50c a piece. I was raking it in for a time until I was eventually caught and punished. My maze days were over.

One of my kids (I won't say which one!) is running a black-market candy operation out of his backpack. He worked out that if he buys certain types of candy in bulk from a particular store, he can then sell them to the kids at school for a tidy profit. He's found the perfect balance between what the stock costs him and the price his customers are willing to pay and still feel they are getting a good deal. Eventually, he'll get caught and his illegal candy pushing business will be shut down. I'll probably be called in to the school and have to sit there while the teacher berates my child for disobeying the rules. I'll have no choice but to nod my head solemnly and then, when it's all over, take my kid out for ice-cream.

I know I should be teaching him to obey the rules, but, for starters, he's generally a good kid. What he is, unfortunately, is an intelligent, thinking, entrepreneur. While it does have some merit, the no-selling rule wastes a golden opportunity to teach the kids something that no classroom could ever give them.

If it was up to me, I would permit student-run businesses under the following conditions (because this teaches about "government regulation!"):

  1. All student businesses must be registered with the school. To register, the student must write a business plan, including:
    • A description of the business
    • Who they are selling to (target market)
    • Who are their suppliers
    • Who is the competition
    • What is their competitive advantage or unique selling proposition
  2. The school has the right to refuse registration based on any number of criteria (safety issues, etc. but not based on competition - the kids will have to work that one out themselves)
  3. All student businesses must submit a basic financial statement (income/expenses) once every two weeks to the teacher in charge of running this program.
  4. Student businesses can only perform business transactions during designated times (say, recess and lunchtime)
  5. All business disputes will be adjudicated by the supervising teacher.
  6. Any student business that doesn't comply with the rules will be shut down.
  7. There will be sever penalties for illegal student businesses.
I'm sure that you can think of other rules that might be appropriate to put in place, but you get the idea.

Maybe there are flaws in this plan, too, but imagine how much kids will learn about markets, pricing, competition, bookkeeping, planning, marketing and creative thinking. Try teaching that in a classroom.

So the next time you visit the school yard, remember to bring your wallet - no credit, cash only.


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