It was quite sometime ago that I heard a teacher tell his story on the radio of how and why he established an entrepreneurship class at a high school. He had been mugged by three teenage boys in New York City. At first, he was very angry and tried to determine how he would get revenge. However, upon further reflection, he wondered why these young people had nothing better to do than to go about hurting people and stealing from them. The more he thought about the problem, the more determined he became to do something about it. That’s when he got the idea that if these kids were taught how to go about establishing a business for themselves, then that would keep them busy and out of trouble.
He decided the best way to go about teaching these kids would be in high school classes. He established a curriculum, and started calling upon high schools in the New York City area. He called upon ten schools, and everyone of them turned him down. Not to be outdone, he called upon his 11th high school, which was in the Bronx area of New York, and he was accepted. The school was the worst high school in the country. The building itself was rundown and filthy dirty, there was graffiti all over the walls, and the noise in the hallways from kids yelling was unbelievable.
I have long since forgotten the gentleman’s name, but for this narrative I will call him Mr. John. The kids in Mr. John’s class were so unruly, they didn’t pay any attention to him, They shouted across the room, and threw whatever they could get their hands on. But gradually, Mr. John would throw out snippets of information that started to get their attention and arouse their curiosity. Before they knew it, they were listening to what Mr. John had to say. One of the things he told them was that he would like to help everyone of them start their very own business. The idea appealed to them, so he interviewed every student to find out what his particular interests were. Between them then they decided what kind of business he would like to establish.
Along the way, however, Mr. John learned that the kids could not read, write, or do math, so he convinced them that the only way they could run a business was to learn these skills. And, by golly, they were so interested in what they were doing they actually buckled down and learned. Out of the classroom of student, I remember Mr. John telling of two of the businesses he helped students to organize. One student, “Patrick” was a rapper of songs with profane and obscene lyrics. Mr. John told him to put a tape on his desk using nothing but positive lyrics, and Patrick did. He went on to become the president of his own music company, and lectured at other high schools telling other students how they, too, could do it.
“Monica” was the other student that Mr. John told about. Monica would sit in his classes holding a mirror up to her face and primp all during class. He decided that she would probably enjoy doing something that involved cosmetics. Voila — he thought of Avon, so he had Monica contact the company to find out what was expected of an Avon lady. With this information in hand, and the skills she had been taught as a business owner, she became the best sales lady Avon ever had.
The moral of this story is that in order for students to become successful in any career, whether it’s business, technology, medicine, science, politics or engineering, or regardless of what the subject might be, what is really necessary is to for parents and counselors to discuss with them their interests, and determine what career would suit them the best.
It wasn’t until after the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles that I heard of Mr. John again. He realized that many of the rioters were just frustrated young people who couldn’t get jobs, so he set about helping anyone who was interested in forming his own business. Later, I learned he was teaching Entrepreneurship at the University of Southern California.