Losing Our Way As A Nation

This is a good weekend interview.  The first line is, “We’re raising young people who are, by and large, historically illiterate.”

I don’t want to get into the debate about revisionist history being taught, or brainwashed, in the schools.  No doubt that is happening.  An aside, I had a history teacher tell my daughter she was disappointed that she could not persuade her to become a liberal.

But we are really losing our way as a nation and there are severe consequences to it.  In schools these days, there is a big component on teaching “service”.  Kids go and hand out soup at soup kitchens to the homeless.  They work with little kids, developmentally disabled kids, disabled kids, paint fences and clean up playgrounds.  Many people think that they are teaching the kids a valuable lesson.  I think it’s bull.

All those things are nice.  But what we really ought to be doing is teaching our kids entrepreneurship.  We ought to be encouraging them to run little businesses.  They have great ideas, and from some of them real businesses could spring.  One organization dedicated to making that happen is Lemonade Day.

It’s a step in the right direction.

America was founded by a bunch of shopkeepers and entrepreneurs.  The Pilgrim is the quintessential small business story.  Risking it all for a chance at a better life.

Our educational system has let us down.  Instead of trumpeting the skills it takes to take risk and start a business, they focus on social justice.  There is no better social justice than providing a paying job for someone else.

In the social justice web, it’s not just a paying job-but a “living wage”.  This again turns the American Dream on it’s head.  The market determines how much your skill is worth, not an overarching regulation.  If your skill level is ditch digger, you get paid as a ditch digger.  Not everyone can be CEO.  But, American educators act like everyone has the skill set to be a CEO.

Everyone might acquire the skills if they started teaching them correctly.

Instead of sending your kid to the soup kitchen to pointlessly ladle soup, send them to the grocery store to buy ingredients.  Have them keep track of the costs, including their time, and then encourage them to make something and try and sell it on the street. If they make a profit, great.  If they don’t, then help them to understand why.

I never pass a lemonade stand or cookie sale on the street when it’s run by kids. There is a powerful lesson that can be learned by giving them a quarter for a cup of lemonade.  It’s the lesson of the American Dream.

It is time to go to the mountaintop and talk about the successes and failures of American entrepreneurs.  Trumpet our successes and learn from our failures.  We will regain our footing in a generation.

A number of readers have said colleges are now instituting community service as a condition to graduate. I know Tulane has, and so has Butler in Indiana. Tell the students that go to those schools to institute Junior Achievement programs in the high and grade schools around them! Or do Lemonade Day.

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  • Marnie

    Leveraging this problem is that *parents* truly believe their kids have the native ability to become CEO — of, like, the United States.  Reading your article reminded me of the friend of an intern I once had.  Freshly graduated from UGA, she did actually come up with a business idea — a day spa for the homeless.  The backers flocked . . .   

  • The paradox of the soup-kitchen model of service is if everyone is making and distributing soup for the homeless, who will grow, harvest and transport the indegredients needed in the first place?  Those who grow food provide a valuable service as do those who transport it and those who provide the fuel to move the food and to cook it.  Service is still service even if someone is paid to do it.  It’s time to dispense with the myth that volunteerism is the only path to service.  A neurosurgeon goes to school for many years and invests much time and money to learn this skill and be able to serve others.  It takes no training to ladle soup.  We gladly pay for the former because the latter is no substitute.

    • 5ftflirt

      Remember Michelle Obama telling students they should be like Barack and go to work for non-profits instead of corporations?

      • A distinguishing feature of the left is that leftists rarely know how to create economic wealth, or care to do so. The call by the Obamas to quit the coroporate world and “serve others” is the sine qua non, and a veiled attempt to build a socialist class at the expense of the private sector. The Obamas, like doctrinaire Marxists everywhere, fail to realize that a market-based economy is the goose that lays the golden egg, without which there would be no money for charities, no social services, no great leftist causes to champion. Reality is almost exactly the opposite of what the Obamas describe; there is no greater service to your fellow citizens than building a successful business that provides a useful service, provides employment and – yes – even pays taxes (hear that, all you leftists out there?).

    • Amosdwright

      I don’t know about the growing and harvesting, but progressive orthodoxy tells us that the guy who coordinates distribution – the middle man – is an unsurpassed evil full of false consciousness. So, who cares about him.

      Wilbur, you sound as though you’re saying that land and labor are not enough – that without knowledge, the rest of it has no use. Oligarch!

  • Bill

    After reading this all I can say is, “Thank God for the school system.”

    • Anonymous

      Seeing as the soup-kitchen altruism stuff is very Christian, your comment is more on-point than I think you suspect.

      • Anonymous

        Yeah, it would be, except for the verse I can’t find where Jesus advocates sending the legions in to collect charitable contributions at spearpoint to pass out to the Mob. I can find lots of verses where He advocates private charity, though.

    • Well, I wouldn’t thank the people running it, so I suppose that’s appropriate.

  • billb

    Here’s a quote from John Dewey, the founder of the modern U.S. public school system: “You can’t make Socialists out of individualists
    — children who know how to think for themselves spoil the harmony of the
    collective society which is coming, where everyone is interdependent.” Don’t just teach entrepreneurship; teach the U.S. and world monetary/banking  systems so the populace will know when the elites are ripping them off. If the citizenry understands how the system really works, they can then reform it.

    • Independent, free-thinking, self-reliant citizens threaten the leftist gravy train, because such people have little need of an intrusive, micromanaging govt. – including our dysfunctional schools.

  • Oconnor

    One of the biggest clubs in our high school is DECA. And this is exactly what it teaches, business skills and leadership. Check into it!

  • Anonymous

    Our schools have turned into churches of a kind. Teachers no longer provide information about the world, they preach about it and how it should be. Their students then, if they reject the “teaching” go on to either a lesser or greater life, depending on how they then teach or don’t teach themselves. The rest become lay evangelists without portfolio or sense.

  • Anonymous

    Encouraging entrepreneurship is great, but America doesn’t do nearly enough to protect small business from larger predatory companies that have size and volume as their advantage. All the small neighborhood shops like hardware, butcher, bakery, video rentals, coffee shops, etc.. have been squashed and recolonized by wide scale corporate establishments like Home Depot, Super Markets, Star Bucks, Costco,  etc. Almost every niche that small business do well in, larger corporations come and eliminate them.  Even now Wall Mart is planning “express” stores that will go into inner city neighborhoods that will further cut out small business shops.

    The real danger is economic control continues to go into the hands of fewer people is increasingly harder to obtain by the masses. Trading is one of the few areas that remain open on the enterprise frontier.

    We can’t expect small businesses to flourish is we do nothing to protect them from being squashed from larger entities who see a chance for more profit.

    • Nukgod

      You know, the stores you mention were not here 25 years ago, of course, back then it was Sears and K-mart that were crushing everything.  Strange how these new stores built themselves up anyways.

      • Home Depot was started 34 years ago by two guys who worked as executives in a hardware store chain. They took their idea to the corporation and the corporation rejected it. They left, got some financing, and built a new empire. Thats entrepreneurship. They sell a product that people will buy by the millions. Protecting your local mom and pop hardware (Ace Hardware, True Value, etc) just means you pay higher prices and have fewer alternatives.

      • Great point!  Creative destruction.  It’s an inherent part of capitalism. 

    • 5ftflirt

      The way to protect small business is by refusing to protect big business. Businesses which can afford armies of lobbyists and lawyers to sift through regulations and tax rules, team up with big government to create regulations and taxes that they can power their way through, but small businesses can’t. They get the government to bail them out, correction, individuals’ taxes, including that of small business owners, bail out the big guys. Small businesses can’t afford Obamacare. Get the government off their backs.

    • Re: “Encouraging entrepreneurship is great, but America doesn’t do nearly enough to protect small business from larger predatory companies that have size and volume as their advantage.” Agreed. We now live in a nation which is proto-fascist in the sense that it is corporatist. Recall that Mussolini once said that fascism should really be called corporatism, because it fuses the govt. and the corporation. Big companies say they favor free markets, but usually they are not telling the truth; they hate competition, especially from smaller, more nimble, and more innovative upstarts – and so game the system to squash them. In the same manner, they use economies of scale to seize market share from mom-and-pop sellers. The danger here is that small businesses provide the bulk of new job creation for our society. Increasingly, multinational corporations have no special loyalty to America, and have shipped their jobs elsewhere to places where labor is cheap and there are fewer taxes and rules. If you guessed that all of this leaves everyday Americans out in the cold, you’d be right. The irony is, once these behemoths kill off the middle class, no one except the super rich – who are very few in number – will be able to afford to buy their products.

      • I think Big Government is killing the middle class off faster than any corporation.  I agree, once a company gets to the top of the heap, it pays for them to curry favor with regulators to slant the playing field.  Gary Becker and Richard Posner just had an excellent post on that at the Becker-Posner blog.  

  • What all the progressive agenda items have in common is that it is nearly impossible to verify if what they have been doing has done any good. Go into business and you find out with brutal speed whether you’re doing it right or not. But you can be a community organizer for decades without having to produce results. Deferring adulthood, they can play at their games for the rest of their lives without having to ever produce anything of worth.

  • But what does it say about us a people? Enough numbnuts, numskulls, crazed and brainwashed idiots chose Obama as a president.  We got a president that is carrying out his beliefs very firmly.  So why the shaking of the heads and the wonderment.  He is simply doing what he said and this should not be a puzzlement.  Perhaps we should force the electorate to take a test before voting. 

  • Mr. Carter, re: “Our educational system has let us down. Instead of trumpeting the skills it takes to take risk and start a business, they focus on social justice. There is no better social justice than providing a paying job for someone else.” This is one of the best paragrahs about our predicament as a nation that I have ever seen. I am a middle-aged man with two masters degrees, and consider myself both well-educated and widely-read, but I have come to realize that I am woefully ill-equipped as an entrepreneur (I am a research scientist and healthcare professional, as well as an educator). Why? I was not taught these skills in my many years as a K-12 student in the public schools, and at the U/G and graduate levels of education. In the new economy, every person must be a business person, willing and able to sell themselves. Ideally, one should also have basic entrepreneurial skills sufficient to start and run a small business. I wish I possessd these skills, for I have come to realize how dependent my prospects are upon the skills of others in creating and sustaining wealth and employment. It is a crime and a travesty that we are not teaching our children these survival skills. A few adults, including yours truly, could use them, too.

    • It’s okay.  You can still start a business.  It’s never been easier.  Never too late.  Dream it, do it.

  • Anonymous

    a quarter ?!  guess it’s been quite a while since you patronized a lemonade stand….although that might be because the cops have shut them down for operating without a license.

    • QE2 did increase the price of lemonade.

    • dustmouse

      Bingo. It’s not just that the schools don’t teach entrepreneurial skills, it’s that the government forbids us to use them. The skills you actually need in order to start a business are largely legal and entirely onerous. Cut the regulation, cut the red tape, make lemonade stands legal (and home bakeries, and hair-braiding businesses, and everything else a person might do to support himself), and allow people start them.

  • Anonymous

    The only hope for the US is if we take back the schools.  It’s time for anti-liberals everywhere to become public school teachers or to run for local school committees. 

  • DorsalMorsel

    As evidence of this drift in educational integrity, consider that today’s school children would probably stare blankly if you asked them about the Bataan Death March; yet could explain in detail why they believe the internment of Japanese-Americans in WW2 was immoral.  Then, if you asked the obvious follow-up question: “If it was so wrong, why was it done to such a large scale?” there again would be silence except maybe a “Because we were racist in the 40s?”

    Also as sub-text in today’s lefty cultural instruction seems to be this implicit encouragement to:

    1.  Rack up $100,000 in student loans
    2.  Get a commercially dubious degree in the liberal arts
    3.  Work for a non-profit or charity
    4.  Don’t make any payments on your loan (“Hey, education should have been free anyway right?”)
    5.  Never pay a loan unless you do what the Obamas did:  Didn’t pay their school loans until they struck it rich in the field of Community Organizing (then only very grudgingly paid them… it would look bad for presidential run if they did not)

  • Anonymous

    there’s a great Philip K Dick story that relates to this theme.  The dad has a job to determine how aliens are going to invade.  His team spends their time looking at a device and determines no threat is there.
    While he’s distracted by this, his children get hooked on a game from the aliens where you win by giving things away.  Undermined by a game for children. 

  • Anonymous

    I totally agree. We need to stop focusing on irrelevant subjects in schools. Our liberal arts education is a joke. You go to college and are forced to take classes like anthropology and music of the world so you can get a degree in business. We are forcing kids into debt they can’t afford so they can learn more about social skills than getting an actual education. Part of this is the parents in this country. When kids are young they can’t breath because of over protective parents. Kids can’t learn and explore anymore.  When they get to college, where they should be focusing on their future, they are instead acting out and learning social skills they should have learned in high school.  

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