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Students for Sale

Imagine you’re with me in a room full of educators, mostly public school teachers and administrators. We are there to learn how to incorporate principles of entrepreneurship and innovation into a science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM)-based learning environment. Ben, the professional development facilitator, is showing us how to use a business model canvas, a simple diagram used by start-ups to map out their business model.

 “Let’s take a simple example of an innovative firm, like Uber, and break this down a little bit…”

“Can we do something a little more relatable,” one of the attendees chimes in, “like a nonprofit organization or a school?”

We shift gears and map out a typical public school program, defining customers and value propositions. We describe delivery channels and key partners.

Things get more complicated when we try to define cost structures and identify revenue streams.

“You know,” Ben interjects, “we may be looking at this all wrong. Based on this current business model, maybe students and parents are not the actual customers of your services.”

Silence.

He continues, but the sudden weight of the air in the room seems to pull his words to the floor before they reach my peers sitting nearby. The uncomfortable truth he spoke is so repulsive to everyone, as educators, that the very laws of nature seem to resist. There are even a couple of audible gasps as some of the teachers realize that “customer” is really some kind of entrepreneur’s code word for “people whose opinions you should value.”

Here we were, professional educators, having relegated ourselves to a career of self-sacrifice and meager pay for the greater good, and this capitalist had the gall to imply that our mantra of “doing it for the children” was hollow!

I had to suppress any hint of a grin triggered by their reaction so as not to out myself as a capitalist, somehow complicit in dishing out all this cognitive…

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