Educational Losses: What “Market Day” Didn’t Teach

It is a rallying cry of The Old to wonder, “What are they teaching these kids these days?” I hate to do anything that makes me seem old.

But I am feeling compelled after witnessing Third Grade Market Day at Hillcrest Elementary School yesterday.

The principle was fairly simple: the third-graders made crafts and treats with a partner and then set up a booth to sell them. Parents were invited and given play money to shop with. The children set their prices and made signs. Then they waited to see how successful they might be at their commercial enterprises.

I’m not sure why the school thinks it’s necessary to educate third graders on the basic rules of free enterprise, but my problem wasn’t so much the curriculum as the lesson taught.

The Girl and her partner made cupcakes, brownies, lemonade, t-shirt scarves, and throw pillows. They charged the outrageous price of six dollars for the cupcakes and five dollars for the brownies. The crafts items were less.

This turned out to be a shrewd plan. They had an excellent location near the entrance to the market, making them one of the first booths seen by visitors, and they recognized that sweet things amongst third graders and parents (who don’t need more crafty crap coming home) were more likely to be in-demand items. They sold through most of their inventory and made a killing. There were other booths selling cupcakes and brownies, but they were charging less and it was not significantly altering their sales.

All this seemed like a good lesson to me until things started winding down. Then the teachers gave the parents a ton of extra cash and bade them to wander through the market again and buy the kids out of stock, so they wouldn’t feel bad.

Instead of having a discussion in class about who made the most money and why, they made sure everyone got to feel good about their efforts. They invited the children to participate in free market enterprise, then taught them that everyone will be successful, no matter how good or poor their business plan, merchandise, or location.

Again, I question the need to teach third graders about commerce, but this was worse. This was an opportunity to learn to budget your resources to maximize what you could do that was torpedoed by worrying about everyone’s emotions.

This is the culture in which we live. We don’t want anyone to feel bad. We think it is a bad thing to teach children sometimes they won’t be good enough and there are consequences for our decisions.

Now, everyone gets a medal at a gymnastics meet for participating, because just showing up makes you special. We play sports but don’t keep score, so the losers won’t feel bad about the other team being better.

And so our third graders clad in participation medals and clutching mountains of unearned play cash, grow into adults demanding to be Employee of the Week on a regular basis and get daily pats on the back just for coming to work.

We are a culture of mediocrity coming to believe we are owed a living.

The Girl was very pleased with her business success, but she doesn’t know why she exceeded her competitors’ returns, nor does she understand the risk she took in pricing her goods far above what everyone else was asking. The school failed her.

But it failed the other students even more.

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