Enterprise Education

Technically, I’m a social studies teacher, although it’s my second subject area and I’ve done much more teaching in my first area, which is English. But as far as the government of Newfoundland is concerned, I’m more or less qualified to teach any course on the social studies curriculum. So far I’ve only ever had to teach Global Issues and World History, which is good because I actually know something about those. My recurring nightmare is that someday I leave The Murphy Centre (actually that’s a nightmare all by itself) and go to a school setting where they offer a much wider variety of courses, and I somehow get conned into teaching Enterprise Education, or whatever the kids are calling it these days. Capitalism 101, basically.

Now, quite apart from my political views on the ideal economic system — which are, shall we say, not such as would warm the heart of the late Senator J. McCarthy — there’s also the teensy fact that I am the least qualified person on the face of the earth to teach Capitalism 101, because I am the least enterprising, least entrepreneurial, least business-minded person on the face of the earth.

I can’t tell you how many good ideas I’ve had in my life that have been cut short when I realized, “If I were to do anything with that, I’d essentially have to start my own business.” End of story. The mere idea of hustling to promote a business — not to mention keeping the books — is enough to wither a good idea right on the vine. Whatever I’ve ever aspired to be, Newfoundland Businesswoman of the Year is not it.

But here I am with these two children whose fondest dream, whose greatest idea of summer fun, is to open a lemonade stand. I don’t know where they got the idea — I certainly didn’t put it into their heads. Television, probably. Another thing we can blame on television.

We ran a pilot project last summer, which was so wildly successful over its two-day run that the two little entrepreneurs begged to do it again this summer. They’ve been begging for weeks: “As soon as school’s out, can we have a lemonade stand?” I finally gave in and said that today would be the day.

Last year, when they ran their stand, two other children a few blocks away had a stand with lemonade and cookies, and a reporter from the Telegram happened to drive past and think, “How cute, children with a lemonade stand,” and put a picture of these random children in the paper. Well, you can bet I didn’t hear the end of that. No matter how I tried to convince them that it was sheer blind chance that the reporter drove down Linscott St. and not Freshwater Rd. that day, Christopher and Emma were certain that it was the cookies that made the difference. If they’d had cookies, they’d have made the front page of the paper. Ergo, this year, we had to run a cookie-and-lemonade stand.

In keeping with my firm belief that young entrepreneurs should experience the real rough-and-tumble of the business world, I stayed as remote from the project as possible. I laid out the cookie ingredients, and dealt with the oven aspect of the cookie-baking operation. I brought the small picnic table from the back yard to the front. Everything else — making the cookies, making a sign, setting up the table — was left to the enterprising duo.

All went well until they got out there and found business was a little slow. From my safe seat up on the deck or inside the house, I advised them on the necessity of self-promotion: you have to actually ask people if they’d like to buy lemonade or cookies. Chris didn’t want to do this; he wanted Emma to do it. That’s reasonable: she’s very cute and I imagine she would pull a fair amount of trade. Except that she didn’t want to do it either, and what Christopher wanted to do was criticize her for not doing it. Suffice it to say, there was some unrest in the marketing department.

Despite that, they attracted a few customers from passing trade, though no reporters this time. Today was surprisingly profitable, largely because of the arrival of Grammy and Grampa, Aunt Gertie, and a few neighbours, all of whom grossly overpaid for their lemonade and cookie. (“Here’s $5.00 — no, no, keep the change!”) I’m not sure what lesson this teaches about entrepreneurship — you can always milk your family and friends for extra cash, perhaps?? I guess that’s a valid enough lesson, in its own way.

They got weary of the hard work after a couple of hours and packed up the shop.I let them know that my initial grant of seed money for development would not be repeated and if they wanted to do it again the cost of lemonade would have to come out of profits, but I’m not sure if they’re going to try it again or not. Instead of slaving away under the blazing sun peddling lemonade, we spent the afternoon in leisure at my parents’ cabin, dangling our feet in the water. Enjoying the fruits of capitalism, so to speak. Maybe I’m not ready for the workers’ revolution just yet.

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