Teachable Moment Lost


Once upon a time there was a 10 year old girl who attended 5th grade at an elementary school in Southern California. At her school they taught 4th 5th and 6th grade students the concept of entrepreneurship. Each year they held several events promoting entrepreneurship. Students created businesses and worked with a token economy. At the end of the year, they could trade the tokens they “earned” for prizes.

This particular 10 year old girl and her friends were quite industrious. They created a business in which they hired themselves out to other students to carry backpacks and do things for other students, in exchange for tokens. Entrepreneurship at it’s best – right? Oh – no, not so fast. These students were allowing themselves to be referred to as slaves by the students that “hired” them. The principle caught wind of this and was very displeased. She could not risk a scandal at her ELEMENTARY SCHOOL.

She asked who was involved, and this industrious and honest 10 year old girl and her friends stepped forward and said it was them. These terrible 10 year olds had crossed the line into what the principle believed was racially charged territory. The wise and learned principle cancelled the final entrepreneur event of the school year as punishment for these 10 YEAR OLDS heinous crime. The End!

I know that people may disagree with me, but I cannot see the wisdom in the decision of this principle. I understand what her concern was, but I think that she should have taken a moment to look at the situation and use it as a teachable moment instead of punishing these kids for what I believe was an innocent mistake.

Perhaps the public school system in California does not do a very good job of teaching the meaning of slavery and how our country’s history continues to be impacted by the transgressions of our founding fathers in allowing slavery to ever taint our nation. Instead of punishing the entire school for the innocent acts of a few students (not to mention that they were being entrepreneurial in this endeavor) the principle could have taken the opportunity to discuss, with the student body, what the terms “slave” and “slavery” mean historically and why they must not throw these terms around lightly. She could have had a dialog with the students about what their understanding was, presented other ways of describing the service they were providing and how being “paid” for a service is vastly different than being a slave.

If these children had allowed themselves to be called personal assistants instead of slaves, perhaps they would have been heralded as creative thinkers instead of being punished and made to feel bad about thinking creatively. The use of the term slave was certainly misguided and not okay, but the reaction was a missed opportunity for a teachable moment. It is unfortunate that someone (the principle) in the educational field did not recognize this teachable moment and seize it. I am not sure that these kids know what it is that they did wrong which means that nothing was gained in the punishment of taking away entrepreneurs day for the entire school.

I would be interested in knowing other people’s take on this situation.

Find Your Om Balance – Terri