Opening Up the World

As a parent, I want to open up a world of possibilities for my children. I want them to learn about other cultures and experience new things. I want to help them see their choices in the world and to understand others’ choices without judgment.

That’s why I was so disheartened by a recent experience in our homeschool co-op. One of the kids shared an idea of having an entrepreneur fair, where the kids could each make something and sell it to each other. She even suggested that they use pretend money, so that everyone would have the opportunity to participate. We try to follow the kids’ lead and jumped right in with this project. The kids began sewing stuffed animals, drawing art and baking cupcakes. Sounds great, right?

Armed with only the words “entrepreneur fair,” a parent sent an email to everyone wishing that there wouldn’t be a fair and ranting about consumer capitalism being a threat to authentic relationships and the continued existence of life on this planet (his words). He didn’t talk to the kids or the guide about the project, he just judged all entrepreneurs as an apparent threat.

I consider myself an entrepreneur, having started a co-op to meet my kids’ educational needs when I couldn’t find something on the market that did. And my husband is an entrepreneur, having started a company that went public. There are great entrepreneurs in the world who have made cheaper mosquito nets, battery generated radios, solar powered lanterns, medical devices that save lives, and other things that make our lives better as a whole.

For better or worse, we live in a world that is driven by consumer capitalism. Don’t we want to teach our kids about all aspects of the world, so they are aware of them and understand them? My goal with my own children is to give them the tools they need to engage in the world, to open up their possibilities in that world, rather than narrow them. I would like my children to have choices — to live on a commune with a bartering economy if they’d like or to start their own business (or both!).

Even worse is the judgment inherent in this exchange. In our area, homeschoolers are, by and large, a liberal, progressive bunch. This is a parent who prides himself on his inclusivity and tolerance of others. Yet he had no qualms painting an entire group of people — entrepreneurs — with one brush. I began to wonder what it would look like if his adult child announced that he wanted to be an investment banker. Would his reaction mimic those of conservative parents disowning their gay children?

Last year, my daughter participated in a children’s business fair. She loved it and got to put a small amount of money in her college fund, which made her very proud. She certainly didn’t come out of it talking about how she could maximize her profits or screw over the little guy. Mostly she learned to think about how much it cost her to make something and how to talk to her customers. Important life skills, whether you choose to work in business or grassroots organizing.

There’s so much opportunity here for all of the parents to have a conversation with their children, sharing their values and why they hold them dear. They could come in to talk with the kids about alternative economic models or how to view marketing with a critical eye. Instead, this parent wanted to shut down a child’s idea by imposing his personal values on the entire group.

When I constructively shared my thoughts with this parent (pointing out that he had unfairly judged a fellow parent in the group), I heard nothing. No awareness, no apology, no understanding, no willingness to entertain another viewpoint. It got me thinking about what I hope to teach my kids and reinforced my belief that it’s so critical to open their minds and their worlds. I don’t want to narrow their options in life by only exposing them to a small sliver of the world. I don’t want to narrow their opinions by refusing to listen to others. And I don’t want to narrow their minds by teaching them to judge someone based on one trait.

Opening up the world — that’s what education is for me.