All Congress needs to know, they could learn in the fifth grade

Categorized as 03/15/10 Goshen News column

What is up with Washington? For all the current talk of reconciliation, there’s sure not much to be had.

Up on the Hill, we’ve got blue dogs, old dogs, new dogs, and, in my opinion, a few dirty dogs, and they’re all fighting. Like cats and – you know.

It’s enough to make the average citizen throw up his or her hands and shout as one with Dr. Seuss, “Go, dogs, go!” This is exactly why much is being made of the November elections, which is when said average citizens will get their chance to put some teeth to the woof and help those dogs go.

Author Robert Fulghum says that all he needed to know, he learned in kindergarten. I would submit to you that all our elected officials need to know, they could learn in elementary school; more specifically, in Mrs. Beehler’s fifth-grade class at Wakarusa Elementary. That’s where our third son and 23 of his classmates are learning some very valuable lessons about life, responsibility, and running a business, lessons that many in Congress seem to have missed.

Here’s what they’re doing.

At the beginning of the year, a letter came home, stating that mini economy would be starting soon. “Mini economy,” it read, “is a form of instruction in which students participate in a classroom economy in order to simulate real-world activity.”

Students would be applying and interviewing for classroom jobs. For faithful completion of daily duties, they would receive a biweekly paycheck. They would pay rent, taxes, utilities, and supplies, due the first of every month. Health insurance, a plan that would cover their salary in the event of illness, was optional.

Later, students would be given opportunities to purchase items at a bonus store, to set up a business in order to sell items in a mini mall, and to participate in an auction at the end of the year. All of this, of course, would be done with the money they’d earned and saved.

“Helping students understand and apply economic concepts to their lives helps them to make better choices and understand the consequences for those choices,” the letter concluded.

Shortly thereafter, 24 parents wrote up personal references for 24 eager scholars who began feverishly applying and interviewing for 24 different jobs. Mini economy was on.

Unbeknownst to the participants, the mini economy system provides more than just instruction on performing basic financial transactions and balancing a budget. It’s a very effective form of crowd control.

Using a system of fines for certain offenses, including excessive talking, being tardy, having a condemned or messy desk, being late with homework, and not following Lifelong Guidelines (personal best, truthfulness, etc.), order and discipline are maintained.

For most infractions, a fine of up to ten dollars is levied against the offender. In other words, being disorderly or irresponsible will bite the hapless scholar in the britches right about where his or her wallet is located. Such actions will be deeply regretted at the next shopping opportunity.

Stealing, proclaims their employee handbook, is a serious offense that will result in immediate termination from mini economy activities. They’re not messing around in Mrs. Beehler’s class.

Just recently, the students held their mini mall after weeks of preparation. First, they drafted a business plan stating what they would sell, what supplies were needed, and whether or not they planned to hire an assistant. Expenses included booth rental and a business permit, payable up front. At this point, they decided if they wanted to enter a partnership, form a corporation, or be a sole proprietor.

They studied supply and demand to figure prices and profit margins. They polled each other to see what consumers were willing to pay for certain items. Then they moved into their marketing campaigns.

They made posters. They created slogans. Several went so far as to create Power Point presentations to advertise their products.

Our son decided to sell cupcakes as a sole proprietor. He hired an assistant to cover the booth while he was off spending money elsewhere. He and a buddy formed a partnership, selling tickets for the showing of an original movie they’d made. Cheap tickets got you in the door. High-end tickets got you the show, popcorn, and a drink.

What I found in the elementary school gym when I arrived was a microcosm of American capitalism. Young vendors lined the sides, selling everything from snow cones to milkshakes to top-your-own sundaes. There were handmade items for sale. The beef jerky stand, I noted, was doing a brisk business.

As the hour went by, prices began to drop like rocks as anxious entrepreneurs scurried to make a sale. When it was over, they calculated their final profits and deposited it in the classroom bank to be held for the end-of-the-year auction.

Yes, there’s a lot to be learned in the fifth grade. Important stuff like paying your bills on time and not spending more than you make. Things like how a business really works. Stuff like following the rules, being responsible, and that it’s wrong to steal.

All the pols need to learn, I think, they could learn in Mrs. Beehler’s fifth-grade class.

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