Discussing the local school system, a business owner said, “I know the teachers care about the kids. I just wonder if they actually know their content.”
I wondered the same thing when I read an article in the school district newsletter about a newly created school course for juniors and seniors, Business Manufacturing Technology.
When I was informed by a reliable source that other schools are considering using the same course, I freaked out.
Do Teachers Know Enough About MT to Teach It?
Manufacturing technology combines skills from engineering, economics, accounting, marketing, and psychology to reduce costs, increase efficiency, enhance reliability, or to incorporate safety and anti-pollution measures in manufacturing. It’s a business field because MANTECH tasks aim at increasing business profitability.
Manufacturing programs at the associate degree level, such as this one at Tompkins Cortland Community College, include work in areas such as robotics, lean manufacturing and lean office, blueprint reading, computer technology, industrial math. They prepare students for high-paying, computer-dependent, blue-collar work.
Do Teachers Know Enough to Teach Start-ups?
The newsletter article suggests the course is actually about starting a business rather than about manufacturing technology. It says, “Students are learning how to manufacture, advertise and finance their small businesses in the classroom.” (I’ve added that sentence to my misplaced modifiers collection.)
Nothing in the article suggests that students were guided through the business start-up process even from a theoretical perspective. In fact, the writers’ list of what students learned (manufacture, advertise, finance) suggests they weren’t.
To assist students, the teachers brought in outside speakers., the article says. One speaker was from a lumber company. That’s not particularly high-tech manufacturing, but the business operation appears to be fairly sophisticated.
Another of the outside speakers is described as a “local inventor and idea man.” I was unable to discover what he has invented or what his ideas are: He has no digital presence. It’s probably safe to assume he’s not providing expert advice on business advertising in the 21st century.
Featured Small Businesses
I laughed out loud when I read the list of featured small businesses students are developing. It reads like ideas from Cub Scouts and Brownies working on merit badges in the 1970s, not serious business plans from students who should be able to earn their own living within six to 18 months.
- YouPillow (custom pillows)
- Roll Up and Dye (tie-dye-T-shirts)
- Cookie Madness (chocolate chip cookies)
- Mr. Barbed Wire (barbed wire home decorations)
- No-Bakesters (no bake treats)
- Bainbridge Free Fallers (paracord bracelets)
- Bobcat Clay Collections (clay accessories)
- 3.14 Pie (s’mores and pumpkin pies)
Imagine, if you can, the planning process for Mr. Barbed Wire’s home decorations business. When asked to identify the need his barbed wire home decorations would meet, what did the young entrepreneur say? I suppose keeping house cats out of the decorations might qualify as a need.
Do you suppose Mr. Barbed Wire did research to find out how big his potential market is, asking the potential market questions such as:
Although the class projects have given local business owners and my contacts around the world many laughs, the laughter hides a serious problem: These students are being encouraged to think they have real world business skills.
What are these teachers thinking?
Their students appear not to have been exposed to the most fundamental business principle: Find a need and fill it.
Find a Need and Fill It
Elsewhere, young entrepreneurs are being taught to focus on the question of usefulness. Here are what Mr. Barbed Wire’s peers are doing:
- To save time and effort shoveling sidewalks, Zach Richardson, 13, and classmate Dominic Lavergne, 13, came up with a shovel that dispenses salt.
- Eleventh-grader Marcus Esther developed a robot controlled via computer and hand remote to investigate suspicious sounds without the operator being seen.
- Students from San Juan High School in Utah invented a power assisted litter device that reduces rescuer fatigue, increases rescue speed, and reduces the number of responders needed for back country rescues.
- A pair of Canadian boys in grade 8, Lane McMartin and Garrett Range, developed a device to attach a biker’s helmet to a bicycle lock.
- A junior high student in Indonesia built an electricity-producing desk from scrap materials. Putu Agastya Satryana hooked up a dynamo to the wheel of an old pedal sewing machine, generating electricity that’s stored in a 12-volt battery used to run a desk lamp and charge a cell phone.
Are tie-dyed T-shirts in the same league as providing electricity for rural communities where students can’t see to study?
Somehow I doubt it.