Lessons in free enterprise start in early years

By: Lynda Hollenbeck

When I was growing up in Eastern Arkansas, I had never heard of Junior Achievement. In fact, I was unfamiliar with this economic education program until recent years โ€” or so I thought anyway.
Junior Achievement is noted for its role in imparting leadership and entrepreneurial skills to school children, which certainly sounds commendable in preparing kids for the workforce.
According to my research, it was 1919 when the forerunner to the program began teaching financial literacy, work readiness and entrepreneurship to students in kindergarten through high school. Back then as now, the group emphasized two main principles: production and free enterprise.
Today, Junior Achievement reportedly reaches 4 million students with programs that teach financial literacy, entrepreneurship and workforce readiness in Grades K-12.
Although we hadn't heard the name Junior Achievement, I really think a friend and I were its phantom founders. It's for certain that its basic tenets flowed through our bloodstream. Starting with second grade, we were using our entrepreneurial talents in a big way.
Remember the games you played on the playground during recess? For those of us attending Cotton Plant Elementary, recess was a busy, energetic time.
We engaged in numerous activities. Some were commendable; some were not. Some were approved; some were not.
The account that follows is about one of the "not's."
My friends and I loved to play chase, and I don't really know why, except it was a way to expend energy, de-stress and generally just be a kid, I suppose.
I don't recall how we thought of this, but Polly Mac Churchill (now Rothenbush) and I collaborated on turning the activity into a profit-making venture. (Junior Achievement? Right?) We set ourselves up to the "boss" level and became the deciding forces on who could "join" our chase teams.
This wasn't a "just show up and play" kind of thing. Nope. There was one basic premise to the deal: Pay or you don't play.
Polly and I were the cashiers, charging each kid a dime to become a participant.
Similar to the premise of the old song "Ten Cents a Dance, this was "Ten Cents a Chase."
But we weren't really greedy. The dime would allow a kid to play all day, for both morning and afternoon recesses. We kept a list and would check off each name as a boy or girl forked over the money.
Everything was going along smoothly until one smart-alec kid interfered.
She wasn't around the first few days we were in operation. I don't know if she hadn't been at school or what; I just know we didn't see her.
Then all of a sudden there she was. She decided she wanted to play and got into line.
That's when we encountered Trouble with a capital T.
"Uh, Name (I'll just call her Name because she doesn't live too far away and she may not remember this incident the way I do), you can't play unless you give us a dime," Polly Mac told her.
Name started to sputter. She put her hands on her tiny hips, stomped her little feet and said yes, indeed she could do so anyway, she wasn't moving and nobody could make her. Furthermore, she wasn't paying anything.
Here comes Lynda into the fray. I repeated Polly Mac's words, which made the infiltrator furious.
"I'm not gonna pay you a dime โ€” not even a penny โ€” but I wanna play and you have to let me," Name argued. "And if you don't, I'm telling Mrs. Walker," she threatened.
We thought she was just crying wolf, but we found out differently. The next thing we knew Mrs. Walker, our bustling, no-nonsense (when she was mad) second-grade teacher, was staring us down.
"Polly Mac and Lynda Lou!! Whatever do you mean by charging money for these children to play chase! You ought to be ashamed of yourselves!"
I thought she should have been commended us for the lessons we were imparting in free enterprise and entrepreneurship, but Mrs. Walker didn't see it that way.
Instead she made us give all of the money back to all of the kids who had paid to play and told us we couldn't do it ever again.
She said a lot more, too, but most of it has blessedly faded into the recesses of my mind.
And like it is in most small towns, news about our exercise in capitalism reached home before either Polly or I did.
I'd just as soon not tell the rest of the story.

Lynda Hollenbeck is senior editor of The Saline Courier.