I was seventeen, and dissatisfied. So were my friends. We were dissatisfied
with the schools where we currently punched our time clocks five days a week.
We wanted to create a better way, a way where we took the pursuit of our education
into our own hands. We imagined a school with absolutely no requirements or
mandates, where each student designed his or her own course of study. A place
where we learned what we wanted, when we wanted, how we wanted.
Does this sound at all familiar?
We didnt know it, but we were thinking like network marketers. We wanted to be a volunteer army, not a lockstep formation of grudging corporate conscripts.
We were educational entrepreneurs.
Among our motley crew, I was the one blessed with unusually forward-thinking parentsparents who believed in me and us and our vision enough to let me leave my mind-numbing career at our local public high school and spend the rest of the school year spearheading the project.
Q: How do a scattershot band of disaffected high school sophomores and juniors start their own high school? A: They dont. There was of course no way we could possibly accomplish this task. Happily, we did not know this.
Much like the bumblebeeyou know, that bug that flies because it never got the memo explaining that it cantwe didnt know it was impossible. So we did it.
The next year our school opened, and it operated successfully for a solid decade. We had no accreditation from any private or state body, but we were accredited by our own results. We successfully placed our graduates at such places as Yale, Harvard and various state colleges. The environment we had imagined, that place where students voluntarily pursued their own education, worked.
Here is one reason it worked: we realized we needed someone who could do things we couldnt, like fund-raise, secure a location and help us find teachers. We declared an opening for Director (starting salary: zero), and began interviewing. Through our parents and other adults we knew, we found some extraordinary candidates. We eventually chose a brilliant man named Julian F. Thompson, who had a strong background in education and grasped what we were up to.
Its a good formula: decide what you want, commit yourself for at least a year to building the foundation, then go sponsor people who have what you lack.
And if you happen to get that memo? The one that says bees cant fly, kids cant build schools, and you cant be a major financial success and leader of thousands?
Ignore it. Fly anyway.
JOHN DAVID MANN is Consulting Editor for Networking Times.