Monday, May 11, 2009

In Praise of Biz Town

I had a great opportunity several weeks ago. I volunteered to assist my daughter’s sixth grade class on their two day visit to Junior Achievement’s Biz Town. I wish that there had been something like this when I was her age (or even in college). Essentially, Biz Town is a miniature city where the student- citizens fill all the roles from banker to mayor to postal worker, broadcaster, restaurant workers, right down to the Chief Financial Officer of the pet food store.

If I understand the principal correctly, Biz Town is a model of “circular flow”. The kids learn how money flows from the government to the bank to local businesses, to individuals, back to business and charities and back to the government in the form of taxes. The cool part was that the students assumed all of the responsibility of business owners and consumers. They had to deal with every aspect of running their business from borrowing money to figuring out how to price items to sell. The kids I was watching actually had to deal with the fact that the bank screwed up their loan application, which necessitated nine trips back to the bank. They had to learn to act with grace under pressure. As consumers, they had to balance their checkbooks, pay taxes, deposit their paychecks and save money for lunch, etc. If a student was overdrawn, they couldn’t buy anything else. If a business didn’t make a profit, it went bust. It was fascinating to watch this little microcosm unfold over the course of a two day period. I think the students learned something truly valuable about the way the world works.

Back when I was in school, I had a vague conception of what Junior Achievement was. I thought that they sold things like leather key rings, bookmarks and other non-essential items. I had no idea that Junior Achievement had become so relevant and so much fun. This is a truly unique enterprise, which should be commended.

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