Saturday, June 06, 2009

Teaching "about" stuff

One common discussion around universities is about the value of teaching disciplines that society tends to view as an art or a talent. In my area, I often hear it expressed as "can you really teach entrepreneurship?" Implicit in the question is that entrepreneurs are born, not made. I have also heard that people question whether one can be taught: leadership, teamwork, art, etc.*

This is a topic that has been discussed in this blog since its humble beginnings.

But what is my answer to the question? I usually respond "I don't teach students to be entrepreneurs. I teach them about being entrepreneurs." There is a difference. Not all students want to become enterpreneurs (a source of continuing puzzlement to me). But they want to find out more about the role of entrepreneurs in business and society. Or maybe entrepreneurship courses are popular for the same reason "Social Deviance" is popular in psychology and sociology departments- morbid fascination?

What seems to work best for my classes is providing a framework, discussion, and a chance to practice. A mix of encouragement, support and questions. For those that lean entrepreneurial, my classes provide examples and a chance to test out a new venture. And, I hope, a dash of inspiration. If they decide to pursue a new venture, class is just the start. Then my role becomes advising, assisting, watching.

Really, though, the answer to the question is more complicated. What is important is what students learn, not what I teach (I still cling to the idea that there is a correlation). Some students learn to be entrepreneurs in my classes. Some learn about entrepreneurs in my classes. In many cases, it is not the particular content of hours of reading, cases and discussion. But rather at some point, a student realizes "I can do this." They give themselves permission. They realize there isn't a litmus test or an entrance exam for becoming an entrepreneur.
* I am not getting into levels of genius here. For instance, I think it is possible to teach basketball, but not possible to teach just anyone to be Kobe or Jordan. It is possible to teach painting, but not possible to teach just anyone to be Cezanne or Homer. And there are many impressive people who are self-taught. But being a self-taught entrepreneur is different than being a born entrepreneur, isn't it?


Darah Bonham said...

My father was an 8th grade drop out yet made a name for himself buying and selling real estate and running motels. I am an educator and "have" the entrepreneurial bug even though i'm in an industry (secondary ed) that doesn't promote entrepreneurship. I am Principal of a career and tech high school in Charlottesville and pushed our kids to take part in an entreprenurial program last year. Many kids were "in" to it, others weren't but they all could make connections to the instruction based on the courses they take at our school. We had VCs, banks, and business owners judge their presentations and 4 were awarded $500 to start their business. This year we are expanding the instruction to 350 kids. It is soooo worth it. Many transferable, portable skills learned (not just taught)from the students even if they never become business owners.

Darah Bonham said...

my father didn't complete 8th grade but went on to be a successful business owner buying and selling real estate. I got into education have continually have the "bug" to do something similiar. I'm the principal of a high school career and tech center in Charlottesville VA and this past year pushed for 175 of our students to be exposed to the study of entrepreneurship. While some latched on, others had a hard time seeing the relevance. Not sure if that had anything to do with "born or made" but there was some connection made to those to those who were real engaged. In the end, four students won $500 awards to develop their own "real" plans. We will expose 350 students next year to this program. Not all are going to be entrepreneurs but the transferable, portable skills they learn are invaluable.

Kasey Archer said...

Your blog goes right in line with what I'm doing this summer. I'm a University of Houston student interning for Lemonade Day to help spread our program to Denver. Lemonade Day teaches children the basic business skills it takes to become an entrepreneur. I've only been here a month, but I've seen what your blog talks about. We can teach kids the basic skills it takes to become an entrepreneur and about entrepreneurs, but some will run with it and live it, and some will just go through the process. It's interesting how it works.

VonniMediaMogul said...

RUBBISH! If I hear one more person negate saying that entrepreneurship is an art that cannot be taught I'll gouge my eye out. Millions of dollars is spent yearly on failed marketing attempts, bad business consultants, failed investment ideas, etc. Though there is no set curriculum, you can still break it down and teach the basics and most important parts to entrepreneurship so that you can survive and make it in business. I work as a temp and it is absolutely amazing the basic things that people cannot do to run day-to-day office or business operations. The questions I get asked or the budget reports that are laughable because people don't know what they are doing. Had they have saught help in the beginning or had the assistance of one who can teach better ways of branching out on their own they would not be in that predicament. So yes, most definitely entrepreneurship can be taught.