In the spring of 2012, Spenser Johnson, a junior at Highland Park High School in Topeka, Kansas, was unpacking his acoustic bass before orchestra practice when a sign caught his eye. “Do you want to make money?” it asked.
The poster encouraged the predominantly poor students at Highland Park to enroll in a new, yearlong course that would provide lessons in basic economic principles and practical instruction on starting a business. Students would receive generous financial incentives including startup capital and scholarships after graduation. The course would begin that fall. Johnson eagerly signed up.
In some ways, the class looked like a typical high school business course, taught in a Highland Park classroom by a Highland Park teacher. But it was actually run by Youth Entrepreneurs, a nonprofit group created and funded primarily by Charles G. Koch, the billionaire chairman of Koch Industries.
The official mission of Youth Entrepreneurs is to provide kids with “business and entrepreneurial education and experiences that help them prosper and become contributing members of society.” The underlying goal of the program, however, is to impart Koch’s radical free-market ideology to teenagers. In the last school year, the class reached more than 1,000 students across Kansas and Missouri.
Lesson plans and class materials obtained by The Huffington Post make the course’s message clear: The minimum wage hurts workers and slows economic growth. Low taxes and less regulation allow people to prosper. Public assistance harms the poor. Government, in short, is the enemy of liberty.
Though YE has avoided the public spotlight, the current structure of the program began to take shape in November 2009, documents show, when a team of associates at the Charles G. Koch Foundation launched an important project with Charles Koch’s blessing: They would design and test what they called “a high school free market and liberty-based course” with support from members of the Koch family’s vast nonprofit and political network. A pilot version of the class would be offered the following spring to students at the Wichita Collegiate School, an elite private prep school in Kansas where Koch was a top donor.
First, the Koch team chose its mascot: a golden eagle holding a knife in its beak. They also assigned each other nicknames: Ol’ Mucky Terrahawk, Mighty Killer, Big Gay Mule, Midnight Bandit and the Erratic Assassin. The group dubbed itself the “Wu-Teach Clan.”
Over the next six months, members of the Wu-Teach Clan exchanged hundreds of emails with one another and with Koch lieutenants. Theyhashed out a strategy to infiltrate public schools after surveys showed that the wealthy prep school students largely failed to absorb their libertarian message. We know all this because the Wu-Teach Clan used a Google groupthat it had left open to the public.
The emails show that Charles Koch had a hands-on role in the design of the high school curriculum, directly reviewing the work of those responsible for setting up the course. The goal, the group said flatly, was to turn young people into “liberty-advancing agents” before they went to college, where they might learn “harmful” liberal ideas.
The Koch Foundation did not respond to requests for comment.
Charles Koch founded Youth Entrepreneurs in 1991 with his wife, Elizabeth Koch, who serves as chairman of the group’s board. For much of the past two decades, YE offered little more than a pilot program teaching basic business skills — and seemed an afterthought compared to the Kochs’ massive investments in the political sphere. But the Kochs have renewed their focus on YE in recent years, pumping millions of dollars into it, expanding it considerably and molding it to project their worldview.
In 2007, YE reported assets of just over $450,000. In 2012, its assets topped$1.45 million. The lion’s share of this growth was fueled by Koch family foundations.
During the 2012-2013 school year, YE’s credit-bearing class reached more than 1,000 students in 29 schools in Kansas and Missouri, according to the group’s annual report. Vernon Birmingham, YE’s director of curriculum and teacher support, told HuffPost that the course will be in 42 schools in the coming school year. An offshoot in Atlanta, YE Georgia, reported being in 10 schools in the 2011-2012 school year. Since 2012, YE has also launched three major new initiatives: an online version of its course, an affiliate program to help rural schools access the class, and an after-school program, YE Academy, which served more than 500 students in its first year.
With spending on public education under heavy assault — in large part by Koch-funded organizations and politicians they support — the nation’s poorest school districts are in desperate need of resources, making the free Koch curriculum an attractive alternative to nothing.
While the Kochs are perhaps best known for their support of conservative political candidates and causes, they have a longstanding interest in education. Charles and his brother David Koch were longtime supporters of the Libertarian Party before becoming Republican kingpins. David Koch won the party’s nomination for vice president in 1980. That year, its platform proposed a drastic revision of the American education system: “We advocate the complete separation of education and state. Government schools lead to the indoctrination of children and interfere with the free choice of individuals. Government ownership, operation, regulation, and subsidy of schools and colleges should be ended.”
In recent years, through private charitable foundations, the Koch brothers have funneled tens of millions of dollars to colleges and universities — most recently, a $25 million donation to the United Negro College Fund. They are also funding advocacy groups that are waging a widespread campaign to fight the Common Core State Standards, a set of benchmarks for public K-12 education adopted by most states. But YE is the most direct example of their growing imprint on American classrooms.
Koch-funded think tanks provide many of YE’s course materials. Teachers are trained at Koch Industries headquarters and are required to read Charles Koch’s book The Science of Success.
The focus on high school students is a key part of the Kochs’ long-term effort to create a libertarian-minded society from the ground up.
“We hope to develop students’ appreciation of liberty by improving free-market education,” the Koch associates wrote during the program’s initial planning stages. “Ultimately, we hope this will change the behavior of students who will apply these principles later on in life.”
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Curated from www.huffingtonpost.com