Sandra Bullock's new movie, The Blind Side, is a feel-good story of the rise of a lost inner-city kid from dismal poverty to personal and athletic success. Last night, I saw a movie that presents a feel-better story of kids from similar backgrounds. A feel-much-better story.
The film is called Ten9Eight, and it's a documentary in wide distribution from a filmmaker (and--full-disclosure--former Olympic teammate of mine) named Mary Mazzio. She followed an incredibly appealing set of high-schoolers from inner cities all over the country as they competed in a national competition run by the Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE). The goal: to create and present business plans for real-world businesses that can earn them money now. This competition does not call for the rare physical gifts that can lever an athlete out of tough circumstances--and which often leave those who don't make it without other prospects. The NFTE program rewards ideas, savvy, writing, math, and presentation skills--qualities that nearly everyone can develop and use all their lives.
The program these kids have joined is shop class for a post-industrial economy. These students are learning to be entrepreneurs--and competing for cash prizes. Instead of learning to, say, run a printing press, as I did in high school, they learn to write business plans. Math becomes a means to understand fixed costs, variable costs, and margin. English becomes a tool for persuasion; sales and marketing materials are the essays; business presentations the recitations. For these kids, most of them in places where the dropout rate is 50 percent, school suddenly makes sense.
The movie calls for entrepreneurship on the part of all of us, because the economics of the film industry means that millions of high school kids--and their parents--whose personal prospects could be radically changed simply by viewing the film may never get to see it. Take a look for yourself, and, if you see a way to get Ten9Eight shown in the communities where it may make the most difference, think like the students in the movie: don't let the opportunity pass.