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Entrepreneurship comes at a price

In 7th Grade, I entered a school pre-MyMarlborough, pre-Alumni Garden, pre-Flex Time, pre-Gmail, pre-Dr. Sands, pre- turf field, pre-phone ban and pre-black jeans. But the biggest change I witnessed was ideological, and it occurred with such seamlessness that I almost didn’t notice it happening. Marlborough became entrepreneurial.

Cameron Lange Staff Illustrator

This abstract cultural shift found physical manifestation in the transformation of the Academic Resource Center into the Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. I have not heard this space referred to as a “library” since its cozy shelves were replaced with sterile whiteboard walls for entrepreneurial scheming and exposed ceiling ducts overtly reminiscent of a factory.

On a physically elevated shrine to neoliberalism, Phil Knight’s Shoe Dog now sits among other entrepreneurial tales on an encased shelf by the bleacher seating in the CEI. Shoe Dog is a riveting CEO autobiography detailing such feats as lying to distributors to secure deals, stealing information from competitors and knowingly employing hundreds of thousands of workers in sweatshops. Knight was even entrepreneurial enough to covertly outsource the job of penning Shoe Dog to ghostwriter J. R. Moehringer.

It disturbs me that the School seems to instill an ethos of profit accumulation among a student body largely comprised of the children of elites, thus furthering the concentration of obscene wealth among a smaller and smaller group of individuals in America.

Students are now taught valuable public speaking and collaboration skills in settings that also serve to normalize the inextricability of profit motives and social concerns as a result of focus on oxymoronic “socially conscious entrepreneurship.”

Marlborough now offers four entrepreneurship courses. By contrast, there is not a single politics or government course offered to Upper Schoolers (with the possible exception of a semester-long Terrorism elective), implicitly instilling in students the idea that contemporary problems are not to be addressed through reform or resource redistribution, but rather by peddling gimmicky trinkets to the masses.

To be clear, market-based approaches do not always fail in addressing large-scale problems, as demonstrated by the potential success of carbon taxes in curbing climate change. My concern lies rather in the encouraged replacement of students’ naturally altruistic mindsets with entrepreneurial ones by which problems must be solved in self-serving ways. This ideological orientation, which also guides prison privatization and market-based healthcare distribution, is disastrous for people’s wellbeing and our nation’s social fabric.

This attitude echoes the nefarious “entrepreneurial spirit” applauded by ASM speaker Cindy Eckert. Eckert shared with us an anecdote about a child who, when instructed by her mother to distribute home-grown tomatoes to her neighbors, surreptitiously sold the tomatoes and pocketed the money. Creative enough to take active effort to behave greedily even when it was easier to be generous, this child grew up to receive an enthusiastic job offer from Eckert.

In reality, becoming an entrepreneur is merely a pipe dream for most Marlborough graduates. At the university level, 92% of start-ups fail within three years, and those that succeed tend to be quickly bought up by tech giants seeking to quash market competition.

“Most students will never start a public company, so classes and entrepreneurial extracurricular activities really train students to perform not as entrepreneurs but as intrapreneurs, learning how to think and act like an entrepreneur when working for large corporations, or as a minion to venture capital,” writes Avery Wiscomb, English instructor at Carnegie Mellon University. “Big tech and their investors plant seeds in students to harvest in later seasons.”

One might argue that I am insufficiently cynical in my posture toward entrepreneurial ethos. It’s a dog-eat-dog world, one might say, and a girl has to sell a few tomatoes to her neighbors to remain a viable candidate for the Forbes 30 Under 30 list these days.

I do not begrudge Marlborough students who want to learn skills to pursue their own self-interests, but they should not be encouraged to do so under the guise of altruism. Furthermore, those who want to make society a better place should not be sold a narrative that making lots of money is the only way to do so.

As I have witnessed so many changes during my time at Marlborough, I feel confident in the School’s ability to amend past missteps moving forward. Hopefully, one day Marlborough will valorize civic education and public-spiritedness just as much as they currently do the self-serving virtues of business venture.

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