How to Raise Successful People, a book by Esther Wojcicki, a teacher and the mother of Susan Wojcicki (the CEO of YouTube), Janet Wojcicki (a Fulbright winner), and Anne Wojcicki, cofounder of 23andMe. Steve Jobs’ daughter Lisa was one of her students.
Back in the’80s, my daughters were known in our Tolman Drive neighborhood as the lemon girls. One day they noticed our neighbor’s lemon tree, and she nicely agreed to their plan of using it to start a business. They came up with a price (50 cents per lemon), and sold their goods door-to-door. They even sold lemons back to the neighbor with the lemon tree. Once they filled up their piggy banks, they’d spend their earnings at their favorite dime store, Patterson’s on California Avenue.
I guess being an entrepreneur runs in the family, because my granddaughter Mia has a successful business making and selling slime. Yes, slime. It’s exactly what you think it is. Gooey, stringy, a total mess. But kids love it, especially when it has sparkles and rainbow colors. Mia was talented at designing new types of slime and got the bright idea to market it at age nine. My grandson Leon started working at a local arcade in Los Altos called Area 151 when he was 13 years old. It was his idea to get a job there, not his parents’. Leon sells tokens to the customers, teaches them how to play the games, and even resets and repairs some of the machines. His latest obsession is bitcoins. Trust me, he is a self-made expert on cryptocurrency.
All of these projects came from a spark of curiosity, which itself arises from independent thinking. Do you want to know the single hardest assignment for my students? Coming up with their own topics. They find basic free-writing almost impossible. They complain that they don’t know what’s interesting. The main thing they want to know is if their “interesting idea” will earn an A. I tell them any idea is an A idea as long as they are interested in it, because if they’re not, why would anyone else want to read it?
Lack of curiosity and the inability to free-write were such wide-spread issues in the 1990s, when I was an instructional supervisor for English, that I instituted a department-wide policy of daily free-writing for every student at Palo Alto High. I waited for the back-to-school sale at Target and bought two thousand notebooks. I don’t think they expected a customer like me. They didn’t have a limit at that time (they do now!), but they were surprised that I wanted to buy that many and asked if I was a reseller. “No,” I said. “I’m a teacher and I’m buying these for all the kids at the high school.”
Once they heard that, they couldn’t have been more helpful. For the first few weeks, you’d have thought I was asking them to solve a difficult math problem. All I wanted them to do was free-write about any topic for the first 10 mi
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