Money, Education, or Mission (A Teenage Conversation): The Weekly Mentor by Oliver DeMille


 The Size of Dreams

“Dad, why do teachers think their students should only have small dreams?”ChildsDream

I just about choked on my bottled water. “What?” I sputtered.

“Well, before I tell you, don’t make me quit the public school class I’m taking, okay?”

I laughed. “Alright, honey. What happened?”

“Well,” she sighed loudly, “I really like my class. It’s fun. And I’m learning a lot. In fact, I want to audition for the performance choir next semester. But for now, this class is very interesting.”

She paused. “But…” she hesitated again. “Okay, in class the teacher asked us about why college is so important. All the answers were about making more money. Buying stuff. And the teacher really encouraged it. He just kept pushing that college is about making more money, and I got frustrated.”

She took a deep breath.

“Then what?”

“I wanted to ask him about getting a great education, but I stayed quiet. He must have seen how irritated I was from the look on my face, so he called on me and asked me what I was thinking.

“I told him I thought college should be about a great education, not just money. I was amazed by his response. He said, ‘Yes, that’s true for a few people. But most college students are focused on preparing for their careers.’

The Real Goal

“I expected him to explain this, but he just turned back to the discussion about money. So I raised my hand again. ‘But money shouldn’t be the most important focus of college,’ I said. ‘Getting a great education should be the main point. If someone really just wants to make money, he should be an entrepreneur. I read an article showing that while college graduates make more money than high school grads, and on average law or medical students make more than college graduates, the truth is that successful entrepreneurs make a lot more than doctors or lawyers or anyone else. A lot more.’”

“What did he say?” I asked.

“This is where it got really annoying,” she replied. “He said that while what I said is true, it only applies to a few entrepreneurs, the ones who really succeed. I responded by telling him that the same is true of doctors and lawyers—only a few of those who set out to become doctors or lawyers make it into law school or graduate from medical school. And even many of the graduates don’t make it practicing medicine or law. In fact, the percentages of those who succeed as entrepreneurs are about the same as those who end up succeeding in law and medicine.

“He started to get upset, which really surprised me. I like this teacher a lot. And I think he likes me. I’m a good student. But he didn’t like what I was saying. So he asked the class, ‘What do you guys think about this?’

“One student said, ‘That’s right. What about Bill Gates and other people who drop out of college or don’t even go to college and end up really rich?’

“‘That does happen, for a few people,’ he said. ‘But the lesson of this is that it’s not going to happen for everyone else. The rest of us need a good job, and college is our ticket.’

“Dad, how could that possibly be the main lesson?!?!?” she practically shouted. When she’s on a bender, she is really passionate. “It’s ridiculous! He’s always pushing us to think, to really defend our answers, but in this case he just makes a huge leap without giving it any support at all. How can the fact that a few succeed be a lesson to us that we shouldn’t even try?

“I didn’t want to argue with him, so I just dropped it. But I’ve been thinking about it ever since. Why would he teach this? I just don’t understand, Dad.”

I pondered, then replied, “I think you do.”

Understanding a Viewpoint


“I think you DO understand. Think about it. Why would a teacher say these things? Was he trying to hurt the students? To lie to them? To trick them or lead them astray?”

“No,” she said immediately. “Of course not. He’s not that way at all.”

“Then why?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Yes you do. Think. Why would he teach this?”

She pursed her lips and thought. After a few moments of silence she said, “I’ve been considering this since class, and the only thing I can come up with is that he really believes it. He really thinks that college is about making money, not getting a great education, and he really thinks that only a few people can really make it in the world. The rest just get jobs. He really believes it.”

The way she said this made me smile. “You say it like you’re shocked. Are you?”

“Yes, Dad, I am. It’s really upsetting. He’s an excellent teacher. He makes me think. He pushes me, makes me want to learn more and be better. But he doesn’t really believe in greatness. He thinks all of us are destined for mediocre lives. Job training in college, not great learning. And no chance of a great career—just paying the bills, hopefully, in some dead-end job.”

I shook my head slowly. “I’m not sure,” I mused aloud. “I think you may have misread one thing.”

“What is it?”

“I think he knows some of you will be hugely successful, but in his experience this requires college. Do you think this could be what he thinks?”

“Maybe,” she pondered. “Maybe. Now that you mention it, I think you’re right. He got really concerned when he saw that anyone might consider not going to college.”

The Important Thing

“Why would he do that?”

“Because…because he thinks college is really important.”

“Is it?”

“Well, the education is. That’s what’s so frustrating. He thinks college is so wonderful, but he doesn’t realize why. He thinks it’s about money or a piece of paper on the wall, but he’s been to college and he frequently complains about how his salary can’t even pay his family’s bills. It’s like a major theme in his class, how he gets paid so little. Now he wants us to follow his example, so we’ll get as much money as him. Which isn’t enough to live on, as he’s said many times. It’s just so confusing. What on earth is he thinking?”

“You tell me,” I said. “What is he thinking. Stop trying to make it consistent in your mind. Just answer the question: What is he thinking?”

She took a deep breath. “Okay. He thinks college will help us make more money in life. Not enough money for all our bills, maybe, but more than if we don’t go to college. He also thinks that entrepreneurship isn’t real, except for a few lucky people—like winning the lottery or a reality TV show. He must not know a bunch of successful entrepreneurs like we do, so he doesn’t see entrepreneurship as the hard work it is, or college as the place to work hard for a fabulous education. That’s what he thinks.”

“Well, maybe he thinks that,” I mused, “and maybe he doesn’t. I bet if you talked more with him he’d clarify a lot of things. But let’s change the subject a little, to the really important question.”

The Real Question

“What question?”

“What do you think?” I asked.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, what do you think about these issues? Is he right?”

“No!” she said, indignantly. “I mean, yes, a college education is a great thing. I think everyone should get a great education, whether in college or out of college. But if the goal is money, be an entrepreneur—even if you’ve done college. Keep working at it, and be one of the successful ones. Make it happen. The same way you would have to keep working and overcome obstacles to become a successful doctor or lawyer.

“But if you want to be a doctor, do it because you love healing people, not just to make money. If you want to be a lawyer, do it to help people, to spread justice, not only for money. If you want to make money, do something that will truly make you a lot of money, like entrepreneurship, and then use it to help improve the world. If you want a great education, get one. It all seems pretty simple to me. But to listen to him, it’s a lot more complicated. And he seems to think none of us kids are up to anything very great.”

“No!” Now it was my turn to be adamant. “You’re not wrong. You are right. It’s not complicated. When you know what you want, when you know your mission in life, go after it. Believe in yourself. Don’t let anyone tell you that you aren’t up to it, that you can’t be one of the success stories. You will be, if you make it happen.

“All you have to do is to choose it, and keep choosing it. If college is part of your path, great. If not, great. But get a truly great education, whatever you do, and if you want to be a successful entrepreneur, or a great teacher, engineer, accountant, doctor, lawyer, dad or mom, or whatever—do it. Find your mission, then live it. And do it for the right reasons. Make sure you remember that your family life will be your greatest source of happiness, whatever else you do.”

The Purpose

I took a breath, then continued, “You are up to it! Don’t let anyone put doubts in your head. And, even when you do have doubts, shake them off and live your dreams anyway.”

We kept discussing for quite a while. It was a good talk. A long talk. It ended with her refocused and re-inspired to great goals, to living her dreams.

I wonder sometimes why it is so hard for parents to help their children and youth realize that they have important dreams for a reason, and that they have the potential to live them.

They really do.

That’s what learning is all about. Anyone who says otherwise doesn’t understand what education is.

I’m grateful for a teacher who challenged my daughter to think, really think about something as important as her purpose in life. I’m glad he shared his views, and I’m glad she asked me to share mine. Mostly, I’m glad she thought about it—instead of just accepting what others told her.

Ultimately, it’s up to her—and every other young person who comes through our homes and families in this generation—to decide their lives. The purpose of education is to equip them to make the best decisions—especially those who want to do great things.

Real Education

A great education helps each person see what great things he or she is capable of, and get started on them. That’s what real education is. Nothing else is really education. Nothing else even comes close.

One of the most important things about the principle of “Inspire” is this: when your kids are told by the world that they can’t measure up, or can’t live their dreams, or shouldn’t even try, or can only succeed by following the conveyor belt, they’ll come to you and ask for your thoughts. If you’ve been a “Require” or an “Ignore” parent, they’re likely to just skip talking to you about such things. But if you’ve been an “Inspire” parent, they’ll want to know what you think, and they’ll trust you enough to ask.

“Inspire” is a principle that just keeps on giving—and it is especially meaningful when something really important comes up.


od crop Parent vs Principal(le): The Weekly Mentor by Oliver DeMille Oliver DeMille is the co-founder of the Center for Social Leadership, and a co-creator of TJEd. He is the NY Times Bestselling co-author of LeaderShift, and author of A Thomas Jefferson Education: Teaching a Generation of Leaders for the 21st Century, The Coming Aristocracy: Education & the Future of Freedom, and FreedomShift: 3 Choices to Reclaim America’s Destiny.

Oliver is dedicated to promoting freedom through Leadership Education. He and his wife Rachel are raising their eight children in Cedar City, Utah.

About the Author:

Rachel is the co-author of Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning and the audio series Core and Love of Learning: A Recipe for Success, and the author of the award-winning educational resource, This Week in History. She is an accomplished musician, writer, literary editor, public speaker, consultant and momschool organizer.


  1. Esther Ward April 4, 2014 at 8:35 am - Reply

    You left something out…FEAR. Too many of us are afraid to pursue greatness because of fear: fear we’ll fail, fear we’ll look stupid (or crazy), fear we won’t make enough to pay our bills, etc.

  2. Matthew Penny April 4, 2014 at 8:52 am - Reply

    This article was just the inspiration I needed today. I am a teacher and I have always felt a connection to this kind of education. I am struggling to overcome the experience I have had in my own education and see how to gain and help facilitate great education. I have been inspired by everything that I have read and heard from TJED and I hope to be able to emulate it in my own life and practice.

    Thank you for your inspiring words.

  3. Wendy Crockett April 4, 2014 at 10:50 am - Reply

    Dear Oliver,

    This is a very “inspiring” story! You must be so proud of your daughter, and rightly so. You have taught her how to think for herself and challenge other’s ideas that innately don’t seem right to her.

    My 16 year old step-daughter truly loves helping people and has decided she wants to become a nurse. She knows college will be required in order to have a shot at it, but I’m so proud she is choosing this field because of her heart, not her potential pocketbook.

    Now on the other hand, her 18 year old boyfriend who has proven to be an amazingly respectful and intelligent young adult, knows that college is NOT for him. He does not learn well in the “require” setting and has already taken on several jobs since his youth where he has had to be the “entrepreneur” of sorts…namely telemarketing, as well as over-the-counter sales. Interestingly, he too, loves helping others, loves freedom and wants to be able to provide a very secure future for himself and his future family. He knows that entrepreneurship is the only path that will provide what he is looking for. He is a voracious reader and loves self-education. He has learned/gained more knowledge from books than he has from school.

    He admittedly told us he feels the pressure from teachers (he’s a Senior in high school) that going to school, getting good grades and securing a ‘good job’ is the way to go. Yet, he’s smart enough to know not to buy into that way of thinking as it is not for him. Oh, it may be for others, like my step-daughter, but it is not for him.

    I think to myself, “What if all the children weren’t as confident in knowing their passions and what they wanted in the future as he is? What if they all bought into the fallacy that entrepreneurial-ism doesn’t work? What if they all acted like drones and just followed the path they are being taught in school?” Quite honestly? We are seeing the effects in our country of that very sort of indoctrination.

    You know, I’m proud of both my step-daughter and her boyfriend. They each know what they need to do (college or not) based on what they are passionate about, not based on what’s going to pay the bills. What’s the old adage? Something like, “Do the work you have to and you’ll make a living. Do the work you love and you’ll make a life!” The country and the world needs both types of people, one’s like my step-daughter and ones like her boyfriend. But for the teachers to imply that everyone should follow the path of conveyor belt education is preposterous. One size does not fit all.

    Thank you, Oliver, for all your efforts in educating thousands upon thousands, if not more, through your Classics approach. I have learned so much by reading your books, A Thomas Jefferson Education, FreedomShift, LeaderShift and A Coming Aristocracy. I am about to start your book, We Hold These Truths to Be Self-Evident, as I have heard such resounding acclaim for it.

    May God continue to bless you, Rachel, your family and your efforts to wake-up the sleepers who continue to think the path we are following is “just fine”. It’s not fine. It’s not a Republican or Democrat issues, it’s a FREEDOM issue!

    Thanks for “listening.” 🙂

  4. Todd April 4, 2014 at 12:28 pm - Reply

    Hi Oliver,

    We have been studying the TJEd approach for a while now.

    Would you share what public school class your daughter is taking and how the fits in to your overall strategy or approach, which in my understanding is a homeschool-based?

    Thanks much!

    • Rachel DeMille April 4, 2014 at 3:44 pm - Reply

      Actually, Todd, there are many cooperative, private and charter schools that are employing principles of TJEd, and, as you say, many homeschooling families as well. My interest is not in telling a particular family or student what is best for them, but in urging everyone to challenge their unexamined assumptions, find worthy mentors, and use the 7 Keys of Great Teaching to pursue a path of excellence. And by the way, my daughter is in a cappella choir at our local high school with a FABULOUS mentor.

  5. Jazel Thomas April 4, 2014 at 1:46 pm - Reply

    I’ve often run into the “drilling” of children in class rooms, over the subject of education & money. Even children as young as 5:(
    One theme I’ve noticed is the heart felt pain of broken dreams, the teachers also share. Many teachers didn’t get the support they needed to make their dreams come true; they were told to dream big, that they could do anything, but were not given the tools to reach those goals. So why encourage children today, to reach up and make them selves great? Its much easier, and less painful, to continue to feed them whats on the conveyor belt…
    The only thing I can think of to fix this problem, is to give each teacher a good friend/mentor, and have them read some classics!

  6. Karina April 4, 2014 at 2:36 pm - Reply

    I’ve been struggling with allowing my son to pursue a goal that I consider to be a dead end. Not only a dead end but a waste of time. In the depths of my heart I feel that he can learn this lesson on his own, but I am afraid of all the time that will be “wasted” getting there. Why is parenting so hard?! Of course we only say that when we’re going against what we know to be right.

    Grateful for this article. Thanks!!

  7. Michele April 9, 2014 at 7:12 am - Reply

    I am reading a book by Chris Brady called “PAiLS”. The entire premise of the book is to define our great purpose in life and then to work backwards to decide what experiences and education are required to fulfill that purpose. To build our foundation based not on income or security alone, but rather to acknowledge that we all require an income to provide our needs but should be fulfilling our purpose whatever that might be. This concept is so foreign to most people. We have already begun the process with our eight year old and will continue to ask questions and evaluate gifts and talents in the hopes that she will not waste years and money in the pursuit of things that will not bring fulfillment.

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