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Greed 101

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Michael Learmonth

It's never too early to start teaching the fine art of money grubbing

By Michael Learmonth

Mrs. Stockton glowers over the tops of her half-glasses at the 25 young wage slaves before her. She's a tough CEO, a regular money-grubbing capitalist who pays her little workers minimum wage and then sends them out to fend for themselves in the hideously cruel world of Silicon Valley. Sympathy? Compassion? There's none of that here. And if there was, the kids would certainly have to pay for it.

"I tell them to think greed," she says of the 11- to 14-year-olds before her, without a lick of embarassment. "And they get good at it."

Linda Stockton is a veteran language arts teacher at Davis Intermediate School in south San Jose. But in the summer, she becomes dean of the School of Hard Knocks, teaching money-management skills to kids at West Valley College's summer school program, "College for Kids."

The class, "Kids and Money," is one of the most popular summer school classes offered in the two-session, six-week program. Other offerings include standards such as "Great Books" and "Enhanced Math," and the less traditional "Shakespeare Without Fear" and "Kartooning 4 Kidz."

The rules in Mrs. Stockton's class couldn't be simpler. There is no favoritism, no bonus points for effort, and a Granny Smith left on her desk means nothing, unless she can be convinced to pay a lot of money for it. Every student gets a faux minimum-wage paycheck--$228 a week--just for showing up. Each day of the three-week session represents a work week. On top of that, Mrs. Stockton lends each student $1,000 in play money, which they must pay back to her at the end of the session. The goal is to successfully move out of mom and dad's house and finish the class with the most money.

Along the way, through her assignments, Mrs. Stockton allows her students ample opportunities to make more money. Alexxis Harris and Kelly Ju, both 12, are designing their own 1,200-square-foot, two-bedroom apartment. For their effort, they'll be paid $300.

"Everything they do in here is worth money," Stockton says. "What they're learning is that their time is worth something."

Today Mrs. Stockton broke the news to her students that their apartments will cost $950 a month for a two-bedroom and $650 for a studio. She's decided to give that a night to sink in before telling them about security deposits and first and last month's rent.

Mrs. Stockton says it's the kind of training that college-bound kids like these don't necessarily get in school.

"These kids don't get to take electives, so they don't get this kind of stuff," she says, "and a lot of them are from Saratoga and are spoiled as far as learning the cost of living."

David Hedayati, 12, and his brother Daniel, 10, missed class yesterday and thus missed a week's paycheck. "There is no sick leave," Stockton says. But that's just the beginning of the Hedayati boys' troubles. In yesterday's session Mrs. Stockon explained the stock market, and the class invested their $1,000 loans.

The Hedayatis will have to pay for the time of one of their classmates to get up to speed.

Stockton barks, "Who, for $100, wants to teach David and Daniel how to buy stocks?"

Phillip Chang, 13, volunteers, then argues his fee should be $200 because he's consulting for two people.

"You should look for stocks that are closer to their low," he explains. As an investor, Chang likes to look for startups and undervalued companies. While some of his classmates loaded up on Yahoo and Amazon.com--and actually made a pretty penny--Chang bought 300 shares of Larson-Davis Inc., 660 shares of ErgoBilt Inc. and 20 shares of Emulex Corp.

"Yahoo's, like, the best, but I don't want to be like everybody else," he says. "I like to buy stocks that no one buys."

Chang's trying to get his dad to give him 1,000 real clams to play the market. "He said, 'I'll think about it.' "

Inevitably, like some stocks, some students underperform. If anyone--God forbid--has to go on welfare, Mrs. Stockton subtracts an extra $20 a week from everyone else's paycheck to pay their way, "because that's how it is in life," she says.

It takes some time to learn the ropes of Mrs. Stockton's capitalist microcosm, but once they learn, the kids start sticking it to The Man. Mrs. Stockton knew her message was getting across when she asked, "Will you pass this out?" and the student replied, "What do I get?"

"I tell them that's good," she says. "This is a job, and they don't want to do it for free. Think greed--their time is worth money!"

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From the August 13-19, 1998 issue of Metro.

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