Photograph Courtesy of KIPP Houston Art School

We came across the photo above when updating our "About Education" section, and it brought back such fond memories. You may be thinking, "What? Are they calling those students guinea pigs???" Well, actually, yes. And before you think ill of us, please know that we use the term with great affection, deep gratitude, and utmost respect. And, these eight amazing seniors from the Class of 2010 know that's our nickname for them because ...


We started calling them our "Guinea Pigs" as soon as they volunteered to help us develop our Red & Black Personal Finance and Life 101 program at KIPP Houston High School. It was important they knew this was truly an "experiment" as neither one of us were teachers or financial experts.

It all started at our first speaking engagement, when during Q&A a woman asked why the topics in our book weren't taught in school. The next thing we knew we were sitting in the office of Bryan Contreras, Director of KIPP Through College, and being asked to not only develop, but teach, a semester long course to their high school seniors, during their spring semester. (Yes, the months right before they graduate.) While Red looked like a deer in headlights (we barely considered ourselves authors, yet alone teachers) Black responded as she often does, with a simple:

Sure, not a problem.

While Red went home to carpool and baking cookies, Black did what she does best – use her corporate and business experience to tackle the challenge. So, she requested a "task force" of seniors to help us develop the curriculum because, as she put it:

If it is not relevant, why bother? And, who knows best what is relevant to high school seniors? High school seniors.

Black introduced them to the business concept of a working lunch (which might also be considered a pizza bribe), and we met for five Fridays. We gave them a list of select book excerpts they'd be expected to read each week so we could then discuss what they thought should be included in the curriculum. That first week, they seemed motivated to help – but we weren't sure what to expect.

They came back excited and totally committed, with two of them having read the entire book and the rest having read much more than the assigned excerpts. Luckily, Red had been a straight-A, copious note taking student, although she could barely keep up with their comments and feedback, and conversations among themselves generated by the conversations in our book. You could see their interest in personal finance (and many other Life 101 topics) was strong and genuine, and they explained that learning from the mistakes of others was extremely powerful. One student, after prefacing his comment with apologies, stated:

When I grow up, I don't want to be Red.

We'll always be indebted to our Guinea Pigs for their enthusiasm and suggestions, as using our book as the textbook was their idea, not ours. And through their feedback of the book and the lessons they were already learning from it, which began at those pizza lunches, the answer to how best to "teach" a Red & Black class was obvious to them. It was as simple as a book club. For us, it took a little longer to come to that realization as we were hampered by our own preconceived notions of how lessons are taught in a classroom. So, although the initial intent may have been for us to be the teachers, and them to be the stduents ... we learned from each other.

P.S. – For those of you interested in a more "educational" look at our detour into the world of education, including "feedback" (student quotes, Black's "non-scientific" surveys and KIPP press releases) from our two spring semesters when we "taught" at KIPP Houston High School, please check out "It Started With A Question … It Started At KIPP".


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