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What We Teach

How we teach Voluntary Exchange in YE

In Youth Entrepreneurs, students explore 10 key economic principles. Of the 10, four are called “Market Measures.” The four Market Measures are Personal Choice, Voluntary Exchange, Freedom to Enter and Compete and Rule of Law. We’re taking a look at how students learn each one, focusing now on Voluntary Exchange. 

“Voluntary Exchange means that trade is made to be a win-win,” says Marlon Jones, Youth Entrepreneurs Area Manager in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. “The starting place with Voluntary Exchange in YE is the idea of empowering students to understand ownership,” he explains. “With ownership in place, then we are free to trade whatever belongs to us, in a way that will ultimately add value for someone else and, at the same time, add value for ourselves.”

“When I think about Voluntary Exchange in the context of YE, and how we teach it, what lies underneath this idea is the concept of personal property rights. Having an understanding of personal property rights is what makes Voluntary Exchange possible. Without that understanding, Voluntary Exchange isn’t able to happen.”

The YE curriculum features a number of activities to show students the importance of Voluntary Exchange. But in order for students to truly grasp the concept, educators need to integrate it into the classroom culture, Marlon says. “Voluntary Exchange comes to life when there is a mental model change within the teachers we are working with. This paradigm shift influences how educators approach teaching in general, and it begins to impact the way they instruct their students.”

“Voluntary Exchange is the idea that if I don’t want to participate in a transaction, I don’t have to,” Marlon says. “With much of what takes place in traditional classrooms, you don’t have a choice in the matter. So Voluntary Exchange comes to life when even participating in classroom activities is a student’s choice.” 

Now, those choices come with consequences, Marlon adds, and some are good and some are bad. “But it helps students to realize that they have a choice; they understand the power that they do have.”

Students get to explore Voluntary Exchange hands-on through the PIT game, a game designed to simulate a commodity market. Students are challenged to create a set of cards with like numbers. The game is played throughout the year. “Students become very savvy at the game as the year goes on,” Marlon says. “You can see them forming partnerships, using YE dollars to purchase cards. They become very creative as they begin to understand how to leverage the power of Voluntary Exchange.”

The Exchange Game is also a dynamic experience for students to learn Voluntary Exchange. “In the Exchange Game, students are given brown paper bags with a variety of items in them,” Marlon says. The bags can include things like candy and snacks, as well as dollar-store trinkets and other items. “Students take the contents out of their bag and then gauge levels of satisfaction. This is the power of subjective value. Then, Voluntary Exchange enters in when students can trade, first in specific areas of the classroom and then in the whole room. Students are able to see the general satisfaction of the whole room increase. This is a very powerful way of articulating what Voluntary Exchange looks like in the real world.”

“Whether you’re an entrepreneur in the narrow sense of owning a business, or you embrace the wider understanding of entrepreneurs as people who add value, Voluntary Exchange is central,” Marlon says. “Students learn that trading is a voluntary action based on what someone values. So as an entrepreneur, students learn that to satisfy customers, they have to meet their needs.”  

Voluntary Exchange teaches students that one person’s gain does not always mean someone else’s loss. “Voluntary Exchange helps students to see that their success doesn’t have to mean someone else’s demise,” Marlon says. “There isn’t always a defined winner and defined loser. Voluntary Exchange helps erase that negative pattern of thought. Students learn that they can get what they desire by helping someone else.”

Finally, Marlon says, Voluntary Exchange removes a sense of entitlement. “That’s not the real world. In the real world, we don’t all get medals just for participation. If you want to be successful, you need to understand what it looks like to add value to the lives of others — and it enriches your experiences, too.”

Explore how YE students learn other crucial concepts, like our Foundational Values.