Billionaire activists Charles and David Koch have financed and participated in the making of programs designed to steer high-school students in Georgia, Kansas, and Missouri toward embracing conservative business principles, the Huffington Post reported on Wednesday.
The programs are administered through Youth Enterprises, which was founded by Charles and Elizabeth Koch in 1991 and has been funded by foundations connected to the two Kansas natives. The organization reported assets of more than $1.45 million as recently as 2012.
According to the Post, the program was conceived in 1989 as a way to lead participants toward becoming “liberty-advancing agents” while still in high school, before they could learn “harmful” progressive concepts after enrolling in college.
Lesson plans involved in the course reportedly advocate a lack of government regulation over the business sector, while opposing both the minimum wage and public assistance programs.
“We are operating under the assumption that high-school students do not receive an education that gives them an understanding and an affinity toward free markets,” one plan, dated Jan. 21, 2010, stated. “Without the knowledge or affinity for free markets, students cannot appreciate the role that free markets play in laying the foundations for prosperity and freedom in society.”
Charles Koch allegedly took part in the design of the “free market and liberty-based course,” which was tested in 1990 at Wichita Collegiate School, a private institution to which he frequently donated. The team of associates from his foundation also reportedly dubbed itself the “Wu-Teach Clan,” with members adopting nicknames like “Big Gay Mule,” “Mighty Killer,” “Erratic Assassin,” and “Ol’ Mucky Terrahawk,” among others.
The class has since been taught at 29 schools in Kansas and Missouri during the 2012-13 school year, with another 13 expected to offer it during the 2013-14 year. Another 10 schools in Georgia offered the class during the 2011-12 school year.
The Kochs’ operatives also recruited teachers for the program from libertarian groups to which their foundations donated, such as the Institute for Humane Studies, while also searching for younger instructors they felt could connect with students.
One instructor, Taylor Davis, who teaches the course at Highland Park High in Topeka, said he trained during a 20-hour course in a Koch Industries “basement” in 2012, during which he was provided “all the handouts that you would need,” along with binders of lesson plans, and flash drives containing worksheets and quizzes.
“You see students who are C or D level who are so bright and the traditional school system isn’t working for them,” Davis said of the program. “The idea that your actions and creativity could make you money right out of high school was a very sophisticated idea [for them] to latch onto.”
Besides offering online supplemental materials, the program also uses videos produced by Learn Liberty, part of the Institute for Human Studies, a George Mason University organization chaired by Charles Koch. One video that Davis showed during his course argued against price-gouging laws, while another denied the existence of a pay gap between men and women, arguing that women tend to earn less because of “differences in the choices that men and women make.”
Young Enterprises’ director of curriculum and teacher support, Vernon Birmingham, denied to the Post that the course is partisan in nature.
“We don’t try to push or drive ideology,” he was quoted as saying. “From an entrepreneurial standpoint, we’re big on free markets, of course. We’re big on voluntary trade. We’re big on property rights. All of those things align with [the Kochs’] thoughts. Those are things that most entrepreneurs believe in.”