Why do I have to learn math? Why do I have to practice scales? Why do I have to work with her?

If you have been a teacher or a parent these are probably questions you have heard. If you have been a student these are probably questions (even if you don’’t want to admit it) you have asked.

Since 2009 Cooperativas Escolares has helped students find immediate answers to such queries. They have supported the development of twelve youth run cooperatives. In schools throughout Chile, students from ages ten to eighteen come together, generate, market and sell products.

This means that kids who might find it hard to stay awake through algebra can engage in the real-world, hand-on task of managing accounts for a bakery. An eleven year old who might have sulked at working through the major and minor scale can get some immediate gratification for the work: performing in paid concerts. And, perhaps most importantly, all students learn the benefits of working in teams and being good team members.

For many youth, the experience of going to school is disempowering: people tell you where to go and what to do. Adults control everything. In the Cooperativas Escolares model, coop members do have a teacher acting as manager, but the role is to support and advise, not direct and discipline, and youth members audit the adults. Through such channels students maintain control of the cooperative.

What the coops produce, music, food, a library, a school supplies kiosk, is less important than the life lessons the students gain. Beyond business knowledge, students learn about participation in a community. Earnings from the cooperatives are reinvested both in the business and in the school. Thus students engage in development of their own education.

Who knows? With this structure —students using practical knowledge and conceiving of themselves as funders and business people—maybe teachers and parents will hear statements instead of questions: I want to learn more math; I want to practice my scales; I want to work with her.