Poor Kids Deserve A Shot Too
"Hey listen up! Whoever ordered their books from me last week, come and get them quickly before class begins", I yelled at the top of my lungs.
I had to yell. That lecture hall was full of first year statistics students who were having a hundred simultaneous conversations. I dropped my big box of freshly printed textbooks on one of the desks somewhere in the middle of the room and I made sure everyone not only heard me yelling but that they also heard the loud thud of the big box being intentionally dropped on that wooden desk.
All of a sudden, I had the entire room's attention for a few seconds and since I knew the professor was about to walk in any minute, I got right down to it.
"I got your textbooks here, the ones who ordered them, come get them, you know who you are. I printed a few extra ones in case anyone else is interested. Just so you all know, if you bought your Statistics textbook at the library you can return it within 30 days and get your money back. This right here, is an exact copy of that textbook, except it's all black and white. If you care about pretty colored pictures in your books, then maybe university is not your thing kids. The good news it's only $30 instead of $125. Tax included of course. Unfortunately I only made a few extra copies but if you want one come give me your name and phone number and if you pay in advance you'll be at the top of the list for next week's drop."
This was stupid and illegal of course. I was literally copying books at a print shop downtown Toronto and I would sell them back to the students on my campus for a sweet profit. Everyone and their mother knew it and they absolutely loved me for it. I used to save them loads of previous cash. I used to walk into most of my classes and I'd see my colored textbooks on most desks. I mean you had to be stupid to pay 4-5 times more for a textbook you were only going to use once.
Once A Hustler ...
I was in my second year at the University of Toronto and it was just after we had returned from our first trip back to Romania. I had spent most of my money on that trip and I was pretty angry at the system that literally abused young naive students of their incredibly precious little money. The previous year I had paid $900 for all my textbooks in year one of my Computer Science program at U of T. I mean my first car cost $1300 and that was a car I bought together with my brother. And so imagine what $900 meant to me. And it wasn't like I could ask my parents for that kind of money. God bless them - they were not in a position to pay for my school and I am forever grateful for that. Because I was forced to learn to survive.
And oh boy, did I survive those days. Those instincts I had developed growing up in that refuge camp, and in many other similar situations growing up, all of a sudden started flooding my mind and I just started going for it man. I made cash during the weekends as a waiter and I used to use some of that money to make more money.
I had devised a plan find a local print shop downtown Toronto who would copy any book I'd give them at three cents a page and would reprint subsequent copies at a cent per page. And it worked. The highest margin textbooks were the ones starting at a couple of hundred pages and up because they usually went for over a hundred bucks at the library and it would cost me about twenty bucks to make them. Cover and binding included. I not only printed all my textbooks for years two, three and four but I printed them for all my friends and for their friends and for everyone else in school who had a brain. I used to have it all color coded and I would call my awesome old asian lady who ran the print shop and all I had to say was "30 more of the red ones please and 25 blue ones. I'll pick them up tomorrow."
I felt like a secret spy giving coded messages over my fancy Nokia 3310. If you haven't held a Nokia 3310 in your teenage hands during the 90s, you haven't lived, my privileged millennial friends. Let's say the word "snake" for you means - well - snake probably. For us 90s kids, to this day, "snake" means a brand new world of opportunities. Meaning not that I ended up a snake oil salesmen, although that would've been an option. No, meaning that technology showed me a world beyond my wildest dreams. It's like it opened up my mind to a million "what ifs". More on this a bit later on in this story.
Raging Against The Educational System
I'm not saying what I did was pretty or would I ever advocate for anyone to do anything of the sort. But I tell you this. It's absolutely criminal for schools to charge so much for educating young minds. I desperately wanted to learn everything I could about technology. I understood education would keep me sane but I knew that technology was the stuff my future was to be made of. No, I understood that technology was the stuff everyone's future was to be made of. And I wanted to rock at it. But it was expensive. And boring. But mostly expensive. And boring.
Schools used to be about education - duh - but somewhere during the 20th century, they mutated into Big Business. Nothing wrong with business. Except when the so-called-customers are poor immigrant kids who just want the opportunity to learn valuable skills that would enable them to add value to society and feed their families one day. I mean, $900 for a bunch of books - some of which were not even used? Yeah, you know what I'm talking about if you went through that. You were supposed to pay another $15 or $20 for the professor's own little personal unpublished textbook they scrapped together and they would use that to teach the course. Oh yeah. Hey, at least my textbooks had better covers than theirs.
First year statistics was amazing. Everyone hated that course but the ones that had to take it - well, had to take it. I didn't. I was in the Software Engineering stream. But that didn't stop me from pretending that I did. And it didn't stop me from lying about the fact that I had previous orders on those text books. That's right. When I dropped that big box on that wooden desk and got the entire room's attention, I knew perfectly well no one knew who I was and no one had ever spoken to me before, let alone order illegal textbooks from me. But they didn't know that. And they fell for it. I made a killing. Selling every single book in a matter of minutes. They were begging me to take their $30 on the spot just to make sure they get a book the following week.
"Alright, alright. I guess I can print another batch. Oh, what I wouldn't do for you guys."
The Educational System Is Setup To Favor The Priviledged
Lying, copying books - which is effectively called stealing, and selling on school property. I did worse things than those. But let's stop right there for now. You get the idea. I never did become a street hustler but it took me years to civilize that hustling beast that was always buried deep inside of me. I felt I could sell anything to anyone, anytime, anywhere. I even sold my "coding services" to other students. I hated school but my code was pretty good. Ok, it was usually so sick that I wanted to simply hug it. My comments were tight, the structure was simply beautiful, it would read like a book. I don't remember not getting an A on a coding assignment. Well, I do remember one time. That's a funny story. I might tell you all about it another time. I'd charge about $100 per assignment and I always guaranteed an A. And I always got it for them.
I didn't end up hustling on the streets of Bucharest in the 80s, nor on the streets of Belgium in the early 90s - but I couldn't help not letting it all out on that U of T campus in the late 90s. Look, I'm not proud of it. In fact, I spent the rest of my career defending artists rights left and right. To this day, I don't ever rip movies off the internet. I rather rent them online or straight out buy them because I know the creative process behind anything is excruciating hard work and creators deserve to get paid. But back then, I was still a raw kid from Bucharest trying to survive in a first world country and there was no manual for that sort of thing.
That was two decades ago. Since then, I've heard stories of parents going into massive debt just to be able to provide a so-called-good-education for their children. And it's usually those families that come from an unprivileged background. See, if you're rich, you can afford stuff and you can afford textbooks that you'll never open. And you can afford to fail courses several times because - hey, daddy will pay for me to take that course as many times as I need to before I pass. But if you're not one of those privileged kids who get a brand new car when they graduate grade eleven in high school - true story at my high school in Toronto and at many high schools in first-world countries I'm sure - then you have to hustle your way through education. You just gotta. It's just not setup for you.
Everyone Deserves An Equal Chance
It's almost as someone somewhere sat on a big fancy victorian high chair and said "Yeah, Dan from Romania - nope, not him. The other kid, you know the fat one from that country, yeah - not him either. Oh - John Fitzgerald Smith The Third - yes sir, step right through - here's a life discount for the rest of your life - to everything." I hear if you're white there's some sort of privilege cow somewhere - I dunno where - but I hear that you can just milk that cow and that beautiful white milk is the stuff easy dreams are made off. Well, I'm still looking for that cow and no - actually not anymore. If any of you find it, let me know, maybe I can get me a fresh jug of that white foamy milk.
No siree, no white foamy milk for this kid from Bucharest. I had to work my Eastern European butt off ever since I can remember. But listen. I want to make sure we're on the same page. I am not belittling the centuries of oppression against so many classes of people out there. But there's one class, called poor Romanian kids, that I guess I'm advocating for and there's nothing anyone anywhere can say or argue about - Romania is the poorest country in Europe and yes it's made of mostly white POOR people. Poor being the operative word. Here's what I'm saying my friends. I'm saying that I believe in privilege - yes. But I think that the privilege we need to be pointing out is money above all other kinds of privileges. If you're poor, the world is setup against you and you have to work so much harder than those who are not poor and oh - so much harder than the ones who are not only not poor, but they are filthy rich. Be them white, black, blue or short or fat. I don't care.
And I think we all deserve the same chance. Don't get me wrong. I don't advocate for a world of equal outcomes. No, I don't believe in equality of outcome as much as I don't believe in communism - where that kind of mentality was forced upon us, upon our parents and upon generations of poor families who didn't stand a chance. No, I don't believe Universal Basic Income will solve our problems. That's an equality-of-outcome solution and those end up in someone taking over the whole country with a hammer in their right hand a sickle on the other. Millennials - that's a reference to communism. I'm not picking on you. I love you. My wife's a millennial. I know, I'm such a lucky Gen X-er.
But I digress. Listen, there's nothing wrong with having money, but if you didn't earn it - I don't respect that. Who am I to disrespect your unearned money? I'm a nobody. But trust you me - no one respects someone who hasn't worked hard for their money. We're just afraid to tell you that most of the times. I'm not afraid anymore. I'm gonna say it and I don't care if you get offended. You need to work. Work hard. And everyone should get a chance at working hard for their money. That's what I call equality of opportunity. Everyone should get their fair shot at working hard to make something of themselves in this life and it all starts with a fair shot at education.
The Future Of Education Should Be Open To Everyone
The way I envision the future of education is radically different than the present and the past. I see a world where we don't speak of color or race or any of that stuff, but rather of equality of opportunity and of pure competence and hard work. This is what the Carmel Dream is all about. Building an Educational System that's completely out of anyone's reach in terms of controlling it and owning it and dominating it. A system that can't be hacked, tricked or rigged. An incorruptible system. Where poor kids from Romania and poor kids from Africa and hey, poor kids from America and France, and Italy and - I don't know about the Canadians - ok fine - we'll let them in too. Definitely not the Swiss. There's no poor kids there. Alright, fine, we'll let the Swiss in too. A system that welcomes anyone who wants a fair shot at quality education in a technological world that's so far away removed from that Nokia 3310 I was sporting during my campus hustling days.
This is what Carmel stands for. This is why I want to spend the rest of my life dedicated to it. It's more than a product or a business. It's almost as if we have have the opportunity - through Blockchain Technology - to create something that resembles more of a country than a startup. A digital community let's call it - where anyone hungry enough to make it - will make it. And where no one can pull out their rich privileged card because we won't have those kind of card readers built into Carmel. But I'll tell you what kind of readers we will build into it. And they are already in. Mind readers. Settle down, that's just a stupid joke. Maybe in a few years. But for now, Carmel is built on Heart Readers.
I absolutely don't care how cheesy that sounds. I'm after people who go all in - heart first. Because it's those people that I want to lead this world of ours and it is those people that will go all heart and no fluff, that should be the ones that get the opportunity to become true leaders. Imagine what kind of world this would've been if the ones who deserved to lead us where actually the ones who did lead us - but somewhere along the lines maybe they were too poor and too tired to hustle their way through an educational system setup for the privileged that they simply just gave up and ended up anonymous - just living - just surviving - somewhere.
Carmel is for you my anonymous, unprivileged future leaders. You - the big hearted ones - you the crazy hard working ones - you the ones who deserve it the most. I invite all of those who believe this to join us and to build Carmel into a universe that is 100% ours and ours to shape, form and mold. Come and see what we've been working on and get involved. Make it yours. Make Carmel yours. It's time everyone got the quality education they deserve and it's time one of you invent the next Nokia 3310 of the 21st century.
Or at least learn to code for it.