SAN FRANCISCO – School officials in Palo Alto are reconsidering their use of a popular speaker for an annual career day after he advised middle school students that they could earn a good living as strip dancers.
William Fried (search) told eighth-graders at Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School (search) that stripping and exotic dancing could be lucrative career moves for girls, offering as much as $250,000 or more per year, depending on their bust size.
"It's sick, but it's true," Fried, president of Foster City's Precision Selling (search), a management consulting firm, told The Associated Press. "The truth of the matter is you can earn a tremendous amount of money as an exotic dancer, if that's your desire."
The school has asked Fried to give his 55-minute presentation, "The Secret of a Happy Life," for the past three years.
A tip sheet he distributes to students includes a list of 140 potential careers and areas of interest they can consider pursuing. Along with professions as accounting and nursing, the list offers such nontraditional suggestions as exotic dancing, stripping and acting as a spiritual medium.
He counsels students to experiment with a variety of interests until they discover their "life's purpose," something they love and excel in. The presentation and handout have been praised by students, school principal Joseph Di Salvo and others said.
Fried's presentation "helped me realize that my career choice should not be influenced by money," one student wrote in a thank-you letter. "It should be influenced by what we like and are good at."
But on Tuesday, some students asked Fried to expand on why he included "exotic dancing" on the list.
Fried spent about a minute answering questions, defining strippers and exotic dancers synonymously. He told students, "For every two inches up there, you should get another $50,000 on your salary," student Jason Garcia, 14, said.
"A couple of students egged him and he took it hook, line and sinker," said Di Salvo, who also said the students took advantage of a substitute teacher overseeing the session.
Di Salvo heard about the exchange when the mother of a student called him the next morning. She said she was outraged when her son announced that he was forgoing college for a career in a field he truly loves — fishing — and said she found Fried's handout even more disconcerting.
Di Salvo, who has since heard from another parent, said Fried's overall presentation is a positive one. The mention of exotic dancing and Fried's off-the-cuff remarks, however, have prompted him to consider barring the speaker from next year's career day.
The principal said he would send letters of apology home with students.
"It's totally inappropriate," Di Salvo said. "It's not OK by me. I would want my presenters to kind of understand that coming into a career day for eighth-graders."
School board member Mandy Lowell didn't expect Fried's comment to cause lasting damage but said the speaker didn't adhere to the message of achievement the district is trying to promote.
"I don't think that your natural or implant-inflated bust size is what our schools aim to nurture," she said. "My aspiration is not to have children in this district become exotic dancers."
District superintendent Mary Frances Callan did not immediately return two telephone calls seeking comment.
Despite the uproar, many students said Fried was the most inspiring speaker in a lineup that included a pilot, an attorney, a classical pianist and a journalist.
"He really focused on finding what you really love to do," said Mariah Cannon, 13.
Cannon also said she wouldn't want exotic dancing taken off Fried's list. Although parents might find it hard to hear, it's a legitimate career choice, she said.
Student Tom Marks, 13, said he found some of Fried's comments "weird and unnecessary" but still thinks he should return next year.
"I don't think he should have gone into all the details," he said. "I just got upset that he talked about it so much."
Fried, 64, said he does not think he offended anyone.
"Eighth-grade kids are not dumb," he said. "They are pretty worldly."