Some also believe the plan — described as an 11-week, credit-bearing program intended to pair about 60 inner-city students with access to entry-level, after-school jobs in suburban stores — does nothing more than funnel cheap labor to the corporation and plant underprivileged youth in dead-end jobs.
Unidentified students from one of the schools, Frederick Douglass Academy, wrote of their outrage on a teacher-posted Web site:
"We the students of Frederick Douglass Academy are not going to accept the attack on our education! Allowing Walmart to come into our school, set up elective ‘classes,’ and the (sic) offer 30 Walmart jobs, is an insult. … The Frederick Douglass Affirmation proudly states ‘We are determined to get the root of success, not just the fruit of success.’ When we decided to come to this school, we were deciding to make our dreams and aspirations a reality. We came here to learn and grow. We wanted our lives to have meaning, and we were going to be somebody. Frederick Douglass Academy was built to create leaders. Its purpose is to give students the opportunity to get a real education and get into schools like U of M. Frederick Douglass Academy is a beacon of hope for many Detroiters. We cannot let our hopes be trampled. We deserve MUCH more than Walmart.”
As I read the statement I was livid: “What have they done to deserve anything?” I railed. “These kids are leaving school thinking the world owes them their dreams. The world owes them nothing. It was here first.”
But the more I thought about it, the more I realized I was only against the hubris of youth and their perception of the situation, not their position on the situation.
I don’t shop at Walmart for reasons that include my opinions of its history and its employment practices. But I have to admit the reasons also include unpleasant shopping experiences, such as dirty stores, long lines and poor customer service.
On the whole, I would agree with the students that being trained to stock shelves at Walmart isn’t what anyone should call education. Nor is it appropriate for such a course to be on the taxpayers’ dime.
When students graduate completely unprepared for higher education, Walmart will train them anyway. And they should train their employees on their own dime.
Learning how to be a cashier at Walmart isn't the same thing as learning how the supply chain works in the retail industry.
Had this plan included other retailers and various industries, I might not be as inclined to object. Students may get their first work experience in the stockrooms, perhaps, but if we want to call it an education they should also be in the board rooms and the buying rooms as well. They should meet the deal makers. They should see exactly what goes into buying and selling an entire spectrum of products from the high-end to the dirt cheap.
And yet, as I read the students’ words about hopes and dreams and aspirations I couldn’t help but think that they’ve missed an important understanding of success. Schools don't create leaders, leaders create themselves. The students have to find their own way.
The “root of success” is rhetoric concerning an ethos of stability and perseverance, which requires a network of small, unseen fibers to support a larger structure. No single experience should topple that structure. What these children are plucking from education is bitter fruit. There should be no shame in starting at the bottom. There is no shame in honest work.
If these deserving scholars really believe the people who work in Walmart are nobodies, what they still have to learn only life can teach them.
The world IS their oyster.
But they must come to understand what that metaphor's message really means: An oyster that opens on its own isn’t worth eating.
Without the right tools -- without a work ethic, without usable experience, without some real understanding of how society actually works as opposed to how we think it should work – we’d never be able to claw our way into that oyster, we’d just throw it away.
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