Wednesday, August 24, 2005

COLUMN* -- Is Wal-Mart boycott really in best interests of children?

Posted by Craig Westover | 1:14 PM |  

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The Minneapolis and St. Paul federations of teachers, with unquestioned loyalty to the National Education Association, are urging their members not to purchase back-to-school supplies at Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart, they say, has unfair labor practices, pays substandard wages and has a high percentage of workers without health insurance.

"This is the beginning of a much more in-depth education program, in which we tell our members why and what Wal-Mart does — not just to small towns, but to workers," said Louise Sundin, Minneapolis Federation of Teachers president.

Education and labor leaders also have urged Wisconsin parents to cross Wal-Mart off their back-to-school lists.

"We've been told you get what you pay for," labor leader John Goldstein is quoted as saying on the Wisconsin Education Association Council Web site. "Wal-Mart's low prices get us exploited children, high taxes, lost jobs and destroyed communities."

Friends, Minnesotans and Wisconsinites, lend your ears to Sundin and Goldstein, honorable people with naught but your children's welfare as their concern.

To find employees for its sweat-shop archipelago, Wal-Mart exploits the illiterate poor too ignorant to realize that even perpetual unemployment promises a better life than the work experience of stocking shelves with boxes of 25-cent crayons. It is an honorable effort of the teachers unions, coming not to praise Wal-Mart for creating jobs, but to bury it.

Do not let mere common sense suggest that the teachers unions doth protest too much. Do not imagine that there might be more to the NEA's indignant display of disgust at Wal-Mart than an honest solidarity with the proletariat.

Listen not to people like Elizabeth Mische of the St. Paul-based Partnership for Choice in Education. Mische suggests it should not be discounted that the NEA "abhors the Walton family's support of scholarship programs and school choice for low-income families."

So what if the NEA declares itself a participant in the national "Wake-Up Wal-Mart" effort to illuminate, among other Wal-Mart evils, "the anti-public education activities of founder Sam Walton's family."

Wal-Mart heir John Walton, who died in June in an experimental aircraft crash, led the Walton clan in supporting nongovernmental schools, including Christian schools.

"John Walton's recent death seems, perversely, to have energized the unions' attacks on all who buck the status quo," says education insurgent Mische.

The Walton crime? In 1998, John Walton co-founded the Children's Scholarship Fund to provide tuition assistance for low-income families. The fund has removed about 67,000 students nationwide from public schools. Annually, through the KidsFirst Scholarship Fund, approximately 1,500 children from low-income families in the Twin Cities are lured by Walton money to schools chosen by their parents.

Of course, that show of generosity and concern for the education of children from low-income families is but camouflage for the Walton family's primary objective of destroying public education. So say the teachers unions, which, lest we forget, are honorable groups.

What legacy did John Walton leave to Wal-Mart that could counter such compelling criticism? He came to his dedication to America's kids through belief that improving education could have the broadest impact on the most pressing problems. "All the challenges we face as a nation have the roots of their solutions in good education for all of our kids," he said. "The question is, how do you help kids across our country without regard to their family circumstances?"

He saw education in a visionary context. "The people on the receiving end have absolutely no influence," he noted. "The money in education comes from the top, filters its way down, and various interest groups and factions pull off their share into what they think is important. The customers at the bottom just take what they're given. The best way to empower schoolchildren and parents is to let them direct the money."

He considered public schools to be the foundation of equality in the United States, and contributed millions to public education. He started a Teacher of the Year award to encourage outstanding classroom teachers. It was not teachers, but the system, that was broken. He thought even the teachers union could be persuaded to see the reality of that. He told a friend, "Surely we can all agree to do what is best for the children."

Is that the stuff of public education destruction? Is expansion of educational opportunity an evil greatly to be feared? The teachers unions tell us that is so. And the teachers unions are honorable organizations.

Update: Here's Exhibit A for why school choice is necessary. From my email --
I could not disagree more with your views on teachers encouraging a boycott of Walmart. Would you prefer that children be taught by people who have no interest in issues such as fair labor practices, exploitation of foreign workers, and the Walmart-ization of small towns? I would hope that NONE of my students EVER work at Walmart. I have never shopped at Walmart and I never will. And given the current anti-democratic "big brother" atmosphere the neo-cons have foisted upon us, I will not attach my name to this email for fear of retribution. THAT is the kind of country Bush has fostered.
All I will say is that this teacher is free not to shop at Wal-Mart; unfortunately, parents of children in his/her classes are not free to choose a school where the teachers have a better understanding of economic principles and freedom of choice. I also gender very little respect for people that blame others for their resort to anonymity, and I find it especially disappointing in a teacher. Socrates, as I recall, was not afraid to state his opinions facing far more severe consequences than whatever kind of retribution this teacher is imagining.

Update: And Exhibit B.
In a message dated 8/24/2005 9:29:08 PM Central Standard Time, writes:

unfortunately, parents of children in your classes are not free to choose a school where the teachers have a better understanding of economic principles and freedom of choice

In case you haven't heard, Minnesota has open enrollment. If my kids want to choose another school where teachers only are allowed to hold conservative views, they are free to enroll there. Too bad the vast majority of teachers (both public AND private AND charter) are liberals Conservatives stay away from teaching because they don't want to have to live off of what teachers are paid. It's easier to sit back and criticize, isn't it?
No comment necessary other than it is fortunate that most teachers, liberal and conservative, are not this narrow-minded.