Corporate Barbarians at the Gate: Wal-Mart internships at Detroit Schools
Jamal indicated to me that most of the students in his school created and filled out the resume/job application lessons in their classes despite the fact he had hoped the flyer would dissuade them (he did state that few ever turned them in). He also told me they were to turn the finished 'product' into their English teachers when the lesson was done, who then were evidently told to quarter back the stack of student work to the administration. What would the administration do with it? Why would they want it? Whose interest would it serve?
Wal-Mart, the theatre of the insane, purveyors of the inane: "THE KICKOFF"
After the Wal-Mart resume fiasco and after Jamal's teacher had introduced Henry David Thoreau into her class, new flyers, this time drafted by the Neighborhood Legal Services Michigan (NLSM) were distributed to the students at the four high schools targeted by the giant retailer, the flyers formerly announced what Jamal had correctly assumed; that on February 11, 2010 there would be an assembly at the four high schools chosen by Wal-Mart for internships to promote the program. The flyer, of which I have a copy, was titled: DPS HIGH SCHOOL ASSEMBLIES TO KICKOFF! I'M IN GETTING READY FOR WORK! JOB READINESS TRAINING PROGRAM AT FOUR (4) DETROIT PUBLIC HIGH SCHOOLS. The flyer went on to note what Jamal and his fellow students had suspected:
The "kick-offs" as they were known, according to the flyer would serve to:
"inform DPS students, staff and parents of the initiative which Wal-Mart stated would prepare DPS students for the 21st Century Workforce as students balance school and work in the pursuit of higher education" (ibid).
The flyer went on to try to excite students, faculty and staff by promoting the fiction that:
"The KICKOFFS will be fun, exciting, engaging and inclusive in sharing program goals, objectives and expectations. Information about the program and sign-up process will be provided. The KICKOFFS will include the Debut of a positive version of a "I'm in!" song written and performed by hip hop sensation Julia'n (Motor City Hits) and other DPS students" (ibid).
The flyer also mentioned that a host of 'political and corporate dignitaries' and 'luminaries' would be present at each road company 'KICKOFF' and the guests included such personages as judges, church representatives, city council members, Michigan State University members, Robert Bobb, the Emergency Financial Manager for DPS, Mayor of Detroit Dave Bing, Congressmen, including John Conyers, Senator Martha Scott, community leaders, employers, clergy, dancers, music, parents, students and yes, Governor Jennifer Granholm herself -- the political charlatan that appointed Robert Bobb. Truly a Kabuki show.
According to the Wal-Mart flyer:
"The job readiness/soft skills training program is designed to get employable youth ready to work, teach job readiness/retention skills, help young people explore the various career opportunities that are available to them and assist them in planning for the (sic) futures accordingly. DPS students will receive eleven (11) weeks of job readiness/soft skills training, e.g.: How to Balance School and Work, How to Complete Employment Applications, Resumes, Job Searching Skills, Interviewing Skills, How do Dress of Success, Conflict Resolution, Problem Solving, Budgeting, Four (4) Keys to Success, Positive Attitudes in the Workplace" (ibid). I guess writing is not big on the list, as the flyers were poorly worded and miserably spelled.
After completion of the 11 week internships students were told those who participated would be placed in a work-school based program (low-paying, food stamp eligible jobs) where they would then work at "job-sites" that were designed to require the skills and knowledge students learned during the program. What they were not told is that they would do this for no pay, that they would not be compensated for their 'jobs'. They would learn this later, as we shall see.
The flyer went on to rave about achieving one's dreams, growing up as a student, getting ready for work, inspiring students to excellence, and how, with the new Wal-Mart internships, "great things are happening in Detroit Public Schools". Sure, like hundreds of school closures, laid off teachers, the decimation of arts and music programs, standardized testing as the great sorting machine of students and the wholesale putrid privatization plans the flyer never mentioned.
John W. Cromer, known in Orwellian language as the 'stability officer for the Stimulus Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program at NLSM', the main organizer for the road show stated:
"We are proud to say, "I'm in at DPS". We lose so many high school students to the workplace before graduation. We have to prepare them for work, but first they need to now how to balance school and work! This also gives youth a sense of direction to keep them out of trouble in the first place. We can not keep stuffing Ă˘€śour adult issues into children shoes and expect for our children to be able to walk straight! Preparing people for work has to be the central policy behind any attempt to improve the quality of lifeĂ˘€Â¦. Thanks to companies like Wal-Mart, Marriot, Autozone, NLSM and others who hear the call and step up to the plate for our children" (ibid). More on Cromer later.
The KICKOFFS were to be held in the auditorium for each of the four schools selected; all orchestrated for February 11, 2010 -- a fantasy of fanfare. These corporate and political predators, students and their parents were told, could help our children escape from the shark-filled waters of unemployment, homelessness, poverty, fear and insecurity. Like Gilded Titans of a century ago, the ruling elite promised to stand as plutocratic monarchs, inheritors of the new age of disposability -- eager to manage the public's affairs while actually undermining the public interest.
Kicking out the "KICKOFF"
When Jamal entered the auditorium at Frederick Douglass Academy, he took a seat along with 259 students at the school and awaited the KICKOFF. It was all becoming clear why students at the four high schools had been given the job of creating a job application instead of reading "The Crucible". Jamal began to see how under a system of traumatic dislocation, psychic delusion and perpetual disillusionment he and his fellow students sat at the feet of the capitalist masters.
Microphones had been put on stage, banners strung up and speakers from the assembled community of clergy, politicians, businesses and of course Wal-Mart lined up to speak to the positive aspects of the school-to-work program they were creating. Teachers, staff and of course the students had no choice but to be there; they were forced to herd into the killing floor of auditorium for the KICKOFF and as the speakers took the podium, Jamal and his friend, the other fellow student at Frederick Douglass Academy who had worked with Jamal to prepare the student statement against Wal-Mart, spoke out loud in front of many students about the degradation of learning and the low expectations for students at Frederick Douglass Academy, imposed by the autocratic authors of the KICKOFF program, now circumstantially and thus evidentially tied to the resume/job application they had been asked to do in their English class. According to Jamal, most students seemed to accept the KICKOFF, or otherwise remained silent at the assembly as it began. Besides, they were not allowed to speak.
Shortly after the auctioneers had given their pep talks to students, their rambling messages of work, education as training and the importance, if not the beauty of the free-market, Donna Stern from 'By Any Means Necessary' (BAMN) took the stage and began to address the assembled. She had been invited to speak at the assembly by John Cromer, but not as a BAMN member, but as a parent who had a child in the Detroit School system. She had been invited by Cromer, as she told me, probably due to the fact she had been an ACT tutor prep for students (ACT is one of the standardized tests students must take for college entry). It seems Cromer and his business community supporters and political hacks did not even know of Donna's association with BAMN, nor were they aware of Jamal's prior contact with the organization.
According to Donna Stern, she made three points when she took the microphone to address close to 300 student, teachers, staff, business elites, politicians, clergy and community members at the Frederick Douglass Academy for Young Males:
"1. The young men of Frederick Douglass should be receiving college prep courses, not a Wal-Mart prep education.
2. That it is and was an outrage that the same week politicians and corporations are celebrating Wal-Mart coming into the schools, they sent out pink slips to many of the fine arts teachers, including directors of high quality, long standing programs.
3. That Frederick Douglass, himself, would be turning over in his grave if he were there to see what was being done in his name" (e-mail, February 26th, 2010 Donna Stern).
The speech by Stern was not what Cromer and his cronies had expected and they scurried to whisk Stern off the stage before she could do more harm to their insidious plan to turn the high schools into a plantation for business interests. But the real shock to the KICKOFF originators came when teachers, students and community members stood, clapped and cheered as Donna hurriedly made her way off the stage. Her statements resonated with what many if not most of the teachers and students felt -- that students were going to be put on a school-to-work track, literally turning them over to private corporate cannibals like Wal-Mart. At the time Stern spoke it was unclear whether Wal-Mart was going to pay students the minimum wage of $7.25 or whether they would be able to get away paying the $4.25 per hour the Department of Labor allows for the first 90 days of employment of a minor. Of course paying the latter wage could be perceived as a money saver for Wal-Mart, already viewed by many as the epitome of capitalism-gone-amuck and dead-end culdasac to underpaid employment that qualifies one for food stamps.
The issue was clarified by an e-mail from John Cromer to a teacher at DPS asking if students would be paid for the internship. The answer was a resounding "NO":
"No. Students are not paid for the 11 week job readiness training" (e-mail, February 27th, 2010 from John Cromer to DPS teacher).
The whole vicious child-exploitation scheme was exposed in its raw and sweltering form for what it really was: a set-up hatched by the elite and their obsequious hirelings -- from the resume lesson plan to the KICKOFF itself. The whole conspiracy was planned. It was and is little more than exploitation condoned and heralded by the coin operated politicians who blessed the event and shepherded it into reality, from Governor Jennifer Granholm to to her servant in chief, Robert Bobb. Their DNA is all over the crime scene.
Mayor of Detroit Dave Bing, Robert Bobb and Governor of the state of Michigan, Granholm never did attend the KICKOFF, as they promised, at the assembly on February 11th, deciding instead to send representatives. Lucky for them. A full-court press interview with 'representatives' and participants had been scheduled after the KICKOFF with the corporate media, all part of a public relations gimmick, but according to Jamal the press interviews never occurred. Stern's captivating condemnation of the program and its participants on behalf of BAMN, the students and teachers stole the show and left the job fair proponents speechless and utterly incoherent at the carnival they had organized. The corporate media cowered, now wanting to report the news of resistance as did the politicians and business interests -- all in face of open defiance by teachers, students, staff and BAMN to the jobs fair program. This was certainly something they did not expect nor relish.
Jamal began to speak with students immediately after Stern's speech, advising them they should not turn in their resumes to their teachers or the school administration. He also mingled with students and staff and told me the teachers seemed frightened, as did students, of being singled out and perhaps retaliated against by administrators or their 'spies'. One police officer, a woman who officially attended the KICKOFF in uniform on behalf of the Detroit Police Department, suggested openly and aloud that Donna Stern should be arrested. She complained that Stern was rude, her speech inappropriate, and told Jamal, "She can't do that she should be arrested!" Jamal confronted the officer directly and stated that it was Stern's first amendment right to speak at the assembly but the officer would not back down, repeating that BAMN's presence was inappropriate and that there should be police retaliation for her presence and her remarks. No arrest was made, however, this time. As we will see, this was not the first time the heavy presence of Detroit Police was seen at educational events.
When I spoke to Donna Stern she told me that after her short comments condemning the program, the microphone was taken from her by the KICKOFF backers and that she immediately left the KICKOFF stage for she intuitively knew that her remarks would upset the KICKOFF founders and could possibly put her in harms way from the police who have been continuously used by Robert Bobb and Detroit Federation of Teacher's union boss, Keith Johnson to frighten and intimidate teachers at public forums (Weil, D. Detroit Teachers fight obsequious politicians, union bosses and privatizations plans ).
This KICKOFF was to be no different, as police mingled with what was now an excited and fired up crowd of both teachers and students. Although Jamal stated that Wal-Mart brochures carpet bombed the KICKOFF along with other business flyers, the assembly had been virtually destroyed by the activism and defiance displayed by Donna Stern and echoed in the vocal support for her comments by teachers, staff, community members and students.
The KICKOFFs were not the success that Wal-Mart and the city administrators and politicians had hoped for. In fact, at this date there are no internships actually scheduled at the four high schools. Everything has been placed on hold. Jamal informed me in a phone interview that the strategy of the students was now to organize students and teachers, to create flyers denouncing the Wal-Mart business plan, to attend more BAMN meetings, grow the opposition to the Wal-Mart takeover of 11 weeks of instructional time and to organize petitions and media events denouncing the program and thus prevent Wal-Mart's entry into Detroit Public Schools.
FOX and Friends gets involved
Shortly after the failed KICKOFF, Donna Stern told me she appeared on the morning show, FOX and Friends with none other than John Cromer. The fiasco had caused blowback and media attention and Cromer of course was there to defend the program and its adherents. Stern told me that Cromer spoke about "how students needed to stop wearing their pants low, like in prison, and begin to make themselves presentable for employment purposes". Stern tried to point out to Cromer that the Frederick Douglass Academy had a dress code and that the male students were required to wear shirts and ties, that no students resembled the stereotype painted by Cromer. To no avail, Cromer had already stereotyped Detroit students and their families as vestiges of gangs and prisons. All of this is part of the new war on youth.
Why did Robert Bobb, John Cromer and his elite business cronies target four successful Detroit High Schools for a Wal-Mart internship?
The answer to the above question is still unknown, a mystery. The four high schools selected by the curriculum assassins were all considered well performing high schools. Frederick Douglass, according to Jamal, had been a "bad boy's school" up to a few years ago but in 2008, he told me, 75% of the students who graduated went on to college and in 2009 the percentage of graduates who went on to college was 100%. Of course this could include phony for-profit colleges like the University of Phoenix or other 'for-profit' 'drive-by' universities, but still, these are hardly failing schools. In fact, some of the students at these schools are doing an exceptional job, and it is not due to the help of Wal-Mart or other corporate predators that have nothing but disdain and low-expectations for minority students. The support comes from the public sector, not the money changers.
Central Michigan University has in place what is called an "Upward Bound," program. In 2009 the Upward Bound program celebrated 10 years of service as a college preparation program that provides tutoring, academic advising, community service, early intervention methods, and many other socially enlightened programs. There are more than 800 UB programs throughout the United States that assist low-income, first- generation college students and disabled individuals from middle school through post-baccalaureate programs. CMU's program is stationed both at The Detroit International Academy, in Detroit, and CMU's Campus Office in Warriner Hall. The program focuses its work on high school students at the Detroit International Academy for Young Women and the Frederick Douglass Academy for Young Men, two of the four schools put in the cross-hairs by Wal-Mart, Robert Bobb and John Cromer, and the program has been a success.
In November of 2009 Detroit freshman Alexis Bailey who was only 18, yet garners the respect of peers and elders as a first-generation college student, proudly proclaimed:
"I feel like I am an inspiration to my family and friends" (Keaton, Sherry Upward Bound celebrates 10th year of helping students academically, personally, November 23, 2009.)
Before entering the program, Bailey had a 3.6 grade point average but had some troubles in school.
"Before the program I was bad. I was always smart, the program just gave me that extra push to do what I needed to do" (ibid).
After the program she had 4.0. She said she eventually wants to become a judge and hopes to make the program proud. In an interview she did with CentralMichiganLife, an online news paper Bailey said:
"I want to let them know they succeeded in helping me out" (ibid).
Ask Detroit senior Fatima Sylvertooth and she will tell you what she knows about having motivation and the importance of education.
"When I was in the program it shed hope to my future helping me to understand that there is more to life than my neighborhood. I've learned to take responsibility in the things you value; and my education was one of them. The only limit we have in life is the one we set for ourselves, others can believe in us, but we must also believe in ourselves" (ibid).
While growing up, Sylvertooth acknowledged that she had challenges of her own and was sometimes discouraged. She had been given the message early on that her life was not equal to those more affluent and white. She had been indoctrinated with low-expectations and pounded with messages she would not succeed.
"I thought I was supposed to fail, and I didn't understand why (UB) cared so much, the only person in my family who was my biggest encouragement was my mom" (ibid).
Getting students to believe that they are supposed to fail, that they shouldn't be on a college track, that music and arts is not important, that literature is untenable for them is the goal of Robert Bobb, John Cromer, Wal-Mart and the rest of the privatizers. Getting poor, minority students on an early 'vocational track' for low-paying service jobs seems to be the priority for this morbid band of bandits and thieves. Attacking public education with work-fair projects and setting low-expectations for students while slashing and burning authentic curriculum is what Robert Bobb and his cohorts are taught at the Eli Broad Academy as you can see in the articles I reference above. After all, why teach the science and the arts to low-achieving students who will just end up working at Wal-Mart anyway, like Cromer insinuated? This is better left for the elite.
Not according to Cromer. Over a luncheon shortly before the event, John Cromer, of NLSM and Rita, Cindy and Jim, of Wal-Mart Stores talked about the need of preparing our youth for the workforce and wondered how we could get to the officials of Detroit Public School (DPS).
"We met the Emergency Financial Manager, Mr. Robert Bobb, of DPS. He approved it has a pilot program in public 4 high schools. With the success of this program we hope to be in all of the Detroit Public high schools this summer and Fall 2010".
When Cromer was asked, "How do you respond to criticism of the program training kids to be 'subservient workers?'", Cromer replied:
"This is completely untrue. We have to start from somewhere. We are teaching transferable skills that can be applied in every line of work including the Four Keys to Success, Problem Solving Skills and Conflict Resolution. Most introductions into the workforce for our youth start at places like retail stores, fast-food restaurants, etc. This program will teach them how to build a resume, complete a job application and how to dress for success-- "get their pants off the ground" for job searching activities (e-mail from Donna Stern re: Cromer comments).
When asked what the student response has been in regards to the Wal-Mart internships, Cromer crooned:
"Youth used to have paper routes, and have other means to earn money: shovel snow, cut grass, etc. Our youth today need money. Of course they are excited. They are very welcomed of the idea. We need to find a way to connect their excitement with employment, and set standards for summer employment that dictates some kind of measurement in academic achievement, attendance and conduct while in school- that leads to a summer or part time job. Our youth are just ready for someone to come along any give them a sense of direction that will keep them out of trouble in the first place" (ibid).
And as to the role of private business entering Detroit Public High Schools, Cromer had this to say:
"Government cannot do it all. Our youth need to be motivated to achieve. We used to have programs in Detroit that helped to develop youth leadership skills. We are losing so many youth to the workforce or to the juvenile justice system. Thanks to the participating companies we can get them ready to complete job applications, resumes and even teach them how to dress how to dress for job searching activities. Our youth are going to these companies anyway for work. It is our responsibility as 'this Village' to get them ready. We are connecting to the employers. And if we get employers and teachers to speak the same language, we can build a better and new America starting in cities that are already struggling like Detroit MI" (ibid).
Finally, when pressed as to how he should respond to criticism that the program brings private corporations into public schools and then ultimately influences curriculum, Cromer turned his privatization cards face up:
"That would be a good thing. It is important to teach transferable skills. The purpose is to prepare students for employment. Why wouldnĂ˘€™t employers what to have some involvement? Employers translate into business which is designed by the market, and then the economy. These are companies that are close enough to the market to know what it is going to take to compete in the global market and boost the American economy. So, we need to get our youth prepared to compete" (ibid).
John Cromer and the privatizers have shown they are simply another example of Milton Friedman's economic wet dream -- the commodification and privatization of education.
For now, the Wal-Mart internship program has been put on hold, much to the chagrin of Wal-Mart and the other 'business partners'. You can thank Jamal, Donna Stern and Detroit teachers and the Detroit community for this.
As Donna Stern and I were finishing up a discussion by phone a few days ago, she and I mused over what is clearly emerging as the billionaire philanthropists', corporate business elite and giant transnational corporationsĂ˘€™ plan for Jamal and his class mates at Frederick Douglass and the other three Detroit High schools -- turning public schools into vocational schools, stripping out arts, literature, music in favor of low-paying service jobs where students learn early that they are not supposed to go to college, that their lives have been predetermined by the Gods of capitalism. What they need to learn, in the eyes of the privatizers, is not to think critically about society and their place in it but to ask, Ă˘€śDo you want fries with that, Sir?Ă˘€ť Like peasants on the lord's manor they are to be treated like cattle readying for the long herd.
This is the economy these capitalist behemoths are manufacturing for the 21st century, Delirium USA, and they make no bones about it. Let us hope that Jamal, Donna, BAMN and Detroit teachers and the Detroit community are successful in letting the politicians and the corporate elites know that this is never going to be acceptable, that their children and students will not be exposed to a message that tells them they are supposed to fail and dead end service jobs at Wal-Mart is all they can accomplish in life. The message must be the opposite of that promoted by corporate America: that providing a decent, equitable public education to all students is what is needed --by any means necessary.
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