It has come to our attention that certain institutions of public education have lowered the bar on school field trips.
The latest evidence is a reminder e-mail from Clearbrook Elementary School.
“Hi parents, [a] field trip permission form for the Walmart opening was sent home on Thursday.
“Please return this form if you wish for your child to participate — 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders will be singing the national anthem at the Walmart opening on Jan 26.
“See the form for more information or contact ——.”
A field trip to Super Walmart?
I had reckoned Clearbrook Elementary was merely using an existing “field trip” form to comply with parental-permission red-tape for the jaunt across U.S. 220.
That was easier than the hassle of creating and sending out an all-new permission form, right?
Wrong. This actually is considered a field trip, and not necessarily in the most loosely construed sense.
The students will be performing, and “Performance is a form of learning,” Principal Karen Pendleton told me Tuesday. “It’s an experience form of field trip.”
Besides that, the students will learn how to act at community celebrations such as the one Walmart will stage Tuesday, she added.
“Those are skills we don’t think of sometimes,” Pendleton told me. “They’re part of what we try to teach kids, too.”
She neglected to mention that the distance students will travel is just barely more than across a field. So perhaps “field trip” fits in that sense, too.
I don’t mean to crack on the good principal. Her job is hard enough.
But really. This is not a exactly a visit to the Taubman Museum of Art.
Walmart can be a learning experience, though — a cheap and tawdry one that titillates the most base instincts of consumerism.
In that sense, the world’s largest retailer is to American commerce what pornography is to the romance film industry.
But Clearbrook Elementary School may be missing an opportunity here. Because there are other ways that a trip to Walmart can be used as a teaching moment.
Walmart can be a very convenient place to shop because of the breadth of goods it offers. And there’s a legitimate argument that price pressure Walmart put on suppliers in the 1990s and in the last decade played a role in low inflation.
Consumers saved some money, and most economists recognize that.
But those savings came at a cost to communities where those consumers live, and to many institutions they used to hold dear.
Mom-and-pop businesses all over the country have been run out of existence by Walmart. As a result, there are small-town centers that look like ghost towns.
Some workers from those closed businesses ended up employed by Walmart, at lower wages that left them eligible for food stamps and Medicaid benefits for their children. Another way to look at it is that taxpayers subsidize Walmart wages. (The company has since expanded employee health benefits.)
For the above reasons, it may not be quite right to treat the grand opening of a Super Walmart as if it was a presage to an Independence Day parade outside an American Legion hall.
Perhaps on Monday the school could show students the documentary: “Walmart: The High Cost of Low Price.” It is one side of an argument.
They’ll get a much rosier and close-up view of the other side at Tuesday’s grand opening.
That documentary would get some thinking gears turning in students’ heads. I guarantee it.
Finally, I took the liberty of tailoring our national anthem’s lyrics to the momentous occasion.
I doubt the music teachers at Clearbrook will approve this version. But why not? Their students already know the real first verse by heart.
Oh, say can you see,
The façade is a fright,
What a great asphalt plain,
And the morning dew steaming.
Parking stripes and bright cars,
Off the perilous road,
As those sawbucks roll in,
Shoppers eyes are gleaming.
At big yellow rollbacks,
Chinese goods in big stacks,
And you never have seen,
Dog food in such huge sacks.
The fistfuls of dollars
Flood in like a wave,
Walmart: There’s nothing free,
Just cheap junk that you crave.