When Jamal, an 11th grade student, arrived at his English class in January of this year, he thought he would be continuing with his reading and analysis of The Crucible, by Arthur Miller. The Crucible is 11th grade reading for the Frederick Douglass Academy for Young Men, a 6-12 high school in Detroit, Michigan . Jamal was sadly mistaken. As he took his seat in class the teacher notified all students that they would be shifting their focus, just for awhile she told them, from the reading and analysis of literature to the construction of a mock ‘resume’ or ‘job application’. The ‘resume’ or ‘job application’ the students were to produce in their class was to be based on a ‘resume template’ handed out by the English teacher, by which students would then create their own ‘applications’.
Jamal was shocked. Why would his English class shift from reading high quality works of literature to engaging in mock resume and job application constructions? Jamal, upon hearing from the teacher about the shift in curriculum, raised his hand and asked the teacher point blank, “What is this all about?” The English teacher told him, as his class mates sat silent, that the resume was the brainchild of Wal-Mart and that in conjunction with the Frederick Douglass Academy for Young Men, the transnational corporation had thought the experience of constructing and then filling out a job application would be a good academic experience for the young 11th graders to engage in. Jamal was stumped. “What kind of resume or job application will it be”, he went on to ask his teacher. “Oh”, she responded, “it would have questions such as: ‘Do you need a job? What kind of skills do you have, Where have you worked in the past, What is your work experience, What kind of work skills do you possess”, all typical questions that would appear on an application for employment at say, Wal-Mart.
Incredulous, Jamal raised his hand once again and asked, “Is this lesson, this resume thing mandatory”. The teacher told Jamal that no, it was not mandatory and that he did not have to do it. It was a ‘voluntary lesson’, he and the class were told, and students were not required to complete the job application/resume. At this point Jamal, in open voice in front of his 11th grade class told the teacher in no uncertain terms: “I’m not doing this!” “Why don’t you want to do it”, the teacher queried as the other students sat silently in their seats.
Jamal told me, when I spoke with him on the phone in late February, that he told the teacher, in front of the 11th grade class that he would not do a resume or job application from Wal-Mart because it was insulting. He reported to me he told the class and the teacher that The Frederick Douglass Academy had a good reputation, that he and other students wanted to go to college, and that they wished to become business men, doctors, lawyers, professionals and young leaders in their community. He told the class and the teacher that he wanted to go to Harvard one day, have a career and that to be forced to fill out phony resumes for Wal-Mart was an insult to both his integrity, his right to an education and a pockmark on the school. The teacher did not reply, but while Jamal sat in silence, she handed out the resume templates to other students who then began to get to work constructing the Wal-Mart job application.
When the class terminated Jamal had a small conversation with the teacher. He told me that she seemed distressed, frightened and really did not wish to talk about the fact she had been told, evidently by the school administration, to have students engage in the Wal-Mart lesson plan at the expense of any study of The Crucible; she indicated that basically she was asked to suspend her curriculum. Jamal did say that during the conversation the teacher did state she thought Robert Bobb, the Eli Broad graduate who runs Detroit Schools as theEmergency Financial Manager was “crazy” and he said the teacher seemed embarrassed and confused by the whole episode.
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