Saturday, February 13, 2010

I'm boycotting Scholastic Books....

I am reading Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee for the second time. I read The Mayor of Casterbridge for the last (in this lifetime, anyway--we're finite, you know) last week. Should I live another decade or two, Bury My Heart will be read again.

Conquered cultures have few options--fight and be killed, or acquiesce, and lose your identity. The end result is the same. At least the latter option gives some hope your story will be told.

We live in interesting times.

Scholastic (the book company) exudes fuzzy warmth. They sell books to children. They are, in their own words, "the world’s largest publisher and distributor of children’s books and a leader in educational technology and children’s media."

Do not be fooled by their cute logos--they are a publicly owned company, listed as SCHL on NASDAQ. You can buy a piece of the company, and because of that, the primary purpose of the company (at least according to our Supreme Court) is to maximize profits for shareholders.

I wouldn't give half a hankie's snot's worth of interest in their company if they continued on their merry way, selling books, making money, and allowing folks with more money than fortitude to stuff their portfolios with more cash than God. (Well, Jesus, anyway....)

Two things changed this:

Scholastic squashed a blogger, Marc Dean Millot, who suggested that the grants awarded by 's Race to the Top may not be as transparent as the administration would like us to believe. He posted his comments on Mark Russo's website This Week in Education, sponsored by Scholastic. Russo, under pressure from Scolastic, deleted Millot's piece, despite a contract that asserted Millot's editorial independence.

Scholastic pays the Superintendent of the Los Angeles school district Ramon Cortines $151,000/year to sit on their board of directors. He also owns chunk of stock in the same company.

Yet he does not recognize the conflict.

I've railed on about the monied folk taking over public education in past posts, boring, dry stuff. It is happening, under our watch.

Under Arne's watch.

Under Obama's watch.

This is not going to end well. In the meantime, I will teach science to my lambs as best I can while throwing enough bones towards the state test to keep my job. I'll post news as I hear it, and hope a reader or two shares with others. As for me, I'm boycotting Scholastic.

If that's not enough, I'll go rake clams for a living--muckraking of a different sort.

There's currently a program for science teachers to teach their lambs about bugs--
sponsored by Terminix. You can't make this stuff up....


Jason said...

Have you picked a source for your future purchases--a source you would consider to be more ethical?

doyle said...

Dear Jason,

Great question, and the answer is either no or not yet.

It is easy to fall into an ethical paralysis, and even easier to ignore the whole issue.

Perhaps the removal of Millot's post will reveal similar stories.

At any rate, my tiny squeak of a protest won't change anything. A good squeak now and again, though, is good for the soul.

Unknown said...

I lost my faith in the company (okay, I didn't have much) when they promoted "Reading Is Fundamental." It seems like a fun project - give kids books rather than bribing kids to read. But as I saw the huge Scholastic trucks roll into our parking lot, it began to feel like "sparity" (spending for charity). They sold more books, looked good for "giving away" books and members of our community paid for a good portion of the cost.


How many of the RIF books were from other publishers? I have no idea. I know my students couldn't find "The Jungle" or "Aristotle's Ethics" or "This Side of Paradise" or even "The House on Mango Street" or "Night." None were available in the catalog.

Betty said...

I wish someone would pay me $151,000 to sit. Talk about a lot of fluff money on the top!

Anonymous said...

I use Dover publications if I have to buy something, but mostly I refer my students to Project Gutenberg, all the classics for free, and the modern student can read from a computer. The text to word readers can also read the pdf documents they produce. I've had international ELL students find on-line books in their own languages, and we use free translation programs to help us.
I too stopped purchase of Scholastic books a few years ago when I saw their marketing tactics, and their RIF behaviors. Any business which touts gathering charity gift money to supply products is totally unethical.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Doyle,
I am sorry that you are boycotting Scholastic Books. I know for certain that the "people at the top" are dedicated to education and children first. The company was founded by Maurice Robinson, who started Scholasic by publishing high school newspapers in the northeast in the 1920s. He saw the company through the Depression -- no easy feat. His son is now the head of the company. My father started at Scholastic as a kid right out of college as a summer job. He stayed at Scholastic for over 40 years.

Children's publishing is not an easy business. Most people don't go into it for the glory orfortune (which is pretty hit and miss and the profit margins tend to be small) -- they go into it because they love kids and care about education and what kids are reading. Most people are in publishing because they find it a calling.

I think Scholastic has a good track record for that and their support of teachers with online resources is unparalled. I understand your concerns about marketing, and I want to assure you that from what I have seen and know, Scholastic is a decent and dedicated company whose heart and bottom line is in the right place.

doyle said...

Dear John and Betty,

As always, I enjoy your words. Feel free to share your concerns with Anonymous#2 below.

Dear Anonymous#1

Thanks for the great suggestions!

Dear Anonymous#2,

An anonymous comment that "knows for certain that 'the people at the top' are dedicated to education and children first" hardly starts to deal with Scholastic's corporate behaviors.

We keep making the same mistake over and over--the people are decent and fair and whatever, and meanwhile the corporate activity gets a free pass.

It's a publicly owned company. It's primary mission now is profit--not necessarily a bad thing, mind you, but let's stop pretending that Maurice Robinson's vision supersedes the stakeholders.

Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream company was wonderful when its founders ran the show--it became public, and the company subsequently broke the ideals of its founders (or so one of them claims--it's not like they were forced to take the company public).

I did not attack the employees of Scholastic, and I appreciate your civil tone (even if you chose to post anonymously). Still, you do not speak to the heart of the matter.

At any rate, I appreciate your take on this. The words of a blogger seen by 100 people on a good day can hardly compete with a company that can afford to pay folks over 150K simply to sit on their board.

Unknown said...

I was at a huge book sale (used books that go for about fifty cents a piece) with my friend Javi. He pointed something out to me as we perused the young adult section for our classroom:

Find a banned book published by Scholastic. Find a real risky book. Did Scholastic publish "the Giver?" Nope. How about "Bridge to Terabithia?" Again, nope.

In other words, any book that might make a young adult really think and think hard is not published by this company.

Like anything "too big to fail" they are risk-averse on the social side and probably way to risky on the economic side.

I'll step off my soapbox now.