Discuss: Why is HISD letting Walmart teach retailing in high school?

via Wikipedia

HISD’s Scarborough High School is now offering a retail immersion course entitled “Etail/Retail,” which includes an on-campus Walmart mockup, as the class is sponsored by the well-known big box chain.

The product of an idea from Tracy Davis, Director at University of Houston-Downtown’s Center for Retail Management, Etail/Retail includes lessons on seasonal merchandising, customer relations, and sourcing produce, among others.  Students have taken field trips to Walmart, and members or Walmart management have visited the class.

Upon successful completion of what is envisioned to be a multi-semester curriculum, students receive a certificate in retail management from UH-D.  Davis entices potential students with the possibility of making $150,000 a year as a store manager, and the course offers a unique classroom experience, so it’s no wonder than students at Scarborough HS are happy to participate, and early reviews are good.

Read more about the class in the Chronicle and CNBC’s original articles here and here.

Response from Shelby Joe

I was pretty surprised when I heard about this story. I first saw it on the Twitter feed of a Chronicle reporter. Her gut reaction–I think it was gut–was something like, “oh great, my kids can learn how to stock shelves at their local high school.” I think that’s a common reaction and not completely unexpected.

Overcoming gut reactions, this “Walmarting 101” class in HISD sparks a debate about the American Dream and whether college is fitting or possible for everyone. Supposedly part of the American psyche is that anyone in this country can become the next Sam Walton or Bill Clinton (incidentally both rags to riches stories out of Arkansas).

But is the dream really just that, something that will never happen for the majority of us? According to the New York Times and the National Center for Education Statistics, only about a third of American adults have a bachelor’s degree. Even those of us lucky enough to earn that degree are likely to be drowning in debt such that the only dream we have is to pay off the loan notes!

So assuming that HISD policymakers have to live in the real world, not one of dreams, then surely it makes sense to introduce vocational training in high school that will give students some sort of livelihood–even if it’s not the $10.5 million that the Associated Press asserts is the median pay for American CEOs. Right?

It’s an exceptionally touchy subject trying to define what youth can and cannot achieve. Prince Charles of the UK got into a lot of hot water when he expressed his views on the subject in the early 2000s:

via Wikipedia

Prince Charles got into a kerfuffle in 2004 when he bemoaned “child-centered” education.

“What is wrong with people nowadays? Why do they all seem to think they are qualified to do things far above their capabilities…This is all to do with the learning culture in schools. It is a consequence of a child-centred education system which tells people they can become pop stars, high court judges or brilliant TV presenters or infinitely more competent heads of state without ever putting in the necessary work or having the natural ability.”

Wait, what did that Prince say? “Child-centered education” and “pop stars?” Surely a pompous head of state can’t talk about those things, especially not a decade ago right?

Because a decade ago was before we got into our current big hoopla over “Millenials” and how they (um, “we”) are difficult to integrate into the work force because we were brought up in a culture where everyone got a trophy.

We could discuss the American Dream in thousands of yet to be written dissertations; however, let’s bring the discussion back to HISD and Scarborough High School. According to data compiled by the non-profit group Children at Risk, Scarborough High School is 86% economically disadvantaged, is the 8th worst district high school for graduation rates, and ties for second worst for STAAR test results.

I think that HISD is in Prince Charles’s camp–that or Carnegie Vanguard just didn’t have enough space in its beautiful, new campus.

Response from Brian Armstrong

Now, obviously I wasn’t exactly pleased with the idea that an evil corporate behemoth is teaming up with a school with a low graduation rate, full of particularly disadvantaged youth (59% of the student body, by US News and World Report’s most recent study), to indoctrinate them in the ways of being mercilessly consumed by the world of minimum wage.  But after reading more about the program and Mr. Davis’s vision for it, I’ve found myself coming around.

From a PR standpoint, it’s really just bad luck that Walmart was the first store to sponsor the program.  From a financial standpoint, however, the chain is one of the few that could have swallowed the cost of this untested idea.  As someone with a family member who started out as a teenaged bag boy at a grocery chain and now makes well into the six figure range in management at that same company, the value of this course isn’t completely insane to me.

In addition, Tracy Davis is a professor, so it’s not like he’s encouraging students to drop out of high school.  He’s simply saying that whether students choose to attend a university or not, they should acknowledge retail as one of the very few industries with real growth potential from the ground floor up.

For better or for worse, Scarborough HS is apparently doing an excellent job with the course thus far, and writing it off completely would be dismissing a huge segment of our economy in which many people find job fulfillment and financial success.  Retailers Kroger and Firestone have signed on to sponsor future iterations of the class at other HISD campuses, which might assuage the fears of those skeptical of the good intentions that are seemingly being displayed by Walmart.

I wasn’t too quick to appreciate the idea, but after some thought, I can at least understand the theoretical value this new era of high school instruction might have.  Here’s hoping it’s not just theory.

“Discuss” pieces do not represent an editorial stance on behalf of Thesis Magazine or its publisher, General Academic. In addition, “Discuss” pieces may not even represent the opinion of the contributor/s as would be the case in an “Op-Ed.” Yes, it’s a cop-out, but the views we present in these articles may just be devil’s advocate. We post these stories to spark a discussion on relevant issues, even if they don’t make us comfortable or happy.


  1. Parker Haynes says:

    I am a fan of bringing trades back into popularity. College isn’t for everyone, which is not a terrible thing. Tradesmen/women are just as important to society as doctors or engineers, just in different ways.

    I would prefer, however, a company leading the program with a strong customer service and ethics record. At this stage, I would think Costco would be able to foot the bill for such a program, for example. Or some other company without the detrimental image Walmart currently “enjoys.”

  2. Ruby Moy Joe says:

    For high school students to have the opportunity to have hands on training by the the real experts is a wonderful idea.

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