Wal-Mart, The Epitome of “I Can’t.”

Now, Wal-Mart  is not an education or school guru, but this commercial must appeal to some critical aspect of schooling that parents can relate to? There are others just like this, which show mothers expressing just how uninvolved they are in their child’s education. Fathers don’t even come into the picture, so you can imagine what he “can’t” do.

“I can’t go to class with him. I can’t do his history report for him, or show the teachers how curious he is. That’s his job. My job is to give him everything he needs to succeed while staying within a budget…I love my job.” Cut to boy with his new affordable laptop. He’s getting applause from his teacher and the students in the class as he delivers a report.*

I can’t go to school with her. I can’t introduce her to new friends.” Cut to girl nervously asking “Can I sit here?” to a group of girls sitting together at lunch. “Sure, I like your top!” one of them answers. “Or tell everyone how amazing she is. But I can give her what she needs to feel good about herself without breaking my budget. All she has to do is be herself.” Cut to smiling girls walking arm-in-arm down the hallway.*

And there’s another silly one that essentially says: “I can’t help him come out of his shell. I can’t help him fit in”…but I sure can give him snacks! Snacks that save money are great, and maybe he can make friends over some baloney and milk, “because you never know when a sandwich is more than a sandwich!”


I can understand if this was a non-consumerist commercial about giving youth space to grow up and be themselves, heck the “daddy’s little girl” Subaru commercial is about that (to a very limited extent). These commercials don’t speak to that though. They really put into perspective that parents don’t play a significant in their children’s education. From the moment a child catches the bus or crosses that school gate, the next 6 or so hours are unseen and uninfluenced by parents and caregivers. Not all parents are like this of course, but many of them are at most expected to do some fundamentals when their child is a toddler, and afterward that they hand the child in to the compulsory school system. From that point they are only seen at scattered conferences, science fairs, sports games, PTA meetings, and graduations. Many parents just go to graduations. The odd thing is that it’s not like most of these parents don’t care. They often think the opposite, and try very hard to do something, and that usually involves getting the kids into the “best” school available, one with prestige, “rigorous” curricula, and high graduation rates. It is all external – this process of schooling – for everyone involved. A parent “caring” about their child’s education typically involves making sure their child is up to par or above par on all the external markers of success in the system. They ride their youth about grades, homework, and tests. Second to that is making sure their youth is not a behavior problem.

Either they got high grades and were good at science, or they got average grades and were okay in English. In this system it’s hard to go into depth. What is their learning style? Do they have a hobby that they can’t delve into because of curricula? Do they seem to get along with those in their age group or do they say how they mostly hang out with the older or younger kids? What subjects do they find so interesting that they want more time for them? Are these questions ever asked? Please tell me. Parents are somewhat useless in the schooling process in many ways except spending money. What are parents doing other than providing support and goods from a distance? Too often parents are not sufficiently part of the process of their youth’s learning or growth. There’s a huge barrier between what the parent sees, and what the youth experiences. The connection is weak. Because of this, I realize more than before that parent choice in education is very important. How can parent choice be achieved? I am not sure, but what bothers me about them receiving more choice is that they are going to bank on the standards and procedures that be of external motivation, “rigor,” and merely putting youth under the parents’ tough standards rather than the government’s. I say that because right now, “tough standards” and “accountability” are all most parents are familiar with or aware of. “Going with what you know” seems much easier than getting vulnerable and going through your own trail and error. If parents want what’s best for their kids, they’re going to have to do more than just buy things, wrestle with homework, and show up for the big events. I think that for more freedom to be involved in this institution, those who are most silenced and shut out – teachers, parents, AND students – all need freedom of voice, choice, and collaboration in approaches to education.

* Source of commercial transcripts: ClaireMysko.com “Back to School: The Brands, The Labels, and the Pressure to have the ‘Right’ Look”


Posted on August 22, 2010, in Bureaucracy, Education, School and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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