In the end, I’ll be cremated after my passing so there won’t be a gravestone on which to carve personal information. If there were, those who know me would likely put on it “Here Lies One Curious S-O-B.”
Having what Jimmy Carter calls a “flypaper mind,” I like to look under, into and behind what catches my attention. Today’s musing is the result of two “world’s apart” items that collided in my curiosity. They connect for me. See if they do for you.
For some 30 years or so, Idaho’s poorly financed public education system has been propped up by the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Foundation. It has saved Idaho education from harm more than once when the legislature didn’t do it’s constitutionally required job of adequately providing for public schools. In some ways, the Foundation has become the “payer of last resort” for Idaho education, not only funding new methods of learning but often filling very real needs unmet by one stingy legislature after another.
This year, Idaho’s Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Governor sprang a surprise on the people of Idaho by launching a significant overhaul of K-12 education. Neither man mentioned what was coming during their successful re-election campaigns a year ago. They waited until after to drop the bomb.
As details began to surface, many Idahoans were angry enough to try to kill the package before it became law. As usual, the Idaho Legislature turned a deaf ear to both mad constituents and common sense, hastily enacting all of it. So, the angry did the only thing the angry can legitimately do in such matters. A statewide petition campaign was begun to force a vote by the citizenry. Signature gathering happened quite quickly and Idahoans – parents and otherwise – will have a say at the polls.
One of the more surprising elements of this deal was when the aforementioned Albertson’s Foundation announced a $25 million grant to the State, underwriting much of the cost of implementing what the legislature approved but, as usual, failed to fully fund.
There are many facets to the proposed reform. But one of the most controversial seems to be furnishing all lower grade students with personal computers, thus reducing the number of teachers in the classroom. Teach ‘em on the computers and the Internet, says the Superintendent. So, it’s likely many of those Albertson’s grocery dollars, flowing to the Foundation from large holdings of Albertson’s Corporate stocks, will be used to buy those computers and, incidentally, cost a lot of teachers their jobs.
I’m going to make a jump to that other story here so hold on. Albertson’s LLC, now wholly owned by Supervalu, Inc., operates 217 stores in Western and Southern states. It is currently eliminating self-checkout lanes in all 100 stores that have them. You know the ones. Where shoppers must deal personally with a computer.
A spokesman for Albertson’s LLC said “We just want the opportunity to talk more to our customers. That’s the driving motivation.” She also said replacement of those machines would mean hiring more employees.
Well, that may be the official company B.S.. But experience tells me most shoppers have rejected self-checkout hassles with computers. I’ve been in many Albertson’s stores in recent years and self-checkout stands are vacant more often than not. Store employees tell me they get a lot of complaints about them Most people don’t like ‘em and won’t use ‘em. Most of us shop so infrequently what we learn about dealing with the computers one week we forget by the next trip. Just get us get checked out and gone.
Kroger, with 2,500 stores – including Fred Meyer – is the largest grocery chain in the country and Kroger is taking self-checkout stands out of some stores on a test basis. Others are, too. Companies don’t just decide to replace computers so they can add the larger operating expense of more employees on the payroll. That same payroll that was supposed to be greatly reduced by – wait for it – computers. But people, it seems, want to deal with other people.
So, here’s another jump as we tie all this together.
What we have here is a foundation whose multi-million dollar income is from stock in a national grocery chain. A national grocery chain that, after more than a decade of trying to get humans to work with computers in more than 100 stores, is getting rid of computers because people won’t use them. But the foundation, sustained by those tens of millions of dollars, is using some 25 million of them to develop software and buy computers to replace humans. Teachers.
As noted, thousands of Idaho parents are already opposed to what the Albertson’s Foundation is underwriting; so opposed they’ve forced Idaho’s new education law to a statewide vote. They want to stop it before it gets off the ground because they want teachers for their kids; not computers.
Anybody else see the irony here? Or is it just my flypaper mind?