Views in brief

The testing madness has to stop

IN RESPONSE to "Teaching by the numbers": This piece is the clearest, most accurate description of what is going on in our schools. Thank you so very much for writing it and exposing these important truths!

As a former New York City teacher, I know that you have truly captured the way it is for teachers, students and the administration. As a reading specialist, I was expected to "teach to test" and, after two decades, I was totally disheartened by the realization that this was the only way school had become for us--preparing New York City kids to pass New York state tests that were not even in alignment with each grade's curriculum.

One of the saddest sights was that the needs of special ed students and second language learners were ignored. Their costly and time-consuming individualized education plans were disregarded and they were forced to take tests way beyond their scope.

And yet, after putting these children through this abuse, toward an obvious expected failure, their very own teachers are forced to administer these tests fully knowing that their jobs and their reputations were in jeopardy.

This unrealistic scenario has to stop. School needs to get back to being a place of discovery, enjoyment and preparation for life, rather than a box to fill in the holes on computerized paper. What a waste all around! Such a sad but necessary commentary to be exposed. Thank you so much. Great work!
Camille LoParrino, New York

A challenge to John Mackey

IN RESPONSE to "Telling the whole truth about Whole Foods": I couldn't agree more with your perspective on the recent benefits vote at Whole Foods Market.

I have repeatedly witnessed human resources personnel interject their opinions during the process of training team members on their benefits options. It is symptomatic of a much larger "drink the Kool-Aid" culture. Everything is glossed over, and serious objections to the status quo are routinely ignored.

Team members do always have a voice--that is, the opportunity to express their opinion. But, in over five years of expressing various concerns as a team member and team leader, I finally realized the harsh truth: that no one really cares. You can say whatever you want, but no one actually has to respond.

When it comes time to be considered for Fortune magazine's Top 100 companies to work for, management really pours on the charm. The ideology sirens come out of the woods and lure team members into believing what a great company they work for. "Don't forget to ignorantly repeat all the great things we told you about us during your orientation. Put on a good face. Smile for the share holders. Wink,wink."

And yes, the thought of unions is appalling to the management of Whole Foods Market. And yes, they employ subtle and not-so-subtle techniques to intimidate team members who might consider joining or creating a union.

Sadly, it is self-interest that ultimately drives the decisions of upper management--just like any other corporation. Yes, Whole Foods Market does some good along the way. But, at the end of the day it is definitely at the expense of its team member base, who are consistently under-equipped, poorly trained, under-appreciated and yet blamed for any and every problem that occurs at the store level.

John Mackey recently commented that the happiness of his team members should come before the happiness of the shareholders. This is, perhaps, the most obnoxious of all his comments. If I saw him face to face, my challenge to him would be simple: spend a little time in your stores experiencing what it's like to actually be a team member rather than indulging yourself and your reading audience in your philosophy of business.

The separation between your theory of "conscious capitalism" and the day-to-day grind of your business operations is likely to surprise you.
Mart, from the Internet

A new white man's burden

IN RESPONSE to "The roots of France's war in Mali": The following quote is from U.S. General Carter Ham of the Africa Command, responding to NPR's Weekend Edition about mass rapes and executions by the French-backed, U.S.-trained Malian army:

HAM: We have had a U.S. training effort with the Malian armed forces for some number of years.

REPORTER: General Ham says perhaps there was too much emphasis on tactical know-how at the expense of other critical training.

HAM: We didn't spend probably the requisite time focusing on values, ethics and a military ethos that says when you put on the uniform of your nation, then you accept the responsibility to conduct yourselves according to the rule of law. So, we've learned from that.

Rudyard Kipling could have told General Ham a thing or two about what's actually involved in taking up the white man's burden. It's not enough to repress threats to capital's access to whatever resources "your new-caught sullen peoples" happen to be sitting on; you've got to teach them your "values and ethics" at the same time. Imperialism is harder than it looks.
Don Lash, New York City

The bosses take and take

IN RESPONSE to "Telling the whole truth about Whole Foods": Forty-five years ago, I was in high school and a member of the Retail Clerks Union. I worked in a big name grocery store and got paid $4.52 an hour. It may not sound like much now, but back then, I was making more money than any of my friends.

We still didn't get any benefits (nobody was allowed to work more than 32 hours per week, which made you part-time and not eligible for benefits), but we got a big fat check every week.

In spite of the lack of benefits, each and every one of us worked our tails off for that company. I look at grocery clerks now, and I'm surprised at how asleep they look. Of course, for what they're paid, and what they're put through, it's no surprise.

If management knew what they were doing, they would allow workers a union and a voice in their workplace. When workers have a voice, they care about where they work, and they do a far better job. You can ask Henry Ford about that.

What Whole Foods, Wal-Mart and the rest do to their employees is criminal. Why they do it is even worse: so that upper management and stockholders can reap obscene profits. They take, take, take, and when we try to take back, they call it "socialism," "fascism" and "class warfare."

A hundred years ago, union members fought back and died in the struggle for their rights. You would think the world would have advanced beyond that by now, but the aristocracy never changes.
Martin Starzyk, La Grange, Ill.

Whole Foods has lost a customer

IN RESPONSE to "Telling the whole truth about Whole Foods": I have been a loyal Whole Foods customer for several years now. After learning of libertarian CEO John Mackey's attitude toward his employees, I no longer shop there, and won't again until he treats his employees with the appreciation and dignity they deserve.
Margarita McAuliffe, San Antonio, Texas