We’ve all seen it. You log onto Facebook, click through your email, or check your phone, and there it is. An invitation to fork over money to someone you haven’t seen in years. Of course, you’re not just giving them money. No, you’re generously rewarded with stuff. Wraps, oils, waxes, leggings, mascara, oh my! While I’ve always been wary of these groups or multi-level marketing campaigns or pyramid schemes (a rose by any other name, right?), it was actually a book-buying group that pushed me over the edge.
That’s right. I’m a teacher by trade, a reader by passion, and selling books is the one thing that gets my blood boiling. And not in a good way.
My normal MO when I sense an MLM pitch is this: send the obligatory life update to the messenger, wish them well, and then quietly leave the Facebook group they enrolled me in without asking. Every once in a while, I send out a really pithy tweet, too, in which I showcase not only my wit and humor but also my clairvoyance.
But for some reason, when that children book sales invitation hit my Facebook feed, I stuck around. At first, I thought maybe, just maybe, I could get behind these sales. After all, I freely dump hundreds of dollars into my classroom library every year. I even send home Scholastic book order flyers to my families. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad.
After two weeks of watching the interactions in this group, I can say one thing with certainty: It’s not so bad. It’s downright awful.
Some Svengali-style higher up is playing puppet with an acquaintance from high school. Fine. Whatever. She’s a big girl. She can handle herself. That’s not really my issue.
The problem is she is now passing herself off as a book expert. Let’s be clear. She holds that title for one reason. An MLM company told her she is. Likely, because she paid handsomely to start hawking wares on its behalf.
Do you know what really makes someone an expert on books? Reading them. Lots of them. Interacting in book clubs. Visiting the library. Maybe even going to school for, let’s say, four years to study English and secondary education and then tacking on another two years to get a Master’s degree as a K-12 reading specialist.
I know what you’re thinking. We already covered the fact that I’m clairvoyant, didn’t we? Slow down, Penny. You sound like a total book snob. Book snob I may be, but let me cut to the core of the issue. One of the very first moms who posted in this book-buying group said she was desperate to help her son read. He is already several grade-levels behind, struggles in school, and becomes downright difficult when she suggests reading at home. He is also autistic.
If this were a comment from a parent of one of my students, I would compare his interests with my hi-lo books, consult the librarian, review his IEP, talk with the special education teacher, and then book talk a handful of options for him. After which, I’d invite him to flip through the books, choose however many he liked, and then lend them out. At no cost to him other than his time.
Do you know what this woman did? She sold the mom dozens of books from her catalog under the guise that her son likes them. While that may be true, I know her son is older, and I also know that he reads on grade-level and even made the elementary school honor roll this year. Because Facebook, amirite?
Ok, Penny. What’s really the big deal? Everyone’s bought a few things they shouldn’t have. We all know you did. You’re absolutely right. This mom might be out $50 or $100. She may have wasted a little bit of time. But so is life. Right?
Wrong. One of the single greatest predictors of child’s success in school is a love of reading. And nothing squashes a love of reading faster than being bombarded with books that are disinteresting or at an overly challenging level. We have this phrase in teaching. It’s called “frustrating out”. It basically means that students are being asked to read independently at their frustration level, so instead of challenging a student to read just beyond their independent level, the bar has been raised so significantly that the cognitive overload that takes place is utterly unproductive.
I’m not saying teachers are the only people who should recommend books to kids. But what I am saying is that if someone positions themselves as an expert, they should at least have a little bit of knowledge on the subject, make an effort to learn, or be honest when something falls outside of the realm of their expertise.
This goes for booksellers and anyone else who claims to sell something that will make a lasting impact on someone’s life. Wasted time and wasted dollars are problems enough. However, the consequences of impersonating an expert when it comes to someone’s learning or someone’s health outreach even that.
So Tell Me…Have you ever stumbled across an MLM that seemed to be more than just a nuisance?