It seems as if fewer and fewer things bear that label anymore. In 2007, Toyota outsold two of Detroit’s big three automakers. Our televisions and DVD players are mostly made elsewhere. And Walmart imports about 50,000 pounds of merchandise every 45 seconds. As if that’s not bad enough, American companies are shipping many jobs overseas. Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards wanted to stop U.S. companies from moving jobs offshore, and a group called Working 4 Working Americans ran an ad in support of his plan. But the story the ad tells doesn’t quite give the whole picture. In this lesson, students will examine the facts behind this potentially misleading ad.
This lesson comes in a basic version, for classrooms without internet access and/or students at the 8th-9th grade level, and a more advanced version, which does require internet access and is aimed at students at higher grade levels.
In this lesson, students will:
- Examine an ad from Working 4 Working Americans that supports John Edwards’ plan to end tax incentives for companies that move U.S. jobs offshore.
- Research the history of the Maytag plant in Newton, Iowa, to determine whether or not those jobs really were moved offshore.
- Assess whether Edwards’ tax policy really will help to keep U.S. jobs from leaving the country.
Working 4 Working Americans (W4WA) is a political action committee (PAC) sponsored by the International Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, a union that endorsed 2008 Democratic presidential hopeful and former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards. As a PAC, Working 4 Working Americans could run advertisements in support of particular policy positions, though its ads could not, by law, directly advise voting for a specific person. In this case, the ad (which was running in Iowa shortly before the Iowa caucuses) highlights the recent closing of the Maytag plant in Newton, Iowa. The ad goes on to criticize “tax breaks” for companies that move American jobs offshore. It strongly implies that those tax breaks are to blame for the Maytag plant closure.
- Working 4 Working Americans, “Maytag Edwards.”
- Student Handout #1: Working 4 Working Americans, “Maytag Edwards storyboard.”
- Student Handout #2: Newton Daily News, “TPI will build factory in Newton, add 500 jobs over next three years.”
- Student Handout #3: “Whirlpool Corporation Announces Steps to Integrate Maytag Operations.”
- Student Handout #4: Washington Post, “U.S. Firms Keep Billions Overseas; Kerry’s Plan Spotlights Huge Untaxed Earnings.”
- Student Handout #5: Los Angeles Times, “Kerry Wants to End Tax Break for Corporate Profits Abroad.”
- Student Handout #6: Congressional Research Service, “Tax Exemption for Repatriated Foreign Earnings: Proposals and Analysis.”
- Student Handout #7: FactCheck.org, “Not Working 4 Edwards.”
(Advanced version does not require Student Handouts #2 through #6.)
Make enough copies of Student Handouts #1 and #7 for each student. Pass out Student Handout #1 at the beginning of Exercise #1.
If you are doing the basic version of the lesson, make packets of Student Handouts #2 through #6. Determine how many packets you will need for small groups of 3 to 5 students each and make a copy for each group. Distribute the packets at the beginning of Exercise #2.
If you are doing the advanced version, then each group will require internet access for Exercise #2.
Exercise #1 – Asking the Right Questions
To the teacher: The W4WA ad does not make any false claims. But good reasoners understand that it is sometimes possible to mislead with true claims – what we might call the literally true falsehood. It’s true that the Newton, Iowa, Maytag plant closed and that 1,800 people lost their jobs. But the ad strongly implies that the plant closed because the jobs were sent overseas. And that’s not true at all. This exercise asks students to review the W4WA ad and to discuss what the ad says – and what it implies.
Show students the W4WA ad and distribute copies of Student Handout #1, so that students will have the precise language of the ad in front of them.
After students have viewed the ad, divide the class into groups of 3 to 5 students each. Then ask each group to discuss the following questions:
- Why do you think that the Maytag plant in Newton, Iowa, closed?
- What does the ad say to make you think that? (Note: Press students to be specific here.)
- Does the ad offer any evidence that the Maytag plant really did close because the jobs were sent overseas?
- Does the ad offer any suggestions for ways to keep jobs from being moved overseas? What does the ad say to make you think that? (Again, press for specifics.)
- Does the ad offer any evidence that John Edwards’ plan to end tax breaks for companies that move good jobs offshore would actually help to keep jobs from moving offshore?
Have the groups report their findings back to the class.
Exercise #2 – Cross-checking / Weighing the Evidence
To the teacher: As your students should have discovered in Exercise #1, the W4WA ad strongly implies that the Maytag plant closed because the jobs were shipped offshore. It further implies that ending tax breaks for companies that ship U.S. jobs offshore would help keep those jobs in the U.S. But, as your students should also have noted, W4WA does not directly claim either of those things. There’s good reason for avoiding the direct claims: Neither one is true. In this exercise, students will investigate and assess the implied claims in the W4WA ad.
Divide the class into groups of 3 to 5 students each. If your class is doing the advanced version of the lesson plan, then the research in this section can be done online. If you are following the basic version, pass out Student Handouts #2 through #6. Then ask each group to answer the following questions:
- Did the Maytag plant in Newton, Iowa, really result in the loss of 1,800 jobs?
- Why did the Maytag plant close?
- Did production at the Newton plant move overseas? Where did it go?
- In 2004, Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry also proposed eliminating tax incentives for companies that move jobs offshore. What did economists think of Kerry’s plan?
- Would it have kept jobs from moving offshore?
- Would Edwards’ plan be likely to keep jobs from moving offshore?
- Would Edwards’ plan have helped to save the jobs in Newton, Iowa?
Have the students report their findings back to the class. Students can then examine the FactCheck.org article, “Not Working 4 Edwards” (Handout #7) to see whether their assessments agree with FactCheck.org’s. Have the students discuss differences (if any).
About The Author
Joe Miller received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Virginia. He is a former staff writer at FactCheck.org, a project of the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center. Before joining FactCheck, he served as an assistant professor of philosophy at West Point and at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke, where he taught logic, critical thinking, ethics and political theory. The winner of an Outstanding Teacher award at UNC-Pembroke and an Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant award at the University of Virginia, Joe has more than 10 years of experience developing curricula. He is a member of the American Philosophical Association and the Association for Political Theory.
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