Here’s an issue I feel strongly about: ads in the public schools. Since the late 1980s, it’s become commonplace for schools to alleviate budget shortfalls by selling ads in the schools, and by getting corporations to purchase much-needed equipment in exchange for a promotional plug.
When I was a professor, I used to discuss this with my media studies students, and I was stunned by all the examples of ads they encountered in the public schools. These ads and plugs are everywhere. In exchange for equipment, athletes wear uniforms loudly emblazoned with the donor company’s name. In the cafeteria, students can buy cans of soda from the company who has an exclusive contract with the school. Even everyday items like book covers are now sponsored by a company.
And now, to offset the copying costs for his exams — which he would otherwise have to pay for himself, due to budget cuts — a calculus teacher in California is selling ads on his exams.
Can’t we do better than this for our kids?
School is a place where we hope to teach our kids to think critically about society, and it’s not supposed to be a place where we teach kids a particular set of values. We wouldn’t, for example, allow the Catholic Church to distribute book covers to students with information about Catholicism. We wouldn’t allow a political candidate to distribute book covers with arguments about why she’s the best candidate. We would consider this brainwashing, even if the school were paid millions of dollars.
But when it comes to promoting certain companies, and the value system of consumerism as a whole, we think it’s no big deal. In a country where consumerism has become as big of a religion as anything else, why aren’t we concerned about teaching kids the doctrine of consumption as a part of their schooling?
I don’t blame schools and teachers for this. They do this because schools don’t have enough money to give kids what they need. Schools are forced to choose between doing without educational supplies and selling the eyeballs of children to advertisers. That’s a choice where students always lose.
Of course, I know this is a controversial issue, and that most Americans think ads in the schools are not that big of a deal. What do you think?