Ads in schools would be a disservice to our children

I was disappointed to see this newspaper support the idea of selling ad space in Rochester public schools. A proposal before the school board would allow advertising in the hallways and public spaces. Classrooms and bathrooms would be off limits, but if the experience of other school districts around the country is to be our guide, you’re probably going to have to include the potential for advertising on buses, floors, cafeterias, parking lots, activity rooms, lockers, playgrounds and entryways.

The activities director at one local high school said that scoreboards, cable access channels and school websites would all be fair game. He singled out the ability to run commercials during intermission breaks at games.

I sympathize with the budgetary pressures faced by our schools, even if they are brought about in part thanks to anti-tax special interests and the loyal servants they have bankrolled in the state house. Like most parents in the system, I have done my small part to help my daughter’s school, whether it’s pulling out the checkbook to donate to the PTA or buying during fundraisers.

I also understand that advertising in schools probably doesn’t seem like a complicated question to a lot of people, at least insofar as letting a local body shop hang its logo on the fence at a football game. As this paper says, "this plan could be a winner for just about everyone. Our schools could get a much-needed infusion of money… Local businesses would be able to reach a huge market with their advertising messages, and local consumers might be persuaded to spend more of their money here, with local companies."

But this is about national businesses, too, is it not? We are talking about getting a fleet of new video scoreboards out of the deal. "There are lots of cases these days of marketing companies serving as ‘middleman’ between schools and companies," says Faith Boninger of the National Education Policy Center , in an email. She said private ad brokers "can ‘collect’ a lot of schools so that it's worthwhile for larger corporations to invest in advertising." She directed my attention to a national organization that is doing just that.


On the website for Education Funding Partners — a Denver based school-ad sales company — their sales pitch dangles the potential of gaining exclusive access to "targets" (that would be your kids) like this: "EFP's sponsor marketing platform gives national consumer brands unparalleled access to the K-12 marketplace… EFP can customize and rapidly deploy targeted programs by age target (high school, middle school, and elementary), student venues (athletic facilities/events, communications and locations like cafeterias, auditoriums, and hallways), and geographic region (West, Central, Southeast, Northeast, etc.)." Nice to know my second grader, who still believes in Santa Claus, is a "target."

So you see, this isn’t just about a local realtor drumming up some business on the back of a jersey. This is about Six Flags. And American Idol. And Clearasil, Domino's, Applebee's, the Dodge Durango and Wal-Mart. You have to assume that this is about the potential for your daughter’s soccer game becoming interrupted by Denis Leary selling you the Ford F-150.

No one thinks the district is going to run ads for Grand Theft Auto, or Marlboros, but that’s not the point. As the National Education Policy Center says in its latest report on the subject, marketing tells kids to think about purchases, and that carries a cost, whether we accept the data on this finding or not. "Advertising makes children want more, eat more, and think that their self-worth can and should come from commercial products."

This policy removes one of the last commercial-free spaces in children’s lives. It is an implicit endorsement by the school system of not simply certain products, but the larger idea of buying things to make ourselves happy. It gives the thumbs up to following the latest cool shoes, cell phone or video game. In this way, marketing to kids ultimately promotes consumerism and materialism, and with that, higher levels of depression, anxiety, somatic problems, conduct disorder, conflict with parents, disregard for others and even the natural environment. (This has all been documented: see "The High Price of Materialism" by Tim Kasser, Ph.D., or "Born to Buy" by Juliet Schorr.)

It is also disrespectful, to our children and our schools, to view the places of learning as just another billboard. If you want one image to hold onto as you consider this proposal, go to the website for School Media Inc. , a company in the Twin Cities that places ads in schools. They sell large "wrapped" ads that run across the front of a row of lockers.

A locker is a student’s only piece of real estate during the day, a blank slate where he or she can retreat between classes to organize his or her thoughts for a brief moment. Are we really going to stamp a large slogan for a company on there? Are we that cheap?

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