My son has been in public school for about six weeks. Every week we get an invitation to buy something from some company, or support corporate advertising through his school. The first week was NFL week, where the school tried to win a “grant” from the NFL by submitting pictures of students wearing NFL apparel. Next it was the “Fall Fundraiser,” where a corporation came in and showed my son a video of a bunch of kids having a party, then gave him an envelope containing the tools for us to provide data and money to a corporation selling candy and magazines. Next it’s the bookfair, and then picture day. These are all things that we had when I was a kid, except for NFL Week. I don’t suppose there’s anything hugely different, but now I’m seeing it as a parent.
NFL Week was thoroughly transparent: it raised a lot of questions. There’s the typical question of why the NFL doesn’t just give money to a randomly or thoughtfully selected school near each of its teams; there’s the question of why people who wouldn’t otherwise be buying NFL apparel (like my wife and I) should go out and get some in the name of providing money for the school; then there’s the question of why there’s chance involved. We felt uncomfortable turning our son into a billboard (something we avoid in all clothing purchases). Other corporations are doing similar things. We have recently seen high school students at our supermarket telling us to go to the Pepsi-Cola website to vote for their school, so that they can “win a grant” from Pepsico. This raises the same questions, and again it’s thoroughly transparent. Why doesn’t the company just use advertising to tell people to go their website, or a phony contest? If they want to tell people to go to their website, why do they have to fool children into doing it for them?
We hear all the time about how public schools just don’t have enough money, teachers don’t get paid enough, and so on and so on. That may all be true, but has anyone stopped to think about who has an interest in propagating that story? It may not be true after all, since when I was in contact with private schools, even in the richest of them I would hear talk of fund-raising and budget shortfalls all the time. They were just like public schools in that respect, except that it was obvious that they actually had huge piles of money. I just didn’t get why they had such a scarcity mentality, although I should point out there were some schools that didn’t. Those tended to be the ones who actually had fat kids and teenagers with funny haircuts (you know, like a normal school).
Whether public schools have enough money or not is really irrelevant when we see schools turned into avenues for advertising and commerce. Basically every week our son comes home with a piece of paper saying that there’s something we can buy through the school. Doesn’t that seem weird? Doesn’t it seem like these companies would be making less money if they didn’t have this avenue?
Now consider that these companies also have enough money to influence law-making.