Saturday, December 20, 2008

Mad Shade Cred

I honestly can't believe I'm actually posting about this again. In case
you missed my post from last December - "Supersize My... Report Card?" - last year I was outraged that Seminole County, Florida was selling ad space to McDonald's on the front of its report cards, in exchange for McDonald's fronting the printing costs of the report cards.

Well it looks like Seminole County started a bit of a trend. This article: "Teacher Sells Advertising on Tests" explains that a San Diego teacher is selling advertising at the bottom of math tests in order to pay the cost of printing the tests. Ads like "Braces by Stephen P. Henry D.M.D." go for various prices, depending on the kind of test. Advertising space on quizzes is sold for $10 a pop, test ad space goes for $20 and final exams rack up a whopping $30 per ad.

Let's be clear. I feel teachers' pain. I understand that they have to do the best they can with slashed budgets and support. They're overworked and underpaid and they're responsible for shaping the future generations. The billion-dollar budget cuts for education that these school districts are facing are absurd, especially considering all the other things this country is spending money on. And when underpaid teachers are expected to pay for things like test printing and classroom supplies out of their own pockets, it's understandable that they would search for alternatives. One innovative example is the Gold Star Registry, which lets teachers put together a wish list (just like a bridal registry) of school supplies, bulletin boards, posters, etc. that parents can purchase for the class. Clever idea. But it goes to show that if schools' budgets are cut and teachers are in a pinch, there are other ways to subsidize that don't involve advertising to kids.

Don't get me wrong - I am all for advertising. (How could I not be - the ad industry writes my paycheck.) But I don't think kids should be advertised to in school. Like I said in my previous article - Channel One's advertising-rich school news programs, fast-food-chain-sponsored reading programs... these are dubious choices by school districts in my opinion. But at least kids and parents have some opportunity (if limited) to opt-out of these sales pitches, by not paying attention to the Channel One programs or not participating in the fast-food-sponsored programs. Kids can't opt-out of a test.

Although the example in the article is an ad for braces, which seems relatively harmless, this sets a dangerous precedent. What's next? Product placement in the classroom? I can just picture it now. "Kids, if you add 3/4 cup of Tropicana Orange Juice..." (holds up Tropicana bottle, label side out) "...and 1/4 cup of Welch's Grape Juice ('100% juice!'), how many cups do you have?" And maybe we move from quiz-ads for braces to test-ads for Frosted Flakes to final-exam-ads for Grand Theft Auto IV.

Kids are in school to learn. Not to be advertised to. They're already advertised to in the lunchroom, they're advertised to in homeroom (with Channel One and similar programs), they're advertised to on their classmates' clothing and accessories, and in some districts they're advertised to on their report cards. Tests were the last bastion of ad-free goodness. Math problems, essays, true/false questions, and that's it. But not anymore.

Are you SAD? Is the quadratic equation getting you down? Turn your frown upside down with Zoloft.


Anonymous said...

Advertising is so ubiquitous in our society that many people probably didn't give this issue a second thought. And now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to step away from my iBook G4 for a few minutes to brew a cup of Starbucks coffee before I listen to my iPod.

Lisa said...

Haha. Yes, good point. Ubiquitous indeed.