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American Schools

 

Introduction

A community-empowered school is one in which administrators, teachers, staff, students, parents, and members of the community at large feel that they have a stake in the success of that school. Despite common reservations about the involvement of parents and volunteers in the classroom, this book makes clear the long-term advantages of onsite parent centers offering ESL classes, computer literacy/job-training classes, and classes in how to help students learn at home. The sources of financial and other help need not be limited to local businesses. District personnel, legislators, nonprofit agencies, and corporations can discover that they will benefit as a school succeeds.

 


Many books have examined what attracts community involvement, providing specific plans for volunteer programs and resource development. There are also some that identifies the stakeholders and what they can offer a school. School administrations have described policies and procedures for program monitoring in relation to offering specific material for a workshop to train teachers in the use of tutors and mentors in the classroom, including overheads, worksheets, and memos. Aside from making outlines strategies using volunteers that increase literacy for students and their families, schools must also address sources of funding in order to explain the cost-effective nature of community support, and show how all the stockholders can affect public policy to increase the number of community-empowered schools.

American schools are awash in commercialism. Corporate America routinely sponsors programs and activities, promotes its products and services, and attempts to “tell its story” in schools and classrooms. Since 1998 the Commercialism in Education Research Unit (CERU) has in annual reports documented the scope and character of these commercializing activities. Of the trends reported the rapid increase in the number of schools signing exclusive agreements with soft drink bottlers is among the more troubling from a public health perspective.

Manufacturers of processed foods with high fat, sugar, and salt content such as hamburgers, French fries, and candy promote their products in schools using a number of guises, e.g., contests, incentive programs, and “learning” materials that feature their products. Soft drink bottlers have, in addition, offered schools financial incentives to sign “exclusive” agreements that guarantee only their products will be sold in the school. The effect of these agreements is to turn schools into agents of the bottler with a financial incentive to promote the consumption of the bottler’s products.

In any school the health and nutrition curriculum children are taught advocates a well balanced diet that is low in fat, sugar, and salt. When a school enters into an exclusive agreement with a bottler it, in effect, undermines its own curriculum and puts the school in the position of tacitly promoting unhealthful behavior. Soft drink consumption has increased dramatically over the last decade. Since soft drink consumption is closely associated with childhood obesity, and is a risk factor for diabetes, enlightened child-oriented policy would remove soft drinks from schools altogether instead of seeking to profit from their consumption. There are signs of a backlash. In California, for example, legislators weighed a bill that would tax soft-drink syrup and use the proceeds to fund anti-obesity programs for children, while the Public Health Institute of Berkeley released a report charging that companies had too much selling and marketing power in schools. Some schools began curtailing such agreements on their own.

In the Wisconsin school district of Mequon-Thiensville, a school board member’s resistance to an exclusivity agreement with Pepsi-Cola was met part way with an agreement between the district and the company not to allow Pepsi logos on athletic scoreboards. In August 2001, Madison, Wis., schools opted not to renew a contract with Coca-Cola worth $300,000 to the district.
In late August 2002, the Los Angeles School Board banned the sale of soft drinks in the district’s 677 schools in vending machines or school stores during school hours beginning in 2004. In doing so, school officials noted that the action would cost schools tens of thousands of dollars each in profits received under exclusive merchandising agreements, but held firm. The ban “was inspired, in part, by recent reports spotlighting the obesity epidemic in Los Angeles, including a UCLA survey that found that 40 percent of 900 students in 14 Los Angeles Unified schools were obese,” the Los Angeles Times noted.

Still, exclusive deals continued to hold sway. While Coca-Cola in March 2001 announced it was backing away from exclusive pouring rights contracts with schools and would not block more healthful competing drinks such as juices and water from its school vending machines, the soft drink manufacturer continued to look for ways to exercise market leverage with youth outside schoolhouse walls. In Oakland, Calif., for example, the company promised the city $500,000 for community youth programs in return for a 10-year agreement banning the sale of competitors’ soft drinks on city property. The commercialization of education, carried out by global corporations, is the practice of altering or disrupting the teaching and learning process in schools from kindergarten through college, by introducing advertising and other commercial activities in order to increase profit.

Body

Corporations claim, with great fanfare, that they are ‘community partners’ bringing needed resources to underfunded schools and helping students get the things that legislators can’t or won’t provide. In reality, through tax loopholes and lobbying, corporations have themselves defunded education. In-School marketers have made it clear that they intend to infiltrate and use public schools as a vehicle for reaching a captive audience. Their stated goal is to brand children as early as possible to consume their clients’ products. Systematic commercialization of schools is a relatively new marketing strategy, although its roots go back decades to in-school ‘banking’ programs and the occasional fundraiser such as magazine sales. The 1990’s saw an explosion of marketing to children in schools. Commercializing schools has the power to break down the distinction between truth and fiction, the relationship between teachers and students, and the barrier between public and private domains. By inserting commercial messages throughout the school day, corporations have violated the social contract that those entrusted with the welfare of children will be guided by their own professional judgment.

For the first time in American history, educators are standing aside and allowing global corporations to ‘educate’ our children. With little or no state legislation or district policy regulating commercialism, marketers have begun introducing hundreds of commercial messages into the school day. Despite research and testimony from educators, health care professionals, and parents that schools are being misused for commercial purposes and that the teacher-student relationship is being eroded by outside commercial interests, school boards are reluctant to address the issue, much less adopt a strong policy. ‘Entrepreneurial’ district administrators insist that in-school marketing and corporate ‘partnership’ schemes are ‘creative’ sources of education funding. This new Orwellian era of ‘Schools ‘R’ Us’ is frightening. Currently, 40% of all secondary students in the United States are required to watch daily television commercials as part of one marketing scheme – Chris Whittle’s Channel One program. Thousands of thirsty students have no choice but to buy Pepsi or Coca-Cola drinks at their school, due to exclusive contracts signed by their school administrators.

Thousands of elementary school students are exposed every day to advertising messages from food companies and industry groups plastered on their cafeteria walls. A 1997 study by the Seattle Council of Parent Teacher Student Associations found a wide variety of commercial messages in 29 of the 30 Seattle elementary and secondary schools sampled.

Children are now bombarded at school with wall advertisements, daily television commercials, promotional samples, school fund-raising schemes, contests requiring students to claim prizes at local franchises, internet banner advertisements on every website seen at school, and large printed advertisements distributed to children to use as book covers. Logos of corporate sponsors festoon everything from lunch menus to homework assignments to bookmarks. Corporate messages are also introduced indirectly through sponsored educational materials such as lesson plans, videos, and reproducibles, Corporations sponsor free trainings for teachers and administrators, as well as presentations at conventions for school board members. Commercialism of education is inherently damaging for the development of children and ultimately for the future of democracy. The damage to children’s development falls into three general categories –physical, psycho-social, and intellectual. A brief look at these three areas shows why education must become commercial-free.

Schools promote sales of soft drinks containing high levels of sugar and caffeine. Their ‘empty calories’ can take the place of nutritionally valuable food or lead to weight gain. Schools also expose children to direct advertising and sales of snack foods and candy. Some schools have outsourced their school lunch program to fast-food franchises such as Pizza Hut. School PTAs are paid to encourage families to eat General Mills products, ignoring concerns about possible effects of Genetically Engineered food on children.The foods and beverages advertised and sold to children at school present added risks for obesity, diabetes, bone fracture, cardiovascular disease, and dental caries. These foods are in direct competition with the school lunch programs and nutritional guidelines set forth by the USDA, as well as the schools’ own health curriculums.

Conclusion
The clutter of advertising throughout the school environment does more than distract children from reflecting on important lessons and focusing on necessary skills. The subtext of all ads is that problems are best solved by spending money. The manipulation of words and imagery to influence behavior is propaganda, so by definition, advertising is antithetical to true education. Given the dearth of systematic media-literacy education, children are ill-equipped to cope with sophisticated marketing techniques. American children are already bombarded with ads in the outside world – now even school does not provide a refuge for developing critical thinking. Selling and giving marketers access to the minds of children who need and deserve a real education is not only exploitation of children but of the public trust. A democratic society depends on the good judgment and participation of its citizens, and when the process of educating our own citizens is sabotaged for profit, democracy itself is endangered. Commercialism of schools is not simply a case of ‘adding a few ads’ to a child’s day -- commercializing public education is a wholesale corporate takeover of our future. In a democracy, it’s the kind of risky business we can’t afford.

In this regard, it can be seen that the administration of school has been affecting the students and the teachers in such a way that they do not have a voice with regard to the things that are happening in the school. They are some sort of robots to the administration of the schools. This is because of the fact that even if the school teachers, parents and students are no longer in agreement with the school administration, they do not have a voice. They cannot voice out their opinion because the school administration ahs already settled and agreed with other commercialized business for the sake of raising funds and developing the schools and everything related to it.

References

Seaton, D. (2002, April 4) School soda pacts viewed. The Press-Enterprise (Riverside, CA), p. B1.

Rummler, G. (2001, Sept. 24) Ads in Milwaukee Schools Raise Money, Ire. Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

Hayasaki, E. (2002, Aug. 28) Schools to end soda sales. Los Angeles Times Part 2, p. 1.

Homsey, G. The market rules: when are corporate sponsorships too much of a good thing? Planning (the American Planning Assn.), Nov. 1, 2001, Vol. 67, No. 11, p. 10


 
 
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