Classroom Commercialism: Sensory Overload


Matthew Lindbloom

According to a recent story, brand names appeared on more than a million of New York’s Common Core standardized English tests, and some parents are questioning why product placement has made its way into the classroom. Even if the brand mentions are not paid advertisements, they represent a small piece of a growing issue that many Americans have become too comfortable with.

Commercialism in schools is hardly new. A report released in 2001 revealed that between 1990 and 2001, commercial activity in schools increased by 473%. As districts face steeper budget cuts, they are looking for alternative funding methods. While athletic fields seem like the most “natural” place to display advertisements, marketers are forming mutually beneficial relationships with many districts. It’s important that we analyze how deeply they’ve already quietly infiltrated the education space.

Here are some recent examples of these efforts:

  • Currently, seven states (with nine more considering legislation) allow external school bus advertising. Some districts even allow brand logos and slogans on the interior of school buses.
  • Some states allow advertisements on lockers, lunch trays and whiteboards.
  • One Colorado school district placed ads on notices sent home to parents, even report cards! District officials expect to earn $30,000 on the report card deal, while the district has cut $60 million from the budget over the last three years.
  • Corporations are purchasing the right to have their names appear on school stadiums, as well as on school buildings, rooms and equipment.
  • In California and Texas, Staples has sponsored classroom supply lists, which are printed on Staples-branded paper. The lists even include coupons for parents.
  • In 2009, companies spent $150 million marketing foods and beverages in schools, while a national survey found that 67% of schools promote advertising for foods that are high in fat and/or sugar.
  • Channel One News, a free digital content provider for schools, is broadcast to approximately five million elementary, middle and high school students across the country. It includes two minutes of advertisements per day, which roughly equates to one day of instructional time per year.

Educators already have a difficult enough task without marketers using classrooms to build brand loyalty and gain customers for life. But they often get a pass because the monetary gains they seek and receive are tacitly endorsed by adults who willingly succumb to the marketers’ influence.

It’s time for legislators to recognize that students, who are more subject to persuasion and influence than adults, should be faced with the least amount of corporate influence as possible. Children should to be taught to think for themselves, not fit a mold dictated by marketing dollars.

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