Monday, November 7, 2011

School Sell Out

Rep. Chris Lee opposes the Department of Education's support of a plan to allow advertising on Hawaii school campuses. He discusses the issue in a guest column in today's issue of the Star Advertiser.

Schools are for education, not advertising

The state Department of Education is supporting a plan to allow advertising in our public schools to raise money ("DOE backs plan to allow limited ads on school campuses," Star-Advertiser, Nov. 2).

"For example, a company might want to say … ‘Congratulations, graduates,' along with their logo," says Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi.

But what happens when that company logo is Philip Morris or Marlboro?

No matter the corporate sponsor, advertising in our public schools blurs the line between education and indoctrination. Children are often too young and too impressionable to recognize the difference between the two. Public schools are the one place where children are supposed to have an unadulterated education, and we must not let that be compromised by corporate advertising just to make a quick buck.

This proposal suggests that advertising will be installed in "non-instructional areas" such as hallways and libraries. However, that is a distinction that only an adult would recognize. Children are often too young to distinguish between what they are shown inside a classroom and what they are shown when they step into the hallway.

Other states have found that advertising in schools can compromise education. An in-school TV network used in about 8,000 mainland middle and high schools has been sharply criticized because it brought advertising into the classroom. A follow-up study in Pediatrics found that students actually remember more from the ads than from the educational content.

Even if advertising is limited to corporate logos and brief messages, these often can contradict messages schools are trying to promote. For example, logos such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi are specifically designed to be instantly recognizable and associated with the consumption of sugary sodas. What message would that send on the wall of a school hallway next to an official school poster promoting healthy diets?

Children and parents are two of the most lucrative retail markets that also are most often exploited. Responsible parents can turn off the TV and limit their children's exposure to the deluge of corporate advertising designed to make them want to buy every new thing. Advertising in our schools prevents parents from doing that.

If ever there was the danger for a slippery slope, this is it. Schools around the country have fought the introduction of advertising, but once the door to advertising is opened, schools can change rapidly. Just last month in Massachusetts, school administrators approved selling advertising space on permission slips and other notices that go home to parents.

There is no question that our schools could use more money. However, instead of resorting to bringing private corporations into our public schools, the state Board of Education should insist that our schools be properly funded by the state to begin with. After all, providing our children a good education is one of the most important reasons we all pay taxes — we must see to it that money is put to the best use.

Learning at a young age is more than a classroom experience — it is interacting with the entire campus environment. We cannot reasonably expect a 9-year-old to distinguish between education and indoctrination. We cannot reasonably expect advertising in our schools, whether in classrooms or hallways, to have no effect on our children's learning experience and education.

After all, if advertising had no effect, corporations would not be so eager to advertise in our schools.

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