January 26, 2001


School Advertising

written by
Lynn Trenning

























For more about Lynn Trenning, please visit her main page.

aired on WFAE, January 26, 2001

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System recently voted to let schoolrooms be named after corporate and individual sponsors. What a great idea. Because what is school, if not a laboratory for future citizens, whose greatest duty as Americans will be to spend, consume, and generate as much money as possible. In our capitalistic marketplace, the faster we can turn our children into consumers, the better. Impressionable and unformed when they enter the school system, children are a blank sheet that can be corporately branded so quickly and effectively, they won't even feel the pain.

In addition to exposing children to repetitive advertising, it is important to teach them, as early as possible, that the highest bid wins, and that loyalty can be purchased. Maybe orange juice has more nutritional value than Coke, but if Coca Cola pays for a nice new scoreboard on the football field, the kids who benefit should drink Coke for breakfast lunch and dinner, and be grateful that such an important corporation cares enough about them to pay for their undivided attention.

School is the perfect place to advertise to children. They arrive alert, and ready to learn, with instructions to obey their elders and pay attention. Just think, every time a child enters a designated corporate classroom he will gain repeat exposure to a corporate identity. Those corporate logos will burn into our student's collective subconscious, right up there next to Grandma, and Big Bird.

According to the new CMS policy, the criteria for having a room named after a company includes an equipment donation (perhaps a Pepsi Cola soda machine), or cash (maybe to buy some IBM computers). Maybe a corporation will offer to write curriculum as a gift to our schools. Imagine this math question: if the cafeteria serves fourteen children Oscar Meyer Lunchables with Oreos, and six children bring Dannon yogurt from home, how many General Mills products are being eaten simultaneously?

Children already come home from school wearing corporate stickers that refer to which company's employees read to them today, and what local restaurant is donating a percentage of their proceeds to the school on purchases made Tuesday night. I don't think the advertising opportunity has been sufficiently milked. Let's provide students with brochures of colorful corporate logos and encourage them to get tattoos of their favorite brand. For each tattooed student, the corporation will write a check to the school, with a 5% cut for the kid who goes under the needle.

The schools really are selling themselves short. Advertisers spend millions of dollars for a fleeting 30 second Superbowl television ad. For a comparable pittance, our schools are agreeing to provide a reliable demographic of alert young viewers in a learning mode for as long as the school is standing. If this is the new public school policy, at least start charging some real bucks!

A naive person may believe free time and talent should be donated by businesses to the school district because it is the breeding ground for their future employees, neighbors and leaders. This same dreamer may think schools should teach children how to make choices, not sell them as consumers to corporations. But here's the unfortunate reality. Our schools are a pipeline for consumers who will drive the Dow to the sky, or send our retirement funds to the sewer. Our response is to train these mini-consumers young, before they are wise enough to question our definition of success.

~ Lynn Trenning

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