Friday, December 30, 2011

Corporate sponsorships and the Easter Bunny are dangerous to students

In a time when school budgets are getting slashed and extra curricular programs are being slowly destroyed it would make sense to reach out to the business community for a little support.  You know, make connections, build relationships, open opportunities for students, provide some revenue enhancements…..

Wait a minute.  Revenue enhancement?  Do you mean corporate sponsorships at a school?  HOW DARE WE EXPOSE LITTLE JOHNNY TO A COCA-COLA LOGO!

In a recent study by the National Education Policy Center, it was stated that corporate sponsorships limited a student’s ability to engage in critical thinking.  In the brief it explains that Johnny’s value judgments will be corrupted by the one place advertising is not common (which is untrue) and that simply marketing a product sends a message that the school is willing to sell out aspects of higher level thinking to promote a consumer culture that doesn’t want you to think.  Basically the mission of the school is to educate and the mission of the corporation is to enhance their profit margin, and the two missions conflict. 

There are two problems with this hypothesis.  First is the idea that children are somehow exempt from marketing when they step on a school campus.  Never mind that every textbook, pencil, and many school posters show corporate names and logos (Scholastic or Pearson or Prentice Hall), the students themselves are the most influential billboards for corporations.  It is not a coincidence that the most marketed to demographic is the American teenager since in just takes one opinion leader to create a trend that could involve thousands of potential customers.  That kind of marketing has been around for decades and there hasn’t been much movement towards clamping down on that aspect of consumerism.  

The second problem is the continued perception that schools are somehow spineless to create contracts with corporations that benefit students.  If the school’s fundamental concern is education then why not create a sponsorship policy that reflects that?  Demand that the contract reflect opportunities for kids that goes beyond money for advertisements.  Some school districts are doing that now and colleges have been doing it for a long time.  And while some corporations might try and play hard ball, insisting that the marketing has to be this way or that, the school always has a real neat option.  No.  But if the corporation is smart and realizes that hundreds or thousands of potential customers (and employees) are there, they’ll work with a school district to create a plan that benefits everyone. 

In the end the main reason why many tear into corporate sponsorships is political.  School boards are made up of people that often show political bias in decision making.  The lone negative vote when Santa Rosa dealt with sponsorships was going to vote “no” regardless of the benefit to the schools.  Wal-Mart could cure cancer, solve the national deficit, and film a better ending to the X-Files and that vote would have still been “no”.  So much for common sense public policy.

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