Sunday, October 25, 2009

Commercialism in Schools - a Public Health Issue

As a parent, I am very concerned about the state of education in Massachusetts, especially with respect to shrinking school budgets and the narrow focus of testing in our schools.

In Massachusetts, many children attend inadequately funded and over-crowded public schools. The current emphasis on mandated standardized tests without adequate funding cuts into time for realizing any of the frameworks - and the unfortunate result is many schools have cut quality educational programming.

Meanwhile, the federal government has mandated that public schools create school wellness policies, but, at the same time, many schools are failing to actively address and promote healthy and active choices during school hours.

So, if public schools are so financially strapped, what could be the harm of a little corporate sponsorship in the schools?

Well, for one thing, there is no such thing as "a little corporate sponsorship".

Huge amounts of money and effort are invested in making kids literate in the language of consumerism, which essentially apprentices them for a lifetime of consumption.  But, just how do such promotions increase the school's educational integrity or welfare of students?

Well, they don't.

I think it more accurate to say that such practices perpetuate a subtle and pernicious endorsement from schools without competition to the sponsoring corporation. Schools that accept corporate funding or promotions are at the mercy of corporate agendas, which have yet to prove they care one iota for the health, education, or welfare of the students they purport to serve.

With respect to commercialism and its relation to school wellness policies: what message do we send children if parents and schools address healthy choices at home and in the classroom, only to have kids walk down the hall where they are offered choices for snacks and drinks that are high in calories, fat, and sugar? 

Marketing and advertising of a commercial nature should be off limits from every public school, athletic field, sport or school uniform, vending machine or cafeteria. Corporations must act more responsibly to support the integrity of school environments and the health and welfare of children.

One final point: if we are going to speak against commercialism in schools, then we must also speak for media literacy in the schools, as the two go hand-in-hand.

We are assailed by media messaging 24/7/365. Media literacy is the ability to sift through and analyze the messages that inform, entertain, and sell to us every day; it's the ability to bring critical thinking skills to bear on all media. In our world of commercialism, globalization, multi-tasking, and interactivity, media education isn't about having the right answers - it's about asking the right questions. And it is essential, now more than ever. The result is life-long empowerment of the learner and citizen.