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Teacher Newsmagazine Volume 16, Number 6, May/June 2004

Value vs. money

by Cathy Hart

With considerable cutbacks to B.C. public education, many public school districts are considering the potential monetary benefits of corporate sponsorship.

While revenue is desired, corporate sponsorship in B.C. public schools is undesirable. Therefore, when exploring the potential revenue that corporate sponsorship in public schools can bring, consider numbers but also values. No matter how much revenue can be gained and no matter what positive contributions the money can make in our public schools, corporate sponsorship in public schools is an unethical way to acquire funds.

When the monetary benefits of corporate sponsorship are considered, we must also reflect on values integral to public education: equity, critique, freedom, diversity, democracy, citizenship, transformation, social justice, and social responsibility.

Those values are compromised when corporate sponsorship is used in public schools. Children and youth are offered as a captive market to corporations in exchange for money. Children and youth are subjected to manipulation and brainwashing. Democratic public space is lost. Consumerism rather than citizenship is encouraged. And freedom is affected.

Corporations have marketing divisions that are created to capture the attention of children and youth so that they will be loyal to their brands as they age. Getting past the gates of public schools, corporations enter a world of opportunity. Schools are an ideal place for marketing because children and youth are required to attend and are therefore a captive audience.

Take, for example, Pizza Hut’s Book It! Reading Program. On the one hand, the program is a way to reward and encourage children in their reading development. On the other, it is a marketing technique that exposes the Pizza Hut brand to consumers when they are young, brings the whole family into the restaurant to spend money, and the sponsor hopes, develops lifelong brand loyalty.

I participated in that reading program before I became conscious that I was allowing marketing techniques to be used on the children in my classroom. When I became aware of the contradictions, I decided not to use the program. I did not want to participate in branding children who were in my care. I did not want to contradict the school’s teachings on health. In addition, I thought it unfair to place parents in the position of responding to their child’s request to go to Pizza Hut. Nagging is a direct effect of successful advertising, and nagging often leads to purchases.

The Pizza Hut Book It! Reading Program seems positive because it encourages reading and goal-setting, and corporate sponsorship in public schools may seem appealing because of the revenue it could provide when funds are limited. But I hope that by giving consideration to ethics, values, and the contradictions at play, you will decide that corporate sponsorship in public schools is not an ethical way to obtain revenue for our B.C. public schools.

Cathy Hart is a teacher on leave from the Cowichan School District.

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