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Schoolbus Advertisements: Are Schools Selling Out?

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Updated on Mar 30, 2012

You walk through your child’s high school and see a huge advertisement painted across each row of lockers. The school cafeteria is now named after a restaurant chain, and the school gym is named after a popular sports drink. Even the school buses, once humble and yellow, now sport ads along their sides.

Sound like something out of a futuristic horror movie? Not quite. Public schools around the country are inviting corporations into their buildings and selling ad space on their property. Corporations are ecstatic, especially those with products that target children and teenagers. After all, kids spend hours every day in school, so an advertisement on school property can cause brand loyalty in a way that little else can.

And if you think that’s shocking, listen to this. Schools are also using corporate sponsored curriculum materials –touted as “educational” – that promote products, brands, or an industry’s viewpoint. For example, Scholastic put out a curriculum on the advantages and disadvantages of various types of energy, but the curriculum was paid for by the coal industry. Of course, the “educational material” spoke in glowing words about the advantages of using coal energy over other types. Nestlé had a similar deal with Scholastic, in which they produced a lesson plan that was supposed to “spark students’ creativity,” but based the lesson plan on their own products. Other sponsored materials might include curricula that are geared to promoting a recent or upcoming movie – that profess to teach related history or science lessons, of course.

Money Talks

So why do schools agree to this industry encroachment? Josh Golin, the associate director of Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood (CCFC), sums it all up in one word: finances.

“We’ve seen a huge uptick in schools considering this since the economic downturn,” he says. “It seems that it’s only when schools are desperate for money that they consider advertising in their schools.”

But if schools can use advertising to raise badly needed funds, who could blame them? Golin believes that this argument is flawed. “One thing that tends to happen in these discussions is that proponents of advertising inflate how much money an ad actually makes. Schools make very little money off of advertising. We’re not talking about something that’s going to save the jobs of fifty teachers or allow a school to put in an entirely new infrastructure that will benefit the students. Usually what we’re talking about, when we divide it out, comes to a couple of dollars per student.”

“There are valid reasons for why we don’t want advertising in our schools,” Golin maintains. “These reasons are no less valid just because of the economic times we live in.”

The Dangers of School Advertisements

So why is schoolwide advertising such an issue? After all, students are surrounded by advertisements all of the time – on television, billboards, magazines, and websites.

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