Advocacy Group Tells Scholastic: Kids’ Minds Are Not For Sale

by Jesse Call

An advocacy organization is calling on one of the nation’s largest publishers of school textbooks and curriculum to end its practice of allowing corporations to directly market to students through its products.

Since the 1950s, Scholastic says it has allowed direct marketing to students by providing free curriculum to teachers paid for by government agencies, non-profits, foundations, and for-profit corporations through the Scholastic InSchool Marketing program.

The materials provided by for-profit corporations are the ones that are of most concern to the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, the Boston-based advocacy group that has started an online campaign to end the program.

“There is widespread outrage that Scholastic is choosing to promote client objectives and we’re very hopeful that Scholastic is hearing that,” Josh Golin, associate director of the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, said.

In response to the recent attention brought to this issue by CCFC, Scholastic said it is taking “a thoughtful review of all sponsored programs.”

“’Kids are a captive audience,” Golin said, adding that Scholastic should only be developing materials for the educational benefit of children and not “for the benefit of corporations to get their messages into schools.”

However, Scholastic said it feels that this program is for the educational benefit of children.

Good cited several different programs that have been developed this year through the InSchool Marketing program, including lessons on the U.S. Census, math literacy, fire safety, drug prevention, diversity and the environment.

While CCFC believes tackling important issues like these should be done in schools, CCFC does not support the messages on the issues coming from foundations developed by corporate stakeholders.

Scholastic declined to name any of its clients, but CCFC said that in the past some clients have included Disney, DreamWorks, Nestle, McDonald’s and America’s coal industry.

“Selecting partner organizations is challenging in a country rich with debate and divergent views on so many issues,” Kyle Good, vice president of corporate communications for Scholastic, explained. “But the alternative of not teaching our children about important and relevant issues of the day is not acceptable.”

But, again, CCFC said, those messages should not be coming from stakeholders. CCFC was successful last year in getting Scholastic to pull a program created by the coal industry about the environmental impact of coal mining in the United States. Scholastic declined to comment further on that decision, but CCFC said it demonstrated a clear conflict of interest.

Scholastic argues that the amount of educational materials developed outside of this program greatly exceeds its sponsored curriculum.

“These sponsored materials represent a tiny fraction of the hundreds of millions of pages of content Scholastic produces annually,” Good said. “Our trusted position in schools has been earned over the past 90 years by the hard work of our committed employees who make it their mission to ensure that every child learns to read and becomes a lifelong learner.”

And, Good contends that teachers across the country appreciate that the sponsored curriculum is free.

“Teachers consistently tell us how valuable our free materials are – and even more so in these difficult economic times when so many schools are strapped for funds and resources.”

However, CCFC said they are consistently being told by teachers and school board members that they feel Scholastic is violating its sacred place in our schools by allowing outside corporate influence.

“People who are on school boards said they are extremely concerned about this and that if Scholastic did not change their policy they would be reviewing the entire presence of Scholastic in their schools,” Golin continued.

It’s not clear whether any of the InSchool Marketing curriculum has made its way into local schools, but a Cincinnati Public Schools spokesperson said it is unlikely.

CPS has a policy which does not allow schools to engage in activities for the benefit of for-profit corporations, she said, adding that a selection committee is in charge of determining curriculum under strenuous guidelines. Teachers are not supposed to use any curriculum not approved by the district.

CCFC has used change.org, an online petition site, to collect more than 54,000 signatures demanding Scholastic end the InSchool Marketing Program. The petition is accessible online at: http://www.change.org/petitions/tell-scholastic-stop-pushing-corporate-pr-in-classrooms

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