August 31st, 2004

Don't Put Ads on School Buses

By Gary Ruskin
Commercial Alert

Across the country, thousands of schools and districts are facing serious budget shortfalls. But putting our children up for sale to advertisers is not the answer to the school- funding crisis.

Turning the school and the school bus into an advertising delivery mechanism corrupts the integrity of public education. It transfers the moral authority of school administrators and teachers to corporate advertisers, some of which are selling controversial products. For example, the in-school marketing service Channel One regularly advertises crass movies such as Dude, Where’s My Car?, which was the story of marijuana-smoking teenagers who got so stoned that they could not remember where they parked their car.

Advertising is antithetical to the purposes of education, one of which is the development of critical reasoning. The purpose of advertising, on the other hand, is to subvert critical reasoning to promote the sale of a product. For that reason alone advertising doesn’t belong in schools or on school buses.

Misuse of the Law
According to a recent poll by market-research firm Yankelovich Partners, 65 percent of Americans think there should be more limits and regulations on advertising and marketing; 65 percent say they are bombarded with too much advertising and marketing; and 60 percent say they have a much more negative opinion about these activities than they did a few years ago. Since the overwhelming majority of Americans are fed up with commercial promotion, schools that foster it may face a public revolt and decreased taxpayer support.

In addition, advertising in schools or on school buses is a misuse of the compulsory-attendance laws. These laws should be used only for educational purposes, not for compelling children to look at advertising or other propaganda, or for promoting controversial products or degraded values.

As any administrator knows, children are impressionable. They’re especially impressionable at school, because at school they are taught to obey. So you have an impressionable child, taught to obey, forced to ride the bus, and then force-fed ads for products such as movies and soda that Mom and Dad may not want their children to see.

It’s obvious who wants to advertise in schools: the soda, candy, and junk-food industries that many parents try to restrict. It’s not the school’s role to abet junk-food marketers like Coca-Cola or PepsiCo, who teach bad nutrition. American children are suffering from an epidemic of marketing-related diseases, including obesity and Type 2 diabetes. Schools should help parents teach good nutrition, not help companies promote junk food, soda, and other unhealthy products.

A “Sanctuary” Sacrificed
Traditionally, the school was a sanctuary from more noxious aspects of the commercial culture, such as advertisements for violent and sexualized entertainment (commonplace on Channel One). Regrettably, some school administrators argue that since corporations clobber kids with advertising when they’re everywhere else outside of school, therefore districts should be able to clobber students in school, too. That’s a weak argument.

Some school officials believe that school bus ads will alleviate schools’ financial crises. But just because it’s easy to take advantage of kids doesn’t mean we should do it. Instead of hurting our childrens’ health and values, school leaders might organize a nationwide coalition to revoke the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, and send the funds to schools that truly need it.

Some things are too important to be for sale. That’s especially true of our children. Don’t put them up for sale to corporate marketers. Not their minds. Not their time. Not their personal information. Not their attention. Not for sale.

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