Sell Our Kids To Advertisers? No Thanks, Says San Diego

by: 

Josh Golin

Huzzah to the San Diego Board of Education!

San Diego school board members were once intrigued by the thought of allowing ads on campus to help soften the blow of budget cuts, but they turned uncomfortable once they learned more.

The board voted 4-1 Tuesday to reject a plan to allow ads in hallways, cafeterias, libraries and other places on school campuses. Nine months ago, the same board directed staff to research the idea.

It is hard to overstate what a courageous decision this is. San Diego schools, like so many in these difficult times, desperately need money; officials estimate the district is facing a deficit of between $141 million and $160 million next year. But rather than succumb to slick sales pitches from companies eager to exploit their financial situation, the San Diego board carefully studied the issue.

They realized that the money they’d raise by allowing advertising on their hallways and in their cafeterias would be a drop in the bucket (about $10,000 per school) compared to what they need. More importantly, they were honest that there was a real cost associated with selling their kids to advertisers.

"We need to teach them critical thinking, not jam thoughts down their heads," said school board member John de Beck, who voted against the plan. "I don't want to be a part of using kids to sell stuff."

Neither do CCFC members. Yesterday afternoon, I learned from a reporter that a board vote was scheduled for that evening. We quickly emailed our supporters in the San Diego area and urged them to contact their board members and attend the meeting. Despite the short notice, they did. Here’s CCFC member Elena McCollim, the mother of a kindergartener in San Diego Unified schools, at the meeting last night:

Public schools, like public parks, are part of the shrinking commercial-free space in public life. I sympathize with the need for money for schools. But I question what message we're sending to our children.

And here’s what CCFC member Elaine Boyd wrote to the board:

Dear Board of Education:

I know that public schools are under terrible financial stress, but please don’t sell our kids to advertisers.

What do ads “teach” kids? They generally teach them to want things they don’t need. Turning children into hungry consumers is nearly inescapable as it is – squeezing ad messages in through the cracks of the schoolyard leaves virtually no commercial-free place to hide.

Corporations are already setting the agenda for the childhood experience in powerful ways through toys, food, and popular media. (There is a growing body of academic work dedicated to the subject.) The halls of education should be the place where the message to “consume – consume – consume” should be countered, not promoted.

I have a 4 year old daughter who will enter kindergarten in one year. Some of my friends are stunned that she doesn’t pester me to buy things for her. It’s because she has never seen TV or print ads and hasn’t been taught to want things that (a) are bad for her health, or (b) will wind up in a landfill within months.

I love that my child is unreachable by corporations who seek to create false needs in her mind, thus saddling her with a needless sense of dissatisfaction if she doesn’t get the desired object. Offering her up to single-minded corporate advertisers would certainly change that.

Finally, I have heard that in-school advertising almost never generates the revenue that administrators expect. Please reject ads in schools.

What a perfect letter. And what a great decision by the Board. Even in this economy, we can -- and must -- preserve commercial-free spaces for kids.

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