Apodaca: Corporations have no place in public education

May 19, 2012|By Patrice Apodaca

How far should we go to save public education?

So far as to name a school gym after a corporate sponsor? Let business interests influence textbook content? Put cigarette and junk food ads on the sides of school buses?

If you think these ideas sound far-fetched, think again.

As school budgets continue to be squeezed, districts are increasingly tempted to allow an insidious march of corporate marketers onto campus. Bearing gifts of needed school supplies, enrichment programs and outright cash, these businesses come in do-gooder guise, but that pretense does little to camouflage their aims of manipulating the buying decisions of kids and their parents.


Of course, alliances between business and public education have long existed. Supermarket scrip programs, contributions to booster clubs and sports teams by local merchants and advertisements in school-related materials — these types of relationships aren't new or particularly controversial.

And certainly there are organizations affiliated with business people, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which do genuine good deeds for education and other causes.

But now there's blood in the water, and business sharks can sense it. Desperate for money as public funding dries up, many schools are increasingly allowing big profit-making enterprises to come to the rescue, sometimes in shockingly brazen ways.

In public education, "the presence of commercializing activities is growing at a fast pace," according to the Colorado-based National Education Policy Center (NEPC) in its annual report on commercialism in schools.

Consider some recent examples:

•Oil giant Shell and the American coal industry are among those corporate interests that have produced school curriculum slanted toward the benefits of their businesses while downplaying the disadvantages. In the coal industry case, school materials supplierScholastic Inc., under pressure from critics, last July halted distribution of the fourth-grade curriculum.

But the coal producers and a host of other businesses, from technology companies like Google to giant food concerns, continue to dangle cash and other prizes before teachers and school kids through science fairs, contests and other promotional stunts.

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