For Immediate Release
Elizabeth Ben-Ishai (202) 588-7746
Don't Allow Commercial Advertising in Schools, Commercial Alert Urges Rochester Public School Board
WASHINGTON - Today, Commercial Alert sent a letter to the Rochester Public School Board Chair, Dan O’Neil, urging the Board not to move forward with plans to allow commercial advertising on school properties. Commercial Alert is a project of Public Citizen, a consumer protection organization based in Washington, D.C., with more than 225,000 members and supporters.
The text of the letter follows:
Dear Mr. O’Neil,
Commercial Alert is a project of Public Citizen, a consumer protection organization based in Washington, D.C., with more than 225,000 members and supporters. We aim to keep commercial culture within its proper sphere, and to prevent it from exploiting children and subverting higher values of family, community, environmental integrity, and democracy.
We understand that the Rochester Public School Board has recently approved a measure that allows increased advertising on school sites. We write to urge the board to reconsider this policy and to end any plans to allow commercial advertising within schools. We understand that the financial pressures your school district currently faces make you eager to identify non-traditional sources of funding. We know your primary concern is to avoid shortchanging students as a result of budget cuts. However, subjecting children to even greater amounts of advertising is the wrong response. It will raise little revenue while undermining Rochester Public Schools’ educational and child development mission. Educational institutions should promote civic virtue and the public good, not commercial values.
As you know, childhood and adolescence are crucial periods for young pupils to develop their identities. Corporations exploit these developmental challenges, and convey through sophisticated marketing strategies that children should build their identities and judge their peers based on what they have, rather than on who they are. In the process, children end up with a damaged sense of self, superficial worldview, and a diminished sense of social responsibility. There is no need to overstate the case; certainly, many children navigate the world of hyper-marketing successfully. But it is nonetheless a negative influence – one that schools, of all places, should not be promoting. Children are already surrounded by near-constant advertising that promotes consumerism and commercial values. But the ubiquity of advertising is not a reason for allowing corporate naming rights and in-school advertising to persist – it is a reason why children need a sanctuary from a world where everything seems to be for sale.
Some advocates of in-school commercial advertising believe that setting appropriate guidelines can curb potential harms. The recent policy measure (Policy 905, Advertising and Sponsorships) approved by the Rochester Public School Board includes a provision allowing for advertising in District athletic facilities, auditoriums, hallways, or “any other facilities or property where such advertising would not solely be directed at students.” No advertising will be permitted in classrooms. While keeping advertising out of classrooms is certainly a good decision, it does little to protect students from the effects of the advertising you are permitting throughout the rest of the educational environment. Though advertising in hallways and auditoriums may not be solely directed toward students, it will nonetheless primarily target students. The Board has adopted other guidelines prohibiting advertising that promotes alcohol, drugs, and violence. Yet, even such guidelines cannot ensure that students will be protected. Corporations that sell harmful products to children will be among those most interested in targeting them by pursuing advertising opportunities. In school districts across the country that permit advertising, district guidelines have not prevented companies selling fast food, soda, and other unhealthful products from purchasing advertisements that target students.
But it is not only the presence of corporations selling unhealthy or morally questionable products in schools that raises concerns. Corporate advertisers advance values inconsonant with those schools stand for. Education should empower students to think critically and independently. Students should be encouraged to form their own beliefs, to question established ideas, and to develop intellectual curiosity. Marketing and advertising contravene these goals. Commercialism teaches students that everything has a price. In-school advertising and marketing schemes convey market rather than civic values and impede the ability of schools to function as open spaces where ideas are freely exchanged and the next generation of public-minded, conscientious, and virtuous students can grow.
Weighted against the real harms of school commercialism, the financial benefits of such a scheme are minuscule. School advertising programs rarely bring in significant funds, and the small revenues often barely offset the administrative cost and burden of putting them in place.
We urge you to reconsider your decision to allow increased advertising on Rochester Public Schools’ properties. We look forward to your response, and would be pleased to discuss these matters with you further.
Public Citizen is a national, nonprofit consumer advocacy organization founded in 1971 to represent consumer interests in Congress, the executive branch and the courts.