It may indicate a certain critical mass when members of Congress direct the General Accounting Office to study an issue. By that standard, the commercialization of classrooms may have arrived.
A just-released GAO study offers some arresting statistics: More than 200 school districts have signed contracts with soft-drink companies giving them exclusive franchises on local campuses; almost a quarter of middle and high schools show Channel One on classroom TVs.
Channel One sparked the first wave of concern about the commercial exploitation of schoolchildren a decade ago. The company provides free cable-news and feature programming to schools in return for running ads. Advertisers, of course, are glad to get guaranteed exposure to a young audience.
The arguments raised then are just as valid now. Education and commercialism are not a good mix. Schools should be one place where children can be free from commercial pitches - where the focus is on their budding intellects, not their taste buds or fashion contests with their buddies.
Getting a reading on kids' tastes and spending habits lies behind this commercial intrusion. Some companies are offering schools free computers that flash ads and are set up to collect data about their young users. Such data is like gold to advertisers.
The GAO report throws light on this and other facets of school commercialism. It ought to grab the attention of state legislators, who are in the best position to do something. Today's push toward reform and academic rigor should not be subject to commercial interruption.
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