Opinion

Schools shun Obama yet let sales firms prey on students

Shocking double standard: a speech that encourages staying in school is seen as indoctrination, but it's OK to lure sixth-graders into selling magazines – with offers of skipping school?

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"OK, sixth graders, scream!"

And, oh, do they, sending one teacher toward the exit covering her ears.

Who owns the sixth graders' attention during this period, just days after untold school districts, bowing to parental pressure, refused to broadcast President Obama's talk telling students to take responsibility for themselves and their education?

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Let's just say that you won't be reading this in Time magazine, since Time Inc. owns fundraising company QSP, which is visiting our school today.

The screaming is the opening to the annual school fundraiser assembly, kicking off a couple of weeks of good, capitalist behavior by our country's youngest army of salespeople.

They will be rewarded for their efforts with prizes: The baby hoodie keychain/cellphone/music player holder is the teeny starter, with an electric guitar, iPod touch, or $250-dollar American Express card at the other end, for those who can outsell the rest.

Even better? Students who sell fast will be entered into a drawing, their names being placed into the money machine, a chamber with air blowing money around. Keep what you catch.

QSP hires the bubbliest, most cheerful motivators in order to get the kids pumped up about selling! Presented in a tone of voice with ever-more exclamation points!!!

As a teacher witnessing this spectacle, I'm not quite as enthusiastic as either the presenter or students, but I find some entertainment value in the show.

The administrators are wearing jester hats, complete with bells. One reward for students will be to duct tape the dean to a school wall. Another is for the students themselves to come up with a suitable fate for another administrator.

Thankfully, somebody must have thought better of what was done in the past, creating a "human ice cream sundae" out of this administrator, with, yes, real ice cream and toppings, the administrator sporting goggles – in a school where many students receive free meals because their parents struggle to feed them.

Time Inc. can breach the school walls to talk to kids, but the president of the United States cannot.

If it's about money, what gives?

The fundraiser brings in thousands per year for the school, yes, so you can't blame cash-strapped schools for going along with it. But the US government also provides thousands per year to schools like this, without exploiting the labor of children to do so.

Yet in my school a message was sent to teachers that, though not forbidding the showing of the president's speech, did suggest to any teacher reading between the lines that playing this speech was discouraged, and anyone wishing to do so would have to jump through hoops.

The implication?

If you do this, it could be a big pain in the neck for us. It seems that private business trumps the government, no matter how much money the government dishes out.

Private employee to captive students: "Who's ready for more prizes?!"

President of the United States to students, many of whom are not allowed to listen:

"I'm here today because I have something important to discuss with you. I'm here because I want to talk with you about your education and what's expected of all of you...."

Private employee: "How many of you would like to get out of school for a show?" (The motivator describes a BMX show that will come to the school for certain sales numbers.) "The top 25 sellers of the school will sit in a special VIP section and get autographs."

President: "But at the end of the day, we can have the most dedicated teachers, the most supportive parents, and the best schools in the world – and none of it will matter unless all of you fulfill your responsibilities."

Private employee: "Who wants to get out of school ... and ride in a limo?! YAY!" The kids scream madly. (Top-selling kids get a lunchtime limo ride to a pizza place.)

President: "[S]how up to those schools; pay attention to those teachers; listen to your parents, grandparents, and other adults; and put in the hard work it takes to succeed."

What was the biggest fuss about the presidential speech?

Not the speech itself, but a lesson plan that suggested (not demanded) that teachers could ask the students to write about how they could help the president out. This was blasted as propaganda, force-feeding ideology to children.

Compare that to, "We are asking you to have your mom or your dad, your grandma or grandpa help us out by taking this [catalog of sales items] to work" or, "You can order online and get an Internet ID number."

And I, too, want to scream, loudly.

Betty Buehler has taught sixth-grade writing in Las Vegas since 2001.

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