What Shouldn't Be in a Name

A new high school in Philadelphia is more likely to be named after Wal-Mart than Walt Whitman.

That's because the public school district wants to sell the school name for a cool $5 million. Not only is the name for this state-of-the-art school up for sale, but so are names for separate classrooms, the auditorium, and other sections of the building. A school official says those additional naming rights could mean upwards of $15 million for the project. (On the plus side, no alcohol or tobacco companies are allowed to make bids.)

How much is too much when it comes to a commercial presence in public schools - especially when advertising already has pervaded those schools through vending machines, scoreboards, and banners?

Many school districts rely on state lotteries to help fund education costs - a less than reliable, or honorable, source of income. If corporations want to help schools, they should also be helping to show students that corporate citizenship doesn't have to involve crass marketing ploys, such as plastering a corporate name on a public building. Microsoft, for instance, is offering considerable expertise in building that new school in Philly, but not attaching its name to it.

Schools typically are named after Americans of extraordinary achievement - noted leaders, astronauts, athletes - or heroes who served as role models for kids. By selling naming rights to a company, a school unfortunately is sending the message that the heroes of tomorrow are the giant corporations of today, with students seen mostly as just a big marketing opportunity.

Schools should be places where learning takes precedence over advertising hype. And their funding should largely come from taxpaying citizens.

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