Seattle Press
Teacher Ted
Never Too Soon for Commercial-Free Schools
It has been 18 years since I was in high school, but it all (or at least a lot of it) came back to me last week when I visited Steve Maranda's language arts class at Garfield High School. "Take out a piece of paper," he said, "and do a five-minute free-write on the question, 'How much is what's cool defined by what you see on TV?'"

Chuckling at the irony of doing another teacher's class assignment, I diligently put a heading on my notebook paper. My stream of consciousness, however, never surpassed a trickle. And when I scanned the room to catch up on what today's "cool" was, it slowed to the annoying drip of a leaky faucet: FUBU ... B.U.M. ... Hilfiger ... Gap ....

Mr. Maranda had invited me to participate in a panel of guest speakers on the subject of commercialism in public schools, the topic of the class's persuasive essay assignment. The other guests included two Seattle School Board directors, Nancy Waldman and Barbara Schaad-Lamphere, and Brita Butler-Wall, co-founder of Citizens' Campaign for Commercial-Free Schools (CCCS).

At issue was whether, or to what extent, public schools should allow corporate advertising and commercial activity in school buildings and on campus. The school board currently does not have a policy on such activity. It does, however, have an exclusive contract with Coca-Cola that encourages middle and secondary schools to sell and advertise Coke products. It permits the N2H2 Internet filtering company to place banner ads on school computers and to compile data on student visits to websites. The board also allows individual schools to contract with Channel One, which requires students to watch pop TV news and three minutes of commercials every school day--in exchange, the schools get video equipment.

I'm sure it was no surprise to the Garfield students that Brita and I took the position that a policy had to be adopted, and that the policy should make public schools commercial-free zones--no corporate advertising, no promotions or free samples, no market research. It was also predictable that the school board directors would take the pragmatic position that when public schools are underfunded, the board has to find alternative funding. This was the argument made some years ago by Superintendent John Stanford when he proposed that school wall space be leased to corporate advertisers.

What did surprise me, however, were the directors' conciliatory comments that a district policy on commercialism was needed--soon. They also reassured students that the school district was fiscally sound and therefore doesn't need to depend on corporations to make ends meet. Hallelujah!

Another, greater, surprise came from students. Though one student pointed out that the cost of Channel One's 12 minutes per day of instruction time greatly outweighed the value of their equipment "give-aways," and another voiced her resentment at not being able to escape school-based advertising, most student comments (and there weren't many) fell into the realm of "I don't really think advertising influences us that much. I walk by the Coke machine every day and I don't even notice it."

Hmm. It seems we need a commercial-free schools policy yesterday!

For more information about the CCCS, see