School is supposed to be an educational environment but if fast food advertising is started it will send the wrong message to students. We teach our children to listen to their teachers, principals and guidance counselors. We let them know these people have their best interest at heart. They are put on the same level as parents in many ways. As small children school is the first place your parents ever leave you at. They drop you off in nursery school and tell you to listen to what your teachers tell you. That implies a level of trust. You feel that your parents trust the school with your welfare. School plays a major role in children’s development. Their experiences and what they learn in school shapes their future. They are told what they learn in school will help them throughout their lives. Children learn a variety of subjects from biology to basketball; Spanish to sexual education; so if they saw a McDonald’s or Burger King ad in school, they might assume that what is being advertised has some value to it. By having the ad inside, it seems that the school is promoting the product. That has a powerful effect because it is being shopped to a captive audience that has been taught to trust what they learn in school. Steven Kaplan, president of Sampling Corporation of America states, “There is an implied endorsement from a trusted institution” (22). School is where children learn not only facts from books but also some life and moral values. When students see “MADD” (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) and “Just Say No to Drugs” posters they learn that getting high or drunk driving is bad for them. They see posters for different colleges and know that in order to have a productive future it is encouraged to go. So if they see an ad for a Whopper or Big Mac on the wall then they would surely think that it would be good for them because their school wouldn’t steer them wrong. It’s right there next to other ideas we encourage, so at that young age a child wouldn’t know the difference. Allowing these products to be advertised in school sends children the message they are good for them when the reality is the exact opposite. How can we teach healthy eating habits and healthy living when we are sending mixed messages to them. At a young, impressionable age the line between fact and propaganda would get blurred, and the trust associated with school would get ruined. In the class teachers are teaching students to eat healthy within the four food groups. Eat fruits and vegetables and how important it is to keep in shape and be healthy. So then why would you make them privy to products that could destroy their health with results such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease? On one hand we are telling them what’s bad for them, but then promoting it. At such a young age they would not know who or what to believe, so they would revert to what they’ve been taught, which is that what you see and learn in school is right. In an article from the Bergen County Record, University of Maryland associate professor, Jeffrey Arnett states, “It’s a misuse of the environment of the school. Schools should not be endorsing products. Schools are powerful institutions.”(a1) The confusion of having something no good for them being advertised in a place that is supposed to teach them all the good things could be very confusing to students. That mixed signal being sent to them could cause student to lose the trust they had for school, ruining its credibility.
Allowing fast food companies to advertise in schools gives them influence in the learning process. Fast food companies have been trying to advertise in schools for decades. These companies know that school is the perfect stage to promote their products and build brand loyalty. School guarantees them a captive audience for six to seven hours a day in an environment where children minds are very receptive. For fast food companies it is the perfect market to build the lifelong customers they are looking for. If they can get their product into a learning environment they are guaranteed to get their views across. For these companies children are a lucrative market. There are over 45 million children in school. Although we might not think of children as consumers, they have great economic clout. Elementary-age children spend over 11 billion dollars a year on a wide variety of products including food and beverages. Teenagers spend 57 billion dollars of their own money yearly. That is not counting the billions of dollars in purchases they influence. In Eric Schlosser’s, “Fast Food Nation”, he talks about the techniques fast food advertisers rely on to sell products such as nagging and its many forms (42-44). The spending power students have and the desire of fast food companies to harvest it has given birth to a whole industry devoted to getting the company’s product in school and ideas into kid’s heads. We find in Schlosser’s book that one such company, Lifetime Learning Systems tells companies, “Now you can enter the classroom through custom-made learning materials created with your specific marketing objectives in mind, through these materials your product or point of view becomes the focus of discussion in the classroom.”(56) This company which has worked with McDonalds bills itself as, “the nation’s recognized leader in the creation and dissemination of corporate-sponsored educational materials.” When these companies donate supplies and materials to our schools it comes with a price. The students are given slanted views on certain topics that favor the company’s product. Education is not supposed to be influenced by outside factors. Students deserve to learn the facts and make their own decisions based on unbiased information. By letting the advertising in our schools will lose that neutral position. The companies try to disguise their motives by donating supplies and materials to struggling schools but usually these donations come with a contract that allows their logo and message to be displayed. If they really wanted to be charitable they would just donate anonymously and unconditionally. These sponsored materials serve the purpose of getting their message to the students. Having these materials in the classroom allows the companies to play a part in the learning process and influence it their favor. That may sound like a good idea to the school districts because it will help reduce costs but in the end it’s the students who wind up losing. Arnold Fege, director of government relations for the Washington based National Parent-Teacher association argues it seems everyone wins except the child who is subject to the barrage of propaganda. “Schools are supposed to be free marketplaces of ideas.” Fege says. It would be hard for the teacher to tell the children that fried foods are bad for you while reading from a textbook with a Ronald McDonald cover on it. This type of corporate involvement in our schools would be only beneficial to the districts and the companies. The kids would end up in crossfire between the district balancing their budget and the company pushing their burger. Alex Molnar, author of, “Giving Kids the Business” states,” Private profit is the motive behind funding for public education.” These companies are waiting to take advantage of most school districts need for supplies and contributions to get their foot in the door and their hooks in our kids.
In conclusion, having fast food advertising in our schools does a disservice to our children. They are going to school to be educated, not sold things. We have to maintain the integrity of our schools if we want our children to continue to learn. Students should not be influenced by corporate agenda when learning. School’s single goal should be what’s best for the kids. Children should be able to focus on learning without being inundated by advertisements. Teachers and administrators should set the agenda not outside commercial interests. We trust school officials and teachers to be surrogates four our children while in school, not pimps, prostituting their minds to the fast food nation for rulers and computers.
"Captive Kids: A Report on Commercial Pressures on Kids at School." Consumers Union 1995. Consumers Union. Web.
Gearan, Anne. "Channel One Ads Just a Portion of Commercialism in Schools." The Associated Press. 10 Dec. 1998. Web.
Gill, Dee. "The Business of Education;Subtle Seduction in Classrooms;Critics Say Earning-not Learning-is Corporate Motive." The Houston Chronicle 15 Mar. 1993, 2 STAR ed., sec. A: 1. Print.
Kanner, Bernice. "Advertising Infiltrates Schools." Journal of Commerce 28 Mar. 2000: 4. Print.
Lavelle, Louis. "Commerce in The Classroom;Do In-School Ads Exploit Children?" The Record [Bergen County, NJ] 7 Feb. 1999, News sec.: A01. Print.
Molnar, Alex. Giving Kids the Business: the Commercialization of America's Schools. Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1996. Print.