Ask your students how much they paid to watch the Super Bowl on TV and you’ll probably get a whole lot of blank stares.
The Super Bowl provides us hours of sports entertainment and even has a short concert in the middle. All of this is free to anyone with a television and an antenna.
Of course, some of the adults watching understand that it’s not completely free. High stakes commercials are rolled out during the big game with the hopes that we keep brand names like Kia, Budweiser, Pepsi, Skittles, and Snickers in our minds for the rest of the year. Our entertainment world is fused with branding with the intent to make us all life-long customers.
Sometimes the branding in our entertainment gets out of hand. Some viewers cringe when product placement is jammed into their favorite story line. Others identify with their favorite character’s taste in products and begin to notice those brands in the real world. Mission accomplished for the advertisers.
TV news reporting is where things get even trickier. Journalism is supposed to inform us with unbiased facts about our world. However, we begin to question the integrity of the journalism when we sense that the reporting may have been influence by a brand.
The advertising that enters our homes can be a challenge for parents but we can turn off the TV. When advertising enters the classroom our options become murky.
Children spend a large amount of their childhood in school. Brands are unavoidable when they are promoted by teachers for the next school fundraiser or flashing in the margins of the latest digital tool that they have been assigned to use. Things get downright despicable when the lessons present students with a commercial to watch before they work through the next level of a so-called online learning game.
To often, commercialism in the classroom comes down to one word: free.
Teachers, already strapped for time, take a glancing look at a free online service and push it out to students. They may even tell students to create an account with the service while overlooking the fact that the service isn’t free at all. The students are the product. The service is free because, through branding, it is helping advertisers convert our students into customers for life. The students’ information and page views are providing the funds that keeps the free service free.
These are dangerous waters for schools to be in. When a service trades even a little bit of school time to promote branding, we should question the educational integrity of that service. When a child’s learning is laced with messages of consumerism that promote the idea that happiness is reached through consumption, we should question how these messages affect the child’s well-being.
Education isn’t entertainment. Unlike the Super Bowl, students cannot leave the room for the commercials. Parents aren’t there to hit the off switch. It’s up to teachers to make sure students are on the right channel.