Monday, February 7, 2011

Throwing the Kids to the Wolves?

A couple of days ago I spent an hour glued to my radio listening to one of the best interviewers in the business.

Diane Rehm was talking about the huge challenges facing public schools right now. With states and cities facing massive budget cuts, cash-strapped school districts are relying more on private funding to close budget gaps.

Diane reported that corporations and foundations are now offering schools free curriculum (Pokemon sponsors math lessons?!) and teacher training and even buying the rights to name cafeterias. Some critics worry this will lead to the commercialization of school and that kids will be a captive audience.

One of Diane's guests -- Susan Linn, Director of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and Instructor in Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School -- quoted a corporate executive: “The advertiser gets kids who cannot go to the bathroom, cannot change the station, who cannot listen to their mother yell in the background, who cannot be playing Nintendo.”

Another guest -- Michelle Pierre-Farid, Executive Director of New Leaders for New Schools in Washington, D.C. -- shared her first-hand experience trying to make ends meet in public schools in at-risk communities.

The conversation was fascinating (who knew that a $300 digital camcorder from Campbell’s popular label redemption program basically costs $33,000 in soup?!?). And there are obviously no one-size-fits-all easy answers. I highly recommend listening to the entire program to learn more.

What I don't recommend is chaperoning 100 middle schoolers on a field trip to World of Coca Cola the day after listening.

Yup. That's what I did. And I couldn't help but feel guilty as we watched the promotional movies...

toured the galleries...

tasted the myriad of choices from the Coke sampling room...

And spent way too much time (and $$) in the gift shop...

(That's Olivia, at home, in her new Coca Cola sleep pants. Hey, at least they're made from recycled bottles!)

Olivia and I discussed my mixed-feelings afterwards. She said she wished we had spent more time in the History of Coke galleries. "We would have learned things," she assured.

But here's the thing. I didn't see any kids running to the galleries. But I did see them racing to the tasting room and the gift shop. By my estimates, even before souvenirs, the parents of these middle schoolers spent nearly $2,000 on this part of the Atlanta field trip. I can't shake the thought that for that much money we could have bought their school six of those fancy camcorders and still had money left over for a healthy snack.

P.S. I'm not trying to diss Coke with this post. I love my Diet Coke. In fact, I love it several times a day without fail. And the company has helped lead the effort to redevelop downtown Atlanta and is active in sustainability and other philanthropic efforts. Read more here.

P.S. If you visit World of Coca Cola sampling room, don't try "The Beverly". It really is that gross!


  1. Apparently, I posted this while signed in as J...

  2. I listened to that same show and honestly, I was most disturbed by Susan Linn who was not able to accept the reality of what administrators face when trying to fund their schools.

    I've been to the Coke place in ATL and it is way cool. Did you know they sponsor an exhibit at EPCOT and you can taste the sodas there too? I agree with you assessment about the Beverly. Isn't that the Italian aperitif?

  3. Hi Jennifer -

    I, too, thought Linn's take on it was very much an academic's and by that I mean someone who studies this stuff at university. My mother, brother, sister and sister-in-law are all educators ... my husband is a former public school teacher who's now an education research (one of those academics!). And I've certainly seen underresourced schools that couldn't afford to turn down each and every offer from a corporation. But does make ya think, no?

    Have to say my fav part of the Coke museum was the opening video -- Coke, the Happy Place. I don't remember from my years of living in Orlando and going to Epcot if they showed it there. But it was an amusing "documentary" interviewing various insects, creatures, etc who "work at the Coke plant". It was well-produced and included a decent dose of adult humor (intentional, I assume) that kids would never get. That was fun :)

  4. Allie totally agrees re: the Beverly. She said it was nasty.