If you’re like me, you have fond memories of ordering books from Scholastic through your school: bringing home the order forms several times a year and talking your parents into spending $5 or $10 on a Boxcar Children book, The Babysitters Club series, or the latest Newberry Medal winner.
So you may be as disturbed as I am to learn that, in recent years, those book orders have been co-opted by marketers looking to peddle anything but books.
In her wonderful 2004 book Born to Buy, Juliet Schor described the changes:
A recent order form includes four different Nickelodeon sections selling SpongeBob figurines, cards, and stickers; a Rugrats movie promotion; and offers of keychain giveaways with Nickelodeon characters. Disney has a number of sections including … an ad urging kids “Watch it on Disney ABC Kids.” … Other branded products represented were Hershey’s … Hello Kitty … Scooby Doo, DragonBall Z, and Mary Kate and Ashley.
That seems unlikely to change anytime soon. But that’s not even the most distasteful material Scholastic is bringing into the classroom. There are also branded curricula including, for example, classroom materials on energy prepared by the coal industry. These programs are created by the company’s InSchool Marketing division, which partners with corporate sponsors including Shell, Disney, and Nestle.
But now, under pressure from Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, the company is agreeing to a 40% reduction in materials produced by InSchool Marketing, along with the creation of a Partner Review Board that will review and approve all materials before they are introduced to teachers.
It’s a start, but there is much more work to be done. Elementary school classrooms are simply not an appropriate place for children to undergo brand indoctrination. I don’t know how anyone could disagree with that. And if teachers are foolish enough to use these materials, that’s an issue that parents need to complain to their schools about.
And didn’t Scholastic make enough money with Harry Potter?