Friday, July 29, 2011

Teach the Children Well

Many years ago, when my teenaged daughter was preschool-aged, the worst two words in her vocabulary were, "I want ...." Those two words were usually followed by the name of some toy or gadget or thing she'd seen advertised on television.

At first, I just tried to limit how much and what she saw, but even the channels/programs that catered to children were riddled with ads for one thing or another. Yes, even PBS had their share of "sponsor identification spots", and those two words still remained part of her vocabulary.

The point of advertising is to get us to want a particular item or service, and when I really started to watch commercials, to pay attention to what they were really saying, it started to bother me, a little, especially when I caught myself thinking, "Oh, that would be cool to have." According to television commercials, my life can only be fulfilled if I have A, B, or C product.

But I know, from bitter experience, that even with A, B, or C product, sometimes one's life doesn't get any better.

The commercials that market to children are even worse than the ones that market to adults (which have to be slightly more subtle in their approach ... but only slightly). The more I started to pay attention to the message of the commercial, the more they bothered me, and I reached a point at which I simply could not watch them any more. I mean, I actually had to get up and leave the room, or change the channel. They angered me in ways that nothing should. I was angry at the manipulative tactics, at the pandering to our baser natures. I was angry at being treated so disrepectfully as to be told, I'm worthless, because I don't use this credit card, or I'm not interesting, because I don't wear those jeans, or I'm not desirable, because I don't wear that perfume ... or worse, I'm stinky, because I don't use that deordorant, or my family won't enjoy my cooking if I don't use that ingredient.

The last few times I watched commercials, I actually felt my skin crawling - an experience that was painfully repeated when I walked through Times Square in late June 2011, and realized that in New York City the primary objective in life is to get someone else to give you money. That's it, and there's nothing more. At least from my view on the street, because everyone I met had a hand out to receive my tourist dollars. I started to feel a little sick about that, too. It was good to come home.

Unfortunately, it seems like there will be one fewer safe havens for our children from the insidiousness of our consumer culture. Local school boards across the country (even here in Maine) have approved or are considering approval of the selling advertising space on the sides of school buses. The rational is that by selling this space to advertisers, the schools can afford to keep more programs available, keep teachers on the payrolls, and pay for things like maintenance on the schools.

In my book, Surviving the Apocalypse in the Suburbs, on Day 18, I talk about schooling, and how our schools are too big, and too expensive, and that they will fail, because we can't afford to support them.

School administrators are getting really creative in an attempt to prevent this from happening, but I haven't heard of a solution that will really do the job. Instead of trying to find ways to really cut spending AND to teach our students some really valuable skills (and not just more of the college prep, which only 25% of the students need/want/succeed at), they just keep looking for ways to make more money.

They truly have started to sell our schools to the highest bidder. It's a little sad to me, and I wonder how long before, like our representatives in government, our children's educations will be guided, not by a desire to teach kids lessons that will serve them through life but rather, by who was willing to pay the most to get his/her agenda presented in the classroom.

In his latest post, John Michael Greer asserts that the future of our children's education is homeschooling. I don't know what the future will be, but I hope to never see a school building that looks like Times Square ... I wouldn't be surprised, though, as it seems we're headed in that direction.


  1. Just wanted to tell you that I have read your book last week and I think it is one of the best and most useful books on this subject I have read so far. Thanks for all the practical information! I'm on my way with several things, but will expand as soon as possible.

  2. Thank you so much, Ellen. You have no idea how nice it is to hear this, and I really appreciate that you took the time to let me know.

  3. Great post. Right on the money. Checking for your book now.

  4. I think the future of schooling will be a mix of home school and on the students own pace.