Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Mad Men

AJ is a huge fan of the website Funbrain. He loves the math games especially. He plays them in school when they have their computer lab day. I like the games too, but I'm a little squeamish about all the advertising. On the one hand, I'm sure the advertising is the only reason sites like this exist. And anything that gets a kid playing math for the sheer fun of it is doing something right. On the other hand, AJ is being bombarded with ads for Y0g0s and McDon@ld's. AJ and I talk a lot about advertising and what it does and how it works and why you should interrogate it, so I'm not really worried that he's being brainwashed. His friends are much more persuasive advocates for those particular products anyhow.

So my questions for you are, is advertising ever appropriate in educational materials? I am thinking not just of websites, but also things like the preschool math books based on Cheeri0s and M/Ms, school fundraisers with local fast food franchises (ours does D0min0s, Wendis and McDs every month with prizes for the class with the biggest haul) If so, how much is too much? What should we be doing about it?


Jill in Atlanta said...

Hate it, yes. Figure I'm stuck with it, yes. I have to discuss the advertising often, but my kids understand it which many/most kids probably don't. I keep it out of our house almost completely since when ours do see tv it's in tivo form or a video, and we don't have any computer games that aren't school sanctioned and have no ads. In other words, if you live in a former century, like me, you can avoid it!

As for the fundraisers, the best thing to do is to get involved with the pta and help choose other fundraisers and try to discourage the fast food. We have one routine fast food night, one that gives pizza coupons to readers, and one fundraiser with a local, family run pizza house we like. I'm ok with the compromise.

FreshHell said...

I agree with Jill. I hate it. Dusty and Red watch almost zero television - commercial television - and instead watch dvds chosen by me and my husband. But, there's still the advertising that surrounds us everywhere I go.

There was, not too long ago, controversy over a channel that was broadcast in classrooms - Channel One or TV One or something. It purported to have educational information that curriculms were based around but the trade off was commercials.

I understand the necessity of commercials and ads - they allow this information (good and bad) to be available for free. Otherwise, all those fun websites (Dusty's big on Poptropica right now) would be subscription-only and there's very little of that kind of thing I'd be willing to pay for. Close to nothing.

We get bombarded by the crap via the school too but usually ignore it. In kindergarten, she got pizza hut coupons for reading so much each month. Number one: could we not be pairing up with B&N? Give out 10% off coupons? That would make more sense than a greasy fast food pizza. So, I bought her a book every month in lieu of the pizza and Dusty was happy with that.

As a vegetarian, raising vegetarian children, the McD and Chikfila ads don't bother me so much because the kids aren't interested, and in fact are, if any, disgusted at the thought of eating a chicken sandwich or a hamburger. So, most of those messages go ignored. Which isn't true of most kids. It's really no different than all those commercials we soaked up while watch Sat morning cartoons.

The answer? I don't know. Limit exposure and explain the purpose of ads. Make them smart consumers (or anti-consumers). We need to teach kids critical thinking. Ad can actually help us do that.

FreshHell said...

Oh, I did want to add that I think ads and such have little or no place in the classroom. The more we can avoid it, the better. I like to think of schools as, ideally, neutral territory. Unfortunately, that isn't the case.

Jeanne said...

FreshHell, Channel One pays to have those televisions put in schools on the condition that the kids watch every day. If that's not closer than I'd like to 1984 (!)

My kids have watched almost all the television they've ever seen either in school or at the behest (required to watch the Olympics in first grade) of the public schools. Isn't that just sad?

FreshHell said...

Jeanne - that's it! Yes, I remember reading lots of negative things about it (all of which I agreed with) and I don't think it's around anymore, at least not here. TVs in school - NO.

Anonymous said...

I see little value to having TVs in the classroom anyway, so to me it's no great loss if a school district should turn those down, which would always be my preference.

As for the rest of it, I think if parents are talking to their children about truth in advertising and needs vs. wants, then the kids can think reasonably clearly about such stuff. My kids are exposed to more commercial advertising than anyone else's in the comments, but they're pretty cool about it. And I watched FAR more commercial TV than my kids do, and I turned out able to manage my relationship to the marketplace pretty well. Although I must confess that I am feeling a little susceptible to those VW commercials with Brooke Shields...

Harriet M. Welsch said...

We're no TV saints in our house. There is a lot of ESPN on the weekends and we don't have Tivo. But AJ actually is generally not very interested in watching TV. And when he does, he is usually also running around doing something else -- like playing football while watching football. But he sees ads and asks about them. He gets more ads from the magazines he reads, though, than TV. I am, however, concerned that some of the websites they use at school flash a lot of advertising at the kids. Funbrain (which I think is run by the Poptropica people, freshhell) has some great stuff on it and I realize it has to be paid for. I have no problem with him playing on the site at home where I can supervise. But I'm a little squeamish about him doing it at school, because it somehow sounds more like a school endorsement. I hadn't heard about the Channel 1 thing, but that is atrocious.

I think we're all right about educating our children about how to make decisions. I guess I'm also trying to push an anti-consumerist viewpoint, although it's increasingly difficult as AJ seems to have arrived at the age where he notices when others have things that he does not. Hopefully our children will be smart enough to question or at least tune out the commercials. Although I have to agree with you, Siren, that those VW commercials are pretty great.