Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Madder Men

In light of my last post and your comments on it, an article in today's New York Times Arts section seemed particularly timely.

The article,"Scholastic accused of Misusing Book Clubs" by Motoko Rich, discusses a watchdog group's opposition to the presence of advertising links and non-book items in the Scholastic Book Club flyers that go out to thousands of school children every month. I know several of us here at AJ's Clubhouse have expressed our concern about this before. The watchdog group is called Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. You can see more of what they do at their website, linked above.

The argument that Scholastic offers is that some of these items help bring reluctant readers to books by luring them with posters, toys and games. The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood objects globally to anything that is not a book being marketed in schools and that the add-ons only teach children acquisitiveness, without actually teaching them to value books (I have heavily paraphrased here and take all credit for any oversimplification). I think my own opinion on the matter lies somewhere in the middle, although closer to the CCFC's side. I have already discussed in this space my discomfort with brand name advertising in schools. I don't, however, put the selling of a book with a poster in the same category as the selling of a video game. Scholastic has both types of things. I don't think video games belong in school flyers. But I have no problem with posters -- as long as the poster has something to do with the book. AJ loves it when his books come with posters. He has a number of them up in his room. But I would be surprised if he would choose a book simply because it had a poster. The poster would only encourage an interest that was already there. I don't even have a problem with some of the non-book items Scholastic sells -- science experiment kits, for example. If they get a kid to engage in some scientific inquiry at home, that's great. The Mad-Libs they've started selling are good too. Although not designed as educational tools but for silly fun, they encourage reading and writing and they taught my kid the parts of speech. My objection to most of the non-book items is the quality control -- the few science kit type products we've ordered from Scholastic have been cheaply made and hard to use. If they are going to sell such things, they should make sure they are good quality and worthwhile educational products. Not video games. Not advertising. Not junk.

Of course, what Scholastic wants to market outside of schools is its own business. Inside the school, where they have a captive audience that has to be there -- they have not chosen it -- marketing non-educational, branded, or plain inappropriate products is reprehensible. And Scholastic has been doing plenty of all three.


Unfocused Me said...

The Scholastic flyers look pretty much the way I remember them from when I was a kid. Mostly books, some posters, and then a couple of things best categorized as "other." I should probably take another look at them when they next come home, but in the five years one or both kids have been in school, neither of them have ever (to my knowledge) asked for anything off the catalog other than books, so I haven't been particularly concerned. We had more problems with television commercials, but they have each more or less learned that asking for something from a commercial is a good way not to get it, except that they both think we should use Oxyclean and get the pancake puff maker.

Anonymous said...

I have long been unimpressed with Scholastic's offerings, particularly in their Pre-K flyers. They seem to focus primarily on D1sn3y and other movie or tv-related crap. I rarely see what I would consider any good (classic or new) books. A quick story - Older Charge badly wanted a Tran3former3 book from his last flyer and his parents reluctantly ordered it for him - when he got it, he quickly realized it wasn't much of a book and it was almost immediately relegated to his younger brother's bookshelf.

FreshHell said...

Not sure I can add anything here except my further disgust at ads aimed at kids. Yes, they pay for these things but they're irksome. Yes, they open the door to discussions about the purpose of ads and how they are designed to manipulate us, but I still hate them. I'm writing a post now on a similar vein. Sort of.