8. You’re twice as likely to be killed by lightning as by a gunshot in school.
9. Montpelier, Vermont
10. The Iliad is an ancient Greek epic poem by Homer about the Trojan War. The Odyssey is another epic poem by Homer recounting the ten-year journey home from the Trojan War made by Odysseus, the king of Ithaca.
Chances are, the genius representing you in the legislature won’t score 50 percent on the above test. The good news is that you get to flunk him within a year or two.
There is one group in the country that isn’t just sitting around carping about all them lamebrain teachers—a group that cares deeply about what kinds of students will enter the adult world. You could say they have a vested interest in this captive audience of millions of young people... or in the billions of dollars they spend each year. (Teenagers alone spent more than $150 billion last year.) Yes, it’s Corporate America, whose generosity to our nation’s schools is just one more example of their continuing patriotic service.
Just how committed are these companies to our children’s schools?
According to numbers collected by the Center for the Analysis of Commercialism in Education (CACE), their selfless charity has seen a tremendous boom since 1990. Over the past ten years, school programs and activities have seen corporate sponsorship increase by 248 percent. In exchange for this sponsorship, schools allow the corporation to associate its name with the events.
For example, Eddie Bauer sponsors the final round of the National Geography Bee. Book covers featuring Calvin Klein and Nike ads are distributed to students. Nike and other shoemakers, looking for early access to tomorrow’s stars, sponsor inner-city high school basketball teams.
Pizza Hut set up its “Book-It!” program to encourage children to read. When students meet the monthly reading goal, they are rewarded with a certificate for a Pizza Hut personal pan pizza. At the restaurant, the store manager personally congratulates the children and gives them each a sticker and a certificate. Pizza Hut suggests school principals place a “Pizza Hut Book-It!” honor roll list in the school for everyone to see.
General Mills and Campbell’s Soup thought up a better plan. Instead of giving free rewards, they both have programs rewarding schools for getting parents to buy their products. Under General Mills’s “Box Tops for Education” program, schools get ten cents for each box top logo they send in, and can earn up to $10,000 a year. That’s 100,000 General Mills products sold. Campbell’s Soup’s “Labels for Education” program is no better. It touts itself as “Providing America’s children with FREE school equipment!” Schools can earn one “free” Apple iMac computer for only 94,950 soup labels. Campbell’s suggests setting a goal of a label a day from each student. With Campbell’s conservative estimate of five labels per week per child, all you need is a school of 528 kids to get that free computer.
It’s not just this kind of sponsorship that brings these schools and corporations together. The 1990s saw a phenomenal 1,384 percent increase in exclusive agreements between schools and soft-drink bottlers. Two hundred and forty school districts in thirty-one states have sold exclusive rights to one of the big three soda companies (Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Dr. Pepper) to push their products in schools. Anybody wonder why there are more overweight kids than ever before? Or more young women with calcium deficiencies because they’re drinking less milk? And even though federal law prohibits the sale of soft drinks in schools until lunch periods begin, in some overcrowded schools “lunch” begins in midmorning. Artificially flavored carbonated sugar water—the breakfast of champions! (In March 2001 Coke responded to public pressure, announcing that it would add water, juice, and other sugar-free, caffeine-free, and calcium-rich alternatives to soda to its school vending machines.)
I guess they can afford such concessions when you consider their deal with the Colorado Springs school district. Colorado has been a trailblazer when it comes to tie-ins between e schools and soft drink companies. In Colorado Springs, the district will receive $8.4 million over ten years from its deal with Coca-Cola—and more if it exceeds its “requirement” of selling seventy thousand cases of Coke products a year. To ensure e levels are met, school district officials urged principals to allow students unlimited access to Coke machines and allow students to drink Coke in the classroom.
But Coke isn’t alone. In the Jefferson County, Colorado, school district (home of Columbine High School), Pepsi contributed $1.5 million to help build a new sports stadium. Some county schools tested a science course, developed in part by Pepsi, called “The Carbonated Beverage Company.” Students taste-tested colas, analyzed cola samples, watched a video tour of a Pepsi bottling plant, and visited a local plant.
The school district in Wylie, Texas, signed a deal in 1996 that shared the rights to sell soft drinks in the schools between Coke and Dr. Pepper. Each company paid $31,000 a year. Then, in 1998,the county changed its mind and signed a deal with Coke worth $1.2 million over fifteen years. Dr. Pepper sued the county for breach of contract. The school district bought out Dr. Pepper’s contract, costing them $160,000—plus another $20,000 in legal fees.
It’s not just the companies that sometimes get sent packing. Students who lack the proper corporate school spirit do so at considerable risk. When Mike Cameron wore a Pepsi shirt on “Coke Day” at Greenbrier High School in Evans, Georgia, he was suspended for a day. “Coke Day” was part of the school’s entry in a national “Team Up With Coca-Cola” contest, which awards $10,000 to the high school that comes up with the best Plan for distributing Coke discount cards. Greenbrier school officials said Cameron was suspended for “being disruptive and trying to destroy the school picture” when he removed an outer shirt and revealed the Pepsi shirt as a photograph was being taken of students posed to spell out the word Coke. Cameron said the shirt was visible all day, but he didn’t get in trouble until posing for the picture. No slouch in the marketing department, Pepsi quickly sent the high school senior a box of Pepsi shirts and hats.
If turning the students into billboards isn’t enough, schools and corporations sometimes turn the school itself into one giant neon sign for corporate America. Appropriation of school space, including scoreboards, rooftops, walls, and textbooks, for corporate logos and advertising is up 539 percent.
Burger King, Wendy’s, and other big companies. Free book covers and school planners with ads for Kellogg’s Pop-Tarts and pictures of FOX TV personalities were also handed out to the students.
After members of the Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District in Texas decided they didn’t want advertisements in the classrooms, they allowed Dr. Pepper and 7-Up logos to be painted on the rooftops of two high schools. The two high schools, not coincidentally, lie under the Dallas airport flight path.
The schools aren’t just looking for ways to advertise; they’re also concerned with the students’ perceptions of various products. That’s why, in some schools, companies conduct market research in classrooms during school hours. Education Market Resources of Kansas reports that “children respond openly and easily to questions and stimuli” in the classroom setting. (Of course, that’s what they’re supposed to be doing in a classroombut for their own benefit, not that of some corporate pollsters.) Filling out marketing surveys instead of learning, however, is probably not what they should be doing.
Companies have also learned they can reach this confined audience by “sponsoring” educational materials. This practice, like the others, has exploded as well, increasing 1,875 percen t since 1990.
Teachers have shown a Shell Oil video that teaches students that the way to experience nature is by driving there—after filling your Jeep’s gas tank at a Shell station. ExxonMobil prepared lesson plans about the flourishing wildlife in Prince William Sound, site of the ecological disaster caused by the oil spill from the Exxon Valdez. A third-grade math book features exercises involving counting Tootsie Rolls. A Hershey’s-sponsored curriculum used in many schools features “The Chocolate Dream Machine,” including lessons in math, science; geography—and nutrition.
In a number of high schools, the economics course is supplied by General Motors. GMwrites and provides the textbooks and the course outline. Students learn from GM’ s example the benefits of capitalism and how to operate a company—like GM.
And what better way to imprint a corporate logo on the country’s children than through television and the Internet beamed directly into the classroom. Electronic marketing, where a company provides programming or equipment to schools for the right to advertise to their students, is up 139 percent.
One example is the ZapMe! Corporation, which provides schools with a free computer lab and access to pre-selected Web sites. In return, schools must promise that the lab will be in use at least four hours a day. The catch? The ZapMe! Web browser has constantly scrolling advertisements—and the company gets to collect information on students’ browsing habits, information they can then sell to other companies.
Perhaps the worst of the electronic marketers is Channel One Television. Eight million students in 12,000 classrooms watch Channel One, an in-school news and advertising program, every day. (That’s right: EVERY day.) Kids are spending the equivalent of six full school days a year watching Channel One in almost 40 percent of U.S. middle and high schools. Instructional time lost to the ads alone? One entire day per year. That translates into an annual cost to taxpayers of more than $1.8 billion.
Sure, doctors and educators agree that our kids can never watch enough TV And there’s probably A place in school for some television programs—I have fond memories of watching astronauts blasting off on the television rolled into my grade school auditorium. But out of the “daily twelve-minute Channel One broadcasts, only 20 percent of the airtime is devoted to stories about politics, the economy, and cultural and social issues.
That leaves a whopping 80 percent for advertising, sports, weather, features, and Channel One promotions.
Channel One is disproportionately shown in schools in low income communities with large minority populations, where the least money is available for education, and where the least amount is spent on textbooks and other academic materials. Once these districts receive corporate handouts, government’s failure to provide adequate school funding tends to remain unaddressed.
For most of us, the only time we enter an American high school is to vote at our local precinct. (There’s an irony if there ever was one—going to participate in democracy’s sacred ritual while two thousand students in the same building live under some sort of totalitarian dictatorship.) The halls are packed with burned-out teenagers shuffling from class to class, dazed and confused, wondering what the hell they’re doing there. They learn how to regurgitate answers the state wants them to give, and any attempt to be an individual is now grounds for being suspected to be a member of the trench coat mafia. I visited a school recently, and some students asked me if I noticed that they and the other students in the school were all wearing white or some neutral color. Nobody dares wear black, or anything else wild and distinct. That’s a sure ticket to the principal’s office—where the school psychologist will be waiting to ascertain whether that Limp Bizkit shirt you have on means that you intend to shoot up Miss Nelson’s fourth hour geometry class.
So the kids learn to submerge any personal expression. They learn that it’s better to go along so that you get along. They learn that to rock the boat could get them rocked right out of the school. Don’t question authority. Do as you’re told. Don’t think, just do as I say.
Oh, and have a good and productive life as an active, well adjusted participant in our thriving democracy!
HOW TO BE A STUDENT SUBVERSIVE INSTEAD OF A STUDENT SUBSERVIENT
There are many ways you can fight back at your high school and have fun while doing it. The key thing is to learn what all the rules are, and what your rights are by law and by school district policy. This will help to prevent you getting in the kind of trouble you don’t need.
It may also get you some cool perks. David Schankula, a college student who has helped me on this book, recalls that when he was in high school in Kentucky, he and his buddies found some obscure state law that said any student who requests a day off to go to the state fair must be given the day off. The state legislature probably passed this law years ago to help some farm kid take his prize hog to the fair without being penalized at school. But the law was still on the books, and it gave any student the right to request the state fair day off—regardless of the reason. So you can imagine the look on the principal’ face when David and his city friends submitted their request for their free day off from school—and there was nothing the principal could do.
Here’s a few more things you can do:
1. Mock the Vote.
Student council and class elections are the biggest smokescreen the school throws up, fostering the illusion that you actually have any say in the running of the school. Most students who run for these offices either take the charade too seriously—or they just think it’ll took good on their college applications.
So why not ran yourself? Run just to ridicule the whole ridiculous exercise. Form your own party, With its own stupid name. Campaign on wild promises: If elected, I’ll change the school mascot to an amoeba, or If elected, I’ll insist that the principal must first eat the school lunch each day before it is fed to the students. Put up banners with cool slogans: “Vote for me—a real loser!”
If you get elected, you can devote your energies to accomplishing things that will drive the administration crazy, but help out your fellow students (demands for free condoms, student evaluations of teachers, less homework so you can get to bed by midnight, etc).
2. Start a School Club.
You have a right to do this. Find a sympathetic teacher to sponsor it. The Pro-Choice Club. The Free Speech Club. The Integrate Our Town Club. Make every member a “president” of the club, so they all can claim it on their college applications. One student I know tried to start a Feminist Club, but the principal wouldn’t allow it because then they’d be obliged to give equal time to a Male Chauvinist Club. That’s the kind of idiot thinking you’ll encounter, but don’t give up. (Heck, if you find yourself in that situation, just say fine—and suggest the that principal could sponsor the Chauvinist Club.)
3. Launch Your Own Newspaper or Webzine.
You have a constitutionally protected right to do this. If you take care not to be obscene, or libelous, or give them any reason to shut you down, this can be a great way to get the truth out about what’s happening at your school. Use humor. The students will love it.
4. Got Involved in the Community.
Go to the school board meetings and inform them what’s going on in the school. Petition them to change things. They will try to ignore you or make you sit through a long, boring meeting before they let you speak, but they have to let you speak. Write letters to the editor of your local paper. Adults don’t have a clue about what goes on in your high school. Fill them in. More than likely you’ll find someone there who’ll support you.
Any or all of this will raise quite a ruckus, but there’s help out there if you need it. Contact the local American Civil Liberties Union if the school retaliates. Threaten lawsuits—school administrators HATE to hear that word. just remember: there’s no greater satisfaction than seeing the took on your principal’s face when you have the upper hand. Use it.
And Never Forget This:
June 19, 1865: “Juneteenth.” Although the Emancipation Proclamation had freed the slaves two years earlier, the word hadn’t gotten to everyone in the South. On this day in Galveston, Texas, a Union general arrived and officially informed the slaves of their freedom.
December 29, 1890. Massacre at Wounded Knee. As part of one last effort to quell the one remaining Indian rebellion, U.S. troops were sent out to arrest Big Foot, the chief of the Sioux Indian tribe. Members of the tribe were captured, forced to give up their arms, and moved into a camp surrounded by the U.S. troops. On the morning of December 29, the soldiers opened fire on the Indian camp and three hundred unarmed Sioux, including Big Foot, were killed. It was the last battle in the four-hundred-year campaign of genocide against the Native Americans.
May 18, 1896. In Plessy v. Ferguson, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that inferior accommodations for blacks on railroad cars did not constitute a violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The decision paved the way for the “separate but equal” policies that resulted in Jim Crow laws.
April 14, 1914: The Ludlow Massacre. Colorado coal miners who had been trying for years to unionize went on strike. After being kicked out of their company-owned homes, the strikers and their families set up tent colonies on
public property. On die morning of the April 14, Colorado militiamen and other strikebreakers fired their guns into the camp and burned down the tents, killing twenty—mostly women and children.
March 22, 1947. President Truman issued Executive Order 9835 to identify the “infiltration of disloyal persons” within the government. This ushered in an era of fear and paranoia about alleged Communists that led to more than six million people being investigated and five hundred being dismissed from their jobs for “questionable loyalty.”
December 1, 1955. A tired seamstress and local civil rights activist in Montgomery, Alabama, Rosa Parks, refused to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger. This quiet act launched the Montgomery bus boycott, which lasted for 381 days and established Martin Luther King Jr. as the movement’s leader. The boycott was ended after the Supreme Court ruled that segregation laws on public transportation were illegal.
April 30, 1975.The fall of Saigon. Although American ground troops had officially pulled out of Vietnam two years earlier, this day represents the end of the brutal war. Several weeks of chaos over the impending Communist takeover culminated in a desperate scene as the last of the U.S. rescue helicopters took off from the American embassy’s rooftop with the few refugees they could carry.
Guide to Student Rights
As an American student you probably haven’t learned much about the U.S. Constitution or about your civil rights, so here’s a handy guide based on information from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). For more facts about student rights, on subjects including dress codes, your school records, and discrimination based on sexual orientation, contact your state chapter of the ACLU or check their Web site at www.aclu.org/students/slfree. html.
• The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right to free expression and free association. And according to the United States Supreme Court, these rights even apply to you, the lowly student—at least some of the time.
• In 1969, the Supreme Court (in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District) ruled that the First Amendment applies to students in public schools. Private schools have more leeway to set their own rules on free expression because they are not operated by the government.
• Public school, students can express their opinions orally and in writing (in leaflets or on buttons, armbands or T-shirts), as long as they do not “materially and substantially” disrupt classes or other school activities.
School officials can probably prohibit students from using “vulgar or indecent language,” but they cannot censor only one side of a controversy.
• If you and other students produce your own newspaper and want to hand it out in school, administrators cannot censor you or prohibit distribution of the paper (unless it is “indecent” or handing it out disrupts school activities).
• But administrators can censor what appears in the official school paper (the one that is published with school money). In the 1988 decision Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, the United States Supreme Court held that public school administrators can censor student speech in official school publications or activities (like a school play, art exhibit, yearbook—or newspaper) if the officials think students are saying something inappropriate or harmful—even if it is not vulgar and does not disrupt any activity.
Some states—including Colorado, California, Iowa, Kansas, and Massachusetts—have “High School Free Expression” laws that give students expanded free speech rights. Check with your local ACLU to find out if your state has such laws.