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Can the Ad Industry Save Education?


This month we asked a bakers dozen of contributors for fresh ideas on how to reinvent education. Now a coalition of ad industry heavy hitters from Wieden + Kennedy to BBDO has come out with a major campaign to promote creativity in education.

To be clear, they're not just looking to promote creative solutions to well-known problems like poor math scores and low and falling graduation rates. They're looking for approaches to promote creativity itself—arguing, in a really gorgeous slide presentation, that creativity is the no. 1 competitive edge in the 21st century, and the prime element that's missing from our standardized test- and state standards-ridden school system. A patron saint of the effort, and judge on the panel, is Sir Ken Robinson, whose TED talk to this point is one of the most watched ever.

"What drives us is the possibility of a platform where the creative industries put their differences aside for one week out of the year to collaborate on something that is larger than ourselves and our business goals," says Viktor Venson of multimedia and interactive agency Stopp, a driving force behind the campaign. " If adopted, this would be an annual challenge asking the creative industries to respond to a burning issue or cause."

As part of Social Media Week 2011, next week in New York City, No Right Brain Left Behind is challenging industry teams (advertising, interactive, marketing, design, what-have-you) to come up with products and approaches that work within or outside the existing school system. These will be piloted by the end of 2011.

I'm torn. I absolutely love the idea of moving our schools away from a relentless focus on tests of basic skills and toward approaches that emphasize play, risk-taking, collaboration, and the other skills that make work worth doing and life worth living. The very structure of this campaign, moving swiftly from design brief to execution, has the elegance of the American creative spirit at its best.

On the other hand, the interaction of the ad industry with schools has produced some not-so-pretty effects in the past (Channel One, anybody?) And lots of the problems in our public schools are problems of urban poverty and inequality that need to be solved with boring old tax policy, not jazzy new logos and apps.

I guess in the end I'll go with optimism that No Right Brain Left Behind produces some interesting new opportunities and turns on some new creative minds to the problems in our education system. The more eyeballs on this issue, the better. 

How Would You Spend $100 Million To Save Education?

We want to create a discussion about investing in the future of education. Contribute by tweeting your answer to How Would You Spend $100 Million To Save Education? Or ask anyone who tweets for his or her ideas by including their Twitter username in your question.

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  • frank striefler

    Anya - we believe the turn up and quality of ideas we received for our midnight deadline last night show that the broader ad world can come up with more than jazzy logos. Maybe worth a follow up post? Take a peek:

  • Margaret M. Cekis

    I'd get a group of top education specialists to compare typical elementary and high school textbooks, workbooks, and teaching materials from the 1950s and 1960s from representative public, parochial, and private schools with contemporary textbooks and teaching materials for comparable classes today. I think the comparisons would show what has changed in our educational system to the detriment of students. I think my textbooks provided more science, history, and geography in elementary school. Today's kids start school with the greater experience of preschool and head start programs, but by 4th grade, the text books and learning materials contain less content than they did 50 years ago, and the kids find them boring. In addition, they now have to compete for the kids' attention with video games and other technological toys. But the books have more pictures, larger text, and more white space, and each weighs half a pound more than its earlier counterparts (to the point that today's kids are in danger of spine problems from the weight of the stack of books they haul around every day).

    Let's quit designing textbooks that appeal to the least common denominator, that avoid all controversial topics, or skirt around them in by vaguely referring to controversial theories. Let's reprint some of the old books that taught our parents and grandparents, and test them side by side with some of the poorly organized, pretty picture-filled content-less textbooks popular in today's education systems, and see what happens!