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The Pepsi Public School System: Marketers on the Playground?

Across the nation, parents are indoctrinating themselves into low-carb cults by the ton. While Moms and Dads are off at work (ordering ruebens "with extra corned beef, hold the bread!" on their lunch breaks), their kids are at school taking pop quizzes and practicing lines for the school play. But, as the Associated Press reported today, grade school is not the virgin territory it once was. As schools increasingly face budget cuts, they are calling the marketers in to add billboards to their playgrounds and pump soda money into their budgets.

"Corporate advertisements are cropping up on everything from high school scoreboards to the sides of school buses," the AP piece reads. Hoisted on top of one Texas school, a Dr. Pepper billboard. In Seattle, a school district just renewed a five-year contract with Coca-Cola that will help fund field trips and the school newspaper (Coca-Cola has contracts with 6,000 school districts).

The marriage between school districts and beverage companies has been around over the past five decades. But we are now in an age when the Surgeon General has warned us of the "obesity epidemic." When it comes to the most common causes of premature death, we now know that the bulge is the runner up to cigarettes. Since 1963, the weight of overweight kids has quadrupled. We're starting to pay attention to video game inertia and super-sizing-as-religion. Maybe, just maybe, advertising sweet, sugary, high-calorie root beer in between math and science class is a bad idea?

Yes, we need funding for our children's schools so they are prepared for the future. But in order for them to have a future, they need their health. If we allow marketers to infect our public school system, what's next? Spelling bees sponsored by Philip Morris?

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  • Mark Zorro

    Everybody has great ideas about education but no one other than limited powerbrokers can really articulate the reality of education in the heart of the beast. We use our individual biases to define education in terms of commercialism and other big picture issues when we don't look at the commercialism present within our own support groups. As a parent I attend parent-teacher association meetings with dread. I can't imagine why parents would spend so much time on fundraising issues in school council meetings rather than education and partnership issues. I wonder how they cannot see the "tradition" that governs their interactions and the attitudes that leave innovation and partnership at the door in favour of pushing kids into "selling events".

    Having seen so much of what parents are not doing that could support teachers who are stressed with an occupation that takes more from them than gives back; and to listen to the kids of their expectations of school life, as well as creation of support networks to help parents break new ground in educational partnership and lifeskills - all of which is delegated a distant second to fundraising, from the very same parents who give voice to issues such as commercialism. Before we deal with the commercial devil coming from outside into our schools, lets deal with the commercial devil that operates inside our schools and that comes out wanting more but never asking of this effort, "is there a better and more effective way than what parent traditions and the suffocating politics of education dictate?

    The only way we can help education is to step up to the plate and actively work at the local level in the schools and with the boards that administer them, yet that is currently a hopeless and thankless task, school traditions usually outweighs forward thinking common sense and most parents have no idea that can be innovative and make a real difference to the educational system - how can they when very few parents with vision step up and those who do are by way of tradition shut out of the very system they care about and that needs innovating ideas and a holistic support system, free from islands of politically charged, professional and narrow interest.

    (Mark Twain wasn't Mark Twain, Mark Zorro isn't Mark Zorro)

  • Eric Sohni

    Are public schools really under funded? Yes. Mr. Kennedy when looked at the budget for NYC did you take a look at how many children are in this great city. For some reason in this country our gov't is funding trips to Mars and Pepsi and Nike are financing our schools. Doesn't anybody notice this. Millions of dollars for a land rover on Mars but at the same time certain cities can't even bus there children to schools due to the lack of much needed money. Our elected officials just look the other way because they are the wealthy and big business of this country and "their kids" are in private schools for the upper class so why bother when it is not your children whose education is financed by the Nike Swoosh. Life, liberty and the pursuit of Happy Meals isn't this country great?

  • David Paull

    Sure, many school districts are either under funded or poorly manage the adequate funds they have, but as any reader of this blog and Fast Company magazine should know, there are certainly more responsible and creative ways to solve the problem than inviting corporations to pour sugary sodas down our kid's throats. I believe getting corporations involved in our public school systems has a place, but let's find a way to make it good for the kids we are putting in the middle and stop the insane practice of tempting them to drink sodas instead of milk, juice or water. What message does that send to the kids during those very impressionable years?

  • Gregory Kennedy

    Are public schools really under funded? I was amazed when I actually looked up the budget for the New York City Publics Schools and saw that it made up the majority of the city's budget. 3 times what the fire department and the police department get!

    I think the real problem is corruption, unions and an inefficient public bureaucracy that is more interested in ensuring its own bloated survival over providing a quality education for our children.

    New York City is an obvious candidate for some kind of school privatization effort. Privatization and more importantly fair competition have proven themselves to be the best way to ensure the delivery a quality product at an affordable price. Only a desperate and entrenched group like the teachers union would think social studies brought to you by Pepsi is a good idea.

  • Tony DiRomualdo

    We should all be concerned about marketing of products in the schools by food giants. But let's be honest - the sorry state of food and beverages offered by schools reflects the general eating habits and preferences of many families. What are these kids eating at home? I agree we should get the likes of Pepsi and Coke out of our schools, but changing poor nutritional and eating habits must begin at home. Stop eating so much pre-packaged and processed food and start cooking more from scratch. Don't have the time? Make some! Your health AND quality of life will improve. And so will your relationships with your kids.

  • Dave Orsborn

    Excellent topic! This is a struggle that is near and dear to my Pediatrician wife- every day she has new stories of obese kids or kids with rotting teeth. Some even show up to appointments with giant sodas and bags of chips!
    This is easy money for a lot of struggling school districts. Our district has had a levy fail three times and has a multi-million dollar contract with Pepsi. Its tough to walk away from that kind of money when all kinds of staff and programs are being cut.

    Two sources that may interest people.Kelly Brownell has an excellent book, Food Fight, that addresses the schools issue. Also an educator named Pat Cooper has written extensively on the topic, here's a link to an article he wrote:
    http://www.actionforhealthykid.... The Action for Healthy Kids site is also a great resource for those interested in learning more.