Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Portland School Board flunks media literacy

Like the Portland City Council, the Portland School Board is apparently media illiterate.

They simply don’t get it that it is wrong to sell off public property for commercial advertising in the name of “corporate partnerships” or “recognition opportunities.”

The issue arose before the City Council in the spring when some of us tried to block the selling of naming rights to parks facilities. We lost.

Last night three of us from the Coalition for Commercial Free Schools testified before the school board. (By the way I wrote about this issue here a couple of days ago.)

We might as well have been talking to a wall.

At one point our presentation even drew applause for folks who happened to be in the audience to address other issues. They got it.

A couple of them even e-mailed us today offering support. One, Steve Rawley, is commenting on our testimony on his issue-packed blog, More Hockey Less War.

If we persuaded the audience, why not the board?

Two possibilities:

1. These folks just don't think critically about media and its impact on kids. As suggest above, they are media ILLiterate.

2. They are so busy with and blinded by hiring a new superintendent, trying to keep the system running and meeting No Child Left Behind requirements that they don't have the time or inclination to tell the Portland Trailblazers, “No, we will not let you plaster your logo on the walls of 13 gyms in exchange for refurbishing the floors. Alternatively, we will happily accept the $600,000 for the work as a donation, with the understanding that we will publicly and sincerely thank you with a press conference and a small plaque.”

In our testimony last night my colleagues and I told the board of a host of health issues associated with this kind of rampant commercialism in the schools. We also underscored a host of social, educational and ethical issues.

We want the school board to promulgate a policy that clearly defines how corporate donors are to be thanked. The definition should not include PR and advertising “recognition opportunities,” which school marketing staff are blatantly peddling to attract corporate dollars.

By the way, reporters at both The Oregonian and The Tribune are working on stories on the issue.

Here’s what I told the board.

9/24/2007 Statement before the Portland School Board.

Re: Resolution No. 3764

I am Rick Seifert of Media Think, a local media literacy group, which is a member of the Coalition for Commercial-Free schools.

Thank you for this opportunity to speak.

The most instructive aspect of the deal before you is that one of the terms used to describe it is a “recognition opportunity.”

The term goes by less revealing terms as “corporate partnerships” and “corporate sponsorships,” but “recognition opportunity” directly addresses motive. Search the web for “recognition opportunities” and you will find they are rampant.

“Recognition opportunities” are nothing more than contributions made on condition that they will produce a return in advertising and public relations.

High school students, as you know, are a highly sought-after advertising demographic target. They have years of purchasing ahead of them. To plant a logo in front of their eyes repeatedly in an emotionally charged athletic setting over ten years is brilliant marketing.

That logo will carry no explanation for why it is on the floor. For all future students may know, the school district endorses the companies and their products, be they sneakers or professional basketball games.

I suggest you test the motives at work here, not that you have to, because your staff is using the term “recognition opportunity” to seek funds.

Test it by proposing this: We accept and deeply appreciate the money to refurbish these floors, we offer thanks publicly and will put up small, unobtrusive plaques in each gym to acknowledge the gift. The plaques come down when it is time to refurbish again.

Will the donors agree? Apparently not.

Motive is important.

If I knew you ran for the school board in order to seize a “recognition opportunity,” would I vote for you?

If I were appearing here tonight in order to gain a “recognition opportunity” would you listen to me?

Do we want our children to do good works as “recognition opportunities”? Do you want them to know that their schools feed these motives? Do you want them to know that you are basically selling them as a captive audience to advertisers?

Finally, as taxpayers do we want to pay for school facilities only to have them be turned into billboards for “recognition opportunity” seekers.

Here is my advice. Publicly thank the donors for their generous gift. Acknowledge it specifically on plaques and then….do the much needed work of coming up with a clear policy to cover how you will acknowledge such gifts in a way that is open, dignified and exemplary.

Thank you

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

it's all about THE MONEY..nothing else matters...unfortunately.
Frank Baker

7:40 PM  
Anonymous Steve said...

This one may be about losing the battle but winning the war. The Coalition for Commercial-Free Schools goal of a uniform policy on advertising in schools is achievable, given some pressure on the right board members.

We need to convince the board that having a uniform policy doesn't mean we're saying "no" to corporate money.

Thanks to you and your colleagues for tracking this issue and testifying to the board Monday night.

11:04 AM  

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