At first glance the subject ofcommercializing activities in schools seems less important and less central to publiceducation than other, more obviously weighty topics such as racism, technology,economic inequality, or academic standards. Certainly if you had told me when Isat at the feet of Jim MacDonald as a wet-behind-the-ears doctoral studenttrying to master the intricacies of curriculum theory that I would one day bean expert on curricula such as Lysol’s "Germ Alert" I would havelaughed. Yet here I am twenty-nine years later about to argue in allseriousness that sponsored material such as General Mills "Gushers"fruit snack curriculum and other commercial activities in the schools areprofoundly altering the character of public education, and that this commercialmakeover of America’s schools is being done with virtually no seriousdiscussion of its consequences.
Icome to my exotic expertise quite by accident. In the mid-1970’s, while walkingthrough the exhibit hall at an Association for Supervision and CurriculumDevelopment conference, I noticed something odd. McDonald’s had set up a boothand was distributing a catalogue of it educational publications. The catalogueitself was attractive. It was designed to look like an old-fashionedcomposition book with a mottled black and white cover. Inside, I discoveredthat McDonald’s was, among other things, offering free curriculum materials onnutrition and the environment. Nutrition and the environment! Think about it:children learning about proper nutrition from a multi-national fast foodcorporation whose food packaging materials were a major source of pollution.The conflict of interest was obvious – yet there was the catalogue beingdistributed at the meeting of an influential professional association.
WhenI returned to Milwaukee I asked graduate students in my "CurriculumPlanning" class whether or not they had seen instructional materials suchas those in the McDonald’s catalogue. Their answer was, "All thetime." Over time my students brought in boxes of corporate sponsoredmaterials. It was my idea that if such self-interested corporate materials werecommon in my student’s schools it seemed to me that the analysis of thesematerials should be part of our curriculum class. Thus began my nowtwo-and-a-half decade-long interest in schoolhouse commercialism.
Overthe years I have developed a conceptual framework for thinking about theprogressive impact of commercialism: marketing to schools, marketing inschools, and marketing of schools. The first category, marketing toschools, is uncontroversial. Schools need supplies of every sort, includingpencils, desks, books, lunch trays, chalkboards, computers, etc. Schoolsdetermine what they need and select vendors based on which one the schoolbelieves provides the most value for the money available. The fact that thevendor will make a profit on the transaction troubles no one. This is a goodold fashioned arms-length business transaction.
Thesecond category, marketing in schools, is problematic for severalreasons. No one, even the most ardent capitalist would argue, for example, thatchildren in school are idealized capitalist consumers operating in a freemarketplace. In relation to marketers it can not be said that children possessan equal amount of information, or an equal amount of power, or that they arefree to enter or not enter into contracts as they choose. In other words,children in school are a captive audience whose immaturity and relative lack ofpower can be manipulated by advertisers to their advantage. Further, since weencourage children to think that what they are asked to do in school is intheir interest, whatever defenses they may have against the manipulations ofmarketers are likely to be lowered in a school setting, a concern supported bya 1993 study by Bradley Greenberg and Jeffrey Brand that suggested that ChannelOne encouraged the development of materialistic values. Greenberg and Brandfound that children who watched Channel One were more likely than those who didnot to agree with the statements "money is everything," "a nicecar is more important than school," "designer labels make adifference," and "wealthy people are happier than the poor."
Floridexamples of so-called "sponsored educational materials" abound, e.g.,a spaghetti sauce science lesson, a potato chip math lesson, a cosmetic companyhuman relations lesson, etc., etc. It is tempting to dismiss such materials asan inconsequential educational side show – goofy aberrations not worthy ofserious consideration. I can assure you, however, that these materials aredeadly serious business to marketers who now claim to reach millions ofchildren and their parents through such school-based marketing programs. WhenWillie Sutton the bank robber was asked why he robbed banks he is said to havereplied, "because that’s where the money is." If Willie Sutton werealive today there is a good chance he would be in youth marketing. Advertisingto children is now a multi-billion dollar industry. In a hyper-commercializedculture, schools are attractive to advertisers because the kids are forced togather together in one spot for several hours every day and they are, at leastrelatively speaking, free of commercial clutter. In the words of James Twitchell,author of Adcult USA, for advertisers, when it comes to schools,"It doesn’t get any better. These people have not bought cars. They havenot chosen the kind of toothpaste they will use. This audience is Valhalla.It’s the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow." 
Marketing products and services isonly one type of marketing directed at schools. Ideas and point of view arealso marketed. In an age less besotted with commercialism these activities weredescribed as propaganda. In 1929 the "Report of the Committee onPropaganda in the Schools" was presented at the National EducationAssociation meeting in Atlanta. By the mid-fifties inAssociation for Supervision and Curriculum Development and the AmericanAssociation of School Administrators reports "propaganda" had become"free materials."  By the 1970’s, as Sheila Hartynoted in Hucksters in the Classroom,  "freematerials" had become "sponsored educational materials." By the1990’s any company or industry that had a problem or that wanted to establishbrand recognition and promote long-term loyalty to its products was likely tohave a program directed at schools. Two reports issued by Consumers Union, SellingAmerica’s Kids: Commercial Pressures on Kids of the 90’s (1990) and Captive Kids: Commercial Pressure on Kids at School (1995),
Providing sponsored educationalmaterials is one of several mechanisms used by corporations to market inschools. I direct the Center for the Analysis of Commercialism in Education atthe University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (http://www.uwm.edu/Dept/CACE).In each of the past two years we have released an annual report oncommercializing trends in American schools. 
The reports track seven types ofschoolhouse commercializing activity:
The seventh area of commercialism,privatization, moves us to the third category of commercialism in my scheme,i.e., the selling of schools themselves as a product. This is arelatively new phenomenon that first drew widespread public notice in 1992 whenEducational Alternatives, Inc. (EAI) signed a contract to run nine BaltimorePublic Schools. EAI (now the TesseracT Group) was subsequently forced out ofdistrict by allegations of over-billing and under-performing. Chris Whittlelaunched EAI’s principal competitor, the Edison Project (now Edison Schools) in1991. Originally Whittle’s idea was to open a chain of 200 private for-profit schoolsby 1996. After spending about $45 million and two years trying unsuccessfullyto get his brainchild off the ground, Whittle switched gears and focused onrunning public schools.  At the moment Edison claims tomanage 79 schools.  The company has yet to turn a profitand its educational performance is most accurately described as mediocre.Nevertheless, the number of firms attempting to find profit in the K-12 publiceducation system is growing. In large measure this growth is being propelled bypermissive state charter school legislation and the continuing and well-fundedcampaign to promote educational vouchers.
The implications of the commercialtransformation of American public education are important for a number ofreasons. Commercialism erodes the democratic political values that have guidedpublic education in this country since its inception. In their place are marketvalues, i.e., the values of spending and getting. Thus, instead of publiceducation guided by a vision of political equality and social justice we have avision of the marketplace in which school processes are corrupted and schoolsthemselves may be purchased like other consumer products. This, of course,excludes the majority of citizens who do not have children in schools from anyrole (except for paying taxes) in shaping the institution.
It is not surprising that thereshould be pressure to absorb public schools into the marketplace. At themoment, the market appears to be sweeping all non-market values andinstitutions before it. Even a casual look at the architecture of the age helpsmakes the point. No one who has visited Europe could come away, after havingseen the magnificent cathedrals constructed during the middle ages andrenaissance, without understanding that it was religious ideas that dominatedEuropean thought during that period. No one who has visited Washington, D.C.,or many of the state capitols constructed during the 19th century,could fail to understand that it was political ideas that animated the earlyAmerican republic. And no one who views the contemporary architecturallandscape would miss the point that shopping centers, conference facilities,and office towers devoted to trade are now the dominant form. If I read myarchitecture accurately, it will take a cultural transformation to protect andextend the public and democratic character of public education. Contemporaryculture is dominated by the ethic of consumption.
This has consequences for the wayin which children and childhood are understood both in and out of school. Inthe marketplace children are just another market segment to be studied so thatthey can be manipulated into thinking, feeling, and acting in ways that lead tothe inevitable decision to consume something. The market takes all humandesires such as love and transforms them into products that can be bought andsold. Lonely? Buy a candy bar. Feel ugly? Buy herbal shampoo. Feel powerless?Buy a convertible. All of this leads, I think, to a sort of cascading quietismthat might be compared to the effect that television viewing seems evoke, i.e.,an agitated passiveness. This is the death of the public sphere. It is also,from my standpoint profoundly immoral.
At a time when it is estimatedthat almost a third of the vegetables eaten by American children are in theform of french fries or potato chips,  how can we defendteaching children to eat low fat, low sugar, low salt diets in our curriculawhile promoting the consumption of soft drinks, candy, and fast food in thepolicies we implement and programs we accept in our schools and classrooms. Howcan we have serious conversations about academic standards when more and moreschool time is devoted to activities that are designed not to increase studentknowledge of important subjects but to promote the consumption of this productor that. It is not too strong, I think, to suggest that our children are nowroutinely, albeit tacitly, viewed as a cash crop to be harvested by adults.
The commercialism engulfing ourschools is part of a much larger and long term process. Our market-drivenculture is steadily hollowing out humane values and placing mercantile valuesinside their shell. The principal desire is for more – more televisions, moretoys, bigger cars, more clothes and in the end more alienation, moreloneliness, and less freedom. David Riesman covered this territory in TheLonely Crowd  as did Vance Packard in The HiddenPersuaders.  More recently Sut Jhally has doneoutstanding work. His video "Advertising and the End of the World"
I wish that I could leave you witha hopeful thought. However, in all honesty, I think it unlikely that thecommercializing wave will crest soon. For the moment we would do well to informourselves, to advocate policies that help protect schools from commercialpressure, and to support political initiatives that show promise for limitingthe reach of mercantile activities directed against children.