May 29th, 2004

Brand-Name Field Trips - A Total Sellout

Philadelphia Inquirer

In a world of a million childhood distractions - television, music, sports, instant messaging - school remains largely an “uncluttered environment,” as marketers put it. Those marketers would love to change that. They’re eager to bombard that huge, captive, impressionable audience with the seductions of consumerism.

First came Channel One, with its ad-laden newscasts; then computer deals, exclusive soda contracts and naming rights for gyms. Now schools are selling out their field trips, too. Instead of rubber snakes from a zoo gift shop, this year’s field trip souvenir may be a free Sports Authority lunch box or a rub-on Petco tattoo.

Chicago-based Field Trip Factory arranges field trips to stores on topics such as pet care, dental hygiene, sports safety or the food pyramid. Field Trip Factory prepackages everything, from tour guide scripts to parental permission slips.

Teachers love the convenience. Stingy school districts love the price, especially when stores kick in the cost of the bus ride. Field Trip Factory won’t disclose its handling fees, but business is booming - 7,000 trips this year.

So what’s not to like?

Just about everything.

The job of schools is not to groom pliant consumers. It is to imbue children first with a love of learning for its own sake, then with the skills needed for citizenship and career. What lesson is taught by the final quiz that Field Trip Factory scripts for one of these outings: “And what are we, boys and girls?” “Sports Authorities!” the children yell.

If that’s not an ad, what is? The lesson is: Buy the hype. Base your identity on where you shop. If it’s one thing today’s youth don’t need, it’s lessons on how to get to the mall.

But why else is Petco sending home a free goldfish coupon? Parents, nagged into a shopping trip the following Saturday, presumably will pick up the tab for the accompanying bowl, gravel, food.

Schools shouldn’t set up their students to be exploited. If they do, parents must object.

Sure, teachers have long arranged trips to local businesses and factories, but that was different. Children at least learned how things were made, how workplaces work. The whole point of the trip wasn’t developing “brand loyalty.”

Why are schools selling out their students this way? Part of the lure comes from states’ failure to fund schools properly; overreliance on local property taxes has taxpayers cranky and school officials running scared.

On the federal level, failure to fund public institutions hurts schools. Budget cuts at national parks mean places like Gettysburg turn away one of every four school groups that seeks to visit. Lawmakers need to realign their priorities.  But that doesn’t mean the only option is a corporate sellout. This region is rich in museums, parks, nature centers and historical sites that are perfect for field trips.

If a school can’t afford to go to those sites, better the students stay in class. Sometimes free is too expensive.

May 29th, 2004

Brand-Name Field Trips - A Total Sellout

Philadelphia Inquirer

In a world of a million childhood distractions - television, music, sports, instant messaging - school remains largely an “uncluttered environment,” as marketers put it. Those marketers would love to change that. They’re eager to bombard that huge, captive, impressionable audience with the seductions of consumerism.

First came Channel One, with its ad-laden newscasts; then computer deals, exclusive soda contracts and naming rights for gyms. Now schools are selling out their field trips, too. Instead of rubber snakes from a zoo gift shop, this year’s field trip souvenir may be a free Sports Authority lunch box or a rub-on Petco tattoo.

Chicago-based Field Trip Factory arranges field trips to stores on topics such as pet care, dental hygiene, sports safety or the food pyramid. Field Trip Factory prepackages everything, from tour guide scripts to parental permission slips.

Teachers love the convenience. Stingy school districts love the price, especially when stores kick in the cost of the bus ride. Field Trip Factory won’t disclose its handling fees, but business is booming - 7,000 trips this year.

So what’s not to like?

Just about everything.

The job of schools is not to groom pliant consumers. It is to imbue children first with a love of learning for its own sake, then with the skills needed for citizenship and career. What lesson is taught by the final quiz that Field Trip Factory scripts for one of these outings: “And what are we, boys and girls?” “Sports Authorities!” the children yell.

If that’s not an ad, what is? The lesson is: Buy the hype. Base your identity on where you shop. If it’s one thing today’s youth don’t need, it’s lessons on how to get to the mall.

But why else is Petco sending home a free goldfish coupon? Parents, nagged into a shopping trip the following Saturday, presumably will pick up the tab for the accompanying bowl, gravel, food.

Schools shouldn’t set up their students to be exploited. If they do, parents must object.

Sure, teachers have long arranged trips to local businesses and factories, but that was different. Children at least learned how things were made, how workplaces work. The whole point of the trip wasn’t developing “brand loyalty.”

Why are schools selling out their students this way? Part of the lure comes from states’ failure to fund schools properly; overreliance on local property taxes has taxpayers cranky and school officials running scared.

On the federal level, failure to fund public institutions hurts schools. Budget cuts at national parks mean places like Gettysburg turn away one of every four school groups that seeks to visit. Lawmakers need to realign their priorities.  But that doesn’t mean the only option is a corporate sellout. This region is rich in museums, parks, nature centers and historical sites that are perfect for field trips.

If a school can’t afford to go to those sites, better the students stay in class. Sometimes free is too expensive.

May 29th, 2004

Brand-Name Field Trips - A Total Sellout

Philadelphia Inquirer

In a world of a million childhood distractions - television, music, sports, instant messaging - school remains largely an “uncluttered environment,” as marketers put it. Those marketers would love to change that. They’re eager to bombard that huge, captive, impressionable audience with the seductions of consumerism.

First came Channel One, with its ad-laden newscasts; then computer deals, exclusive soda contracts and naming rights for gyms. Now schools are selling out their field trips, too. Instead of rubber snakes from a zoo gift shop, this year’s field trip souvenir may be a free Sports Authority lunch box or a rub-on Petco tattoo.

Chicago-based Field Trip Factory arranges field trips to stores on topics such as pet care, dental hygiene, sports safety or the food pyramid. Field Trip Factory prepackages everything, from tour guide scripts to parental permission slips.

Teachers love the convenience. Stingy school districts love the price, especially when stores kick in the cost of the bus ride. Field Trip Factory won’t disclose its handling fees, but business is booming - 7,000 trips this year.

So what’s not to like?

Just about everything.

The job of schools is not to groom pliant consumers. It is to imbue children first with a love of learning for its own sake, then with the skills needed for citizenship and career. What lesson is taught by the final quiz that Field Trip Factory scripts for one of these outings: “And what are we, boys and girls?” “Sports Authorities!” the children yell.

If that’s not an ad, what is? The lesson is: Buy the hype. Base your identity on where you shop. If it’s one thing today’s youth don’t need, it’s lessons on how to get to the mall.

But why else is Petco sending home a free goldfish coupon? Parents, nagged into a shopping trip the following Saturday, presumably will pick up the tab for the accompanying bowl, gravel, food.

Schools shouldn’t set up their students to be exploited. If they do, parents must object.

Sure, teachers have long arranged trips to local businesses and factories, but that was different. Children at least learned how things were made, how workplaces work. The whole point of the trip wasn’t developing “brand loyalty.”

Why are schools selling out their students this way? Part of the lure comes from states’ failure to fund schools properly; overreliance on local property taxes has taxpayers cranky and school officials running scared.

On the federal level, failure to fund public institutions hurts schools. Budget cuts at national parks mean places like Gettysburg turn away one of every four school groups that seeks to visit. Lawmakers need to realign their priorities.  But that doesn’t mean the only option is a corporate sellout. This region is rich in museums, parks, nature centers and historical sites that are perfect for field trips.

If a school can’t afford to go to those sites, better the students stay in class. Sometimes free is too expensive.

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