Thursday, March 10, 2011

With Students Leading the Way, Toronto Says No To Video Ads in Schools

Great news! Last night, the Toronto District School Board rejected a proposal to install digital monitors in more than 70 area high schools. The monitors would have been used for news and school announcements and to showcase student projects. The catch? Thirty-percent of the air time – or two hours a day – would have been reserved for ads.

The proposal’s proponents claimed that the ads could earn the district up to $100,000 a year, but opponents of the plan passionately argued against selling their students to marketers. “It is shameful, absolutely shameful, that we are being forced to prostitute ourselves and sell access to the children in this system because we are an underfunded institution,” said trustee Sheila Cary-Meagher. “We’re here to educate our children, not to sell their souls.”

CCFC was alerted to the plan a few hours before the board meeting. We quickly notified our Toronto-area members, many of whom immediately contacted their board representative and urged them to vote against the ad plan.

But the best part of the story is that students played a big part in stopping the ads. The district’s student council opposed the plan, as did the two student representatives on school board. Student Trustee Zach Schwartz told the Toronto Sun, “I do not think it is the school board’s place to leverage students’ minds to the highest bidder. School has to be a learning environment first and foremost and should not be doing things that do not have a direct educational benefit.”

And while proponents of in-school marketing often ask “what’s the big deal?” since ads are everywhere, Student Trustee Jenny Williams reminded her fellow board members precisely why its so important to preserve schools as commercial-free zones: “Students are feeling as though they are going to be bombarded with advertising from various companies and that school will no longer be a 'safe zone' for them.”

So thank you, Toronto, for putting your students first and reminding all of us that, even in these stark economic times, advertising in schools is neither inevitable nor desirable. And for giving impassioned, articulate students like Zach and Jenny a role in shaping their own educational experience.

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