There are numerous groups opposed to corporate influence within schools. These groups range from concerned parents and teachers to "anti-globalization" activists. Although the motives for their opposition to corporate influence are as myriad as the groups themselves, they nevertheless all converge on two main points.
First, there is the fear that corporations are invading every aspect of our lives, and that nothing is sacred anymore. It’s bad enough that corporations target children for advertising through the media, opponents argue, but now even in the school hallways the presence of corporations can be felt. In Hungary, it’s not unusual to find junk food machines and posters advertising various products. In some cases, students are made by their teachers to write "tests" which, in reality, are not tests at all, but profile questionnaires.
Secondly, there is the concern that what corporations are actually doing is preparing children as future mindless consumers, whereas the purpose of schools is to prepare them as future citizens. As a result of this, the quality of education is gradually being eroded. In the end, those opposed to corporate influence in schools argue that children are not being taught to think freely and for themselves, but are being conditioned to accept that there is no alternative to the "corporate" state.
Those who support the activities of corporations in schools reject the accusations that they are simply interested in cultivating future consumers. With regards to junk food in the schools, pro-corporate pundits point out that it’s not the products themselves which are the problem, but the way they are used or abused. They also add that corporations are very concerned about the health and well-being of children, and thus donate millions to educational programs. For example, in the US Campbell’s Labels for Education program encourages families to collect labels from Campbell products that schools can redeem for equipment.
A similar program is the America’s Schools Program, which allows large corporate donors to channel funds to schools without the appearance of direct corporate sponsorship. In return, these corporations are able to display the official star-shaped America’s Schools logo on their products.
Yet skeptics regard all this as nothing more than a sophisticated marketing technique, one in which corporations are able to bypass parents and directly influence the choice of children. In the case of junk food companies, many of the educational programs they support are just attempts to obscure their responsibility in the global epidemic of obesity and diabetes. For instance, Krispy Kreme Good Grades program offers elementary school kids one doughnut for each excellent mark on their report cards. It should come as no surprise that most of the foods marketed directly to children are high in calories and low in nutrition.
Unfortunately, stuck in the middle of all this are the schools themselves. Most schools have financial problems, and the offer from corporations of financial donations is often too good to refuse. While some schools think nothing of it, others are uncertain. In the end, however, no matter how uncomfortable school administrators feel for accepting corporate donations, they realize that they have few, if any, alternatives.
It is sad to think that the future of education in Hungary and many other countries around the world is determined by economic policy rather than social policy. Corporations are in a strong position because they have the money, and it’s only fair to expect that those who have the money and are willing to donate it expect something in return.
Yet one reason why corporations have so much money, and therefore a lot of influence and power, is because governments have given it to them instead of the schools. If governments tax corporations more then there would be more money for schools, and then they won’t have to rely on corporations for donations.
Some may argue that this would cause economic problems because corporations would just move to China. But this wouldn’t really be a bad thing, because eventually there will be smart business people who will realize that if large corporations move out, then they can move in. Also, they would realize that having citizens who can think freely for themselves is important. Quality education would also lead to quality products, ones that would also be environmentally friendly.
By raising the quality of living in a country, you also raise the standard of living. And it is a high standard of living which is the ultimate symbol of success. For this reason, it would be a good thing to not only limit corporate influence in schools, but eliminate their influence altogether. Schools should be for the benefit of society, not corporations.
Judy Gyenese is a student in Hungary. The photo is from Indymedia.org