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December 03, 2008

Teacher Sells Ad Space on Tests

This is a clever idea, though obviously not a real solution for spending cuts (no scalability). I'm more amused to see someone waste their life fighting "commercialization":

[W]hen administrators at Rancho Bernardo, his suburban San Diego high school, announced the district was cutting spending on supplies by nearly a third, [Tom] Farber had a problem. At 3 cents a page, his tests would cost more than $500 a year. His copying budget: $316. But he wanted to give students enough practice for the big tests they'll face in the spring, such as the Advanced Placement exam.

"Tough times call for tough actions," he says. So he started selling ads on his test papers: $10 for a quiz, $20 for a chapter test, $30 for a semester final.

That worries Robert Weissman, managing director of Commercial Alert, a Washington-based non-profit that fights commercialization in school and elsewhere. If test-papers-as-billboards catches on, he says, schools in the grip of tough economic times could start relying on them to help the bottom line.

"The advertisers are paying for something, and it's access to kids," he says.

Most of the ads come from parents sending messages to their children, though a few local businesses have bought space. To be honest, I wouldn't be opposed if Pepsi Co. wanted to put an ad on some tests (nor would I oppose a Time Warner Cable Residential Hall at a university looking for help raising money to build new dorms).

As an added bonus Mr. Weissman, and people like him, would worry their little heads off. If you want a laugh or two, check out Commercial Alert's website. His "commercialization" scare is a whole lot of Lefty bugaboos rolled into one.

First, they emphasize restricting speech in the name of "the children." Actually they insist that corporations do not have or should not have speech rights, which is typical leftist ignorance about what a corporation is. A corporation is composed of nothing except people---the owners, managers, and employees---all of whom have speech rights. Restrictions on so-called "commercial" speech have traditionally been too harsh, though that is changing.

Second, they claim that the act of selling a good or service is destroying our cultural values. This is routinely recast as "exploitation" of someone or something (often Mother Earth is assigned the role of the victim) and is part of the leftist's retro dislike for capitalism. And I mean retro as in, if your particular belief system was discredited before I was even born it's time to limp off to the trash-heap of history. Let it go, fella.

In fact, their heads would probably explode if they were told that the act of buying and selling, yes, including putting a price on something and then advertising it, has probably saved more lives and increased the quality of life for more people than any other activity in history. The fact that Rob Weissman is still walking and talking and wasting breath telling USA Today that he's "worried" tells me that he simply hasn't been paying attention. That he was educated at Harvard (twice!) is evidence, I hope, of his failure at life, and not the school's failure at education.

Third, and this will be very familiar for anyone else who has recently picked up Goldberg's book, they are motivated by the idea of a "public good" that must be protected from greedy profiteers. But they can't seem to come up with a definition of "public good" that doesn't require me to give up rights (usually to property and speech), which makes me not like the idea of "public good" so much.

I tend to think that what's good for me is very often also good for my neighbors; and what's good for my neighborhood is often good for my city; etc. But we didn't need someone to come point out the "public good" before we figured out that peaceful coexistance is a pleasant way to live. The pubic good, as sought by the Rob Weissmans of the world, is simply another imposition. The key feature for Commercial Alert is that the public good isn't concerned with anything so ignoble as making a living.

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 09:03 AM

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