Commercial Free Schools

There a new group called Citizens for Commercial-Free Schools (CCFS), which is a group of Burlington parents and community members working since Spring 2005 to remove corporate and military advertising from our public schools.

They have circulated a petition (signed so far by over 100 Burlingtonians) and presented it to the school board. They have proposed a donations policy that the school board is now considering. About twenty supporters have attended one or more school board meetings since this effort began.

CCFS supports and encourages corporate donations to our schools (including donations from General Dynamics), and believes donor generosity should be acknowledged on school Web sites, in school district newsletters, and in press releases.

The following is statement pulled from a recent letter to the editor from the Burlington Free Press submitted by Eric Hart, representing CCFS…

[Letter begins]

CCFS opposes in-school advertising. Three times a year, every elementary school child is required to walk to a desk and shake hands with a General Dynamics representative in thanks for a book, a pencil, and a bookmark all labeled “Compliments of General Dynamics.” (When I asked my son Daniel how he knows who they are, he said “their badges say “General Dynamics!”) Many parents I’ve talked with say they are “uncomfortable” or “uneasy” with this, regardless of what they think of General Dynamics as a company.

CCFS opposes in-school advertising because it brings politics into the classroom, stifles open communication, and sends confusing messages to our children and educators alike. Laurie Essig, a Burlington parent, reports that her third-grader repeatedly asked this spring “why are we treating these people (General Dynamics) like heroes, when they make bombs?” She was left in the classroom while her classmates and the teacher went to receive Reading is Fundamental books. According to Essig, “My child came home in tears, believing she had been punished.” Our children should not be placed in this situation.

[Letter ends]

I believe that the teacher’s act was wrong and should not be allowed in the future. The teacher should not have held the girl back. She should have been able to go with everyone else and ask her question. Now, it’s obvious to me that her parents most likely put her up to this because they are most likely anti-war and they express it to their daughter.

The main issue now is the “compliments of General Dynamics” stickers and free bookmarks and pencils with their name on it and the fact that General Dynamics Reps have General Dynamics name badges on it while handing out the books.

I believe the real issue is political. Politics is in the classroom already, it’s unavoidable. If you have schools that are largely democrat and left-leaning, you are going to have those values expressed in the teaching, just as it would be if the schools were run by Republicans, Greens or Libertarians. I don’t believe it can be avoided. People can not change who they are.

If it were representatives from Ben & Jerry stamping books, which is a corporation, I do not believe we would be having this discussion as they are more democrat-friendly and anti-war.

We have all kinds of public events here in Burlington where we have company sponsors with their banners proudly displayed at the event such as Hannafords, which I know sponsored our Ethan Allen Tower event here this summer as well as the city’s fireworks show. I didn’t hear of anyone complaining about that. These companies are giving back to the community, why shouldn’t they be recognized and if we don’t like the terms… don’t participate.

Now, let me state for the record. I did not and do not support the continued war in Iraq. However, I believe that in the case of the books from General Dynamics the children should be allowed to go get the books if they wish. If they or their parents don’t like the terms, then don’t participate. I do not like that fact that some people are putting their political beliefs ahead of the children’s interest.

The real tragedy here is that many of the poorest children are lacking good books to read… why rob them of this great opportunity to get the books they want to read for free or get a chance to meet their favorite authors, which General Dynamics also organizes for the children. It’s really easy for well to do people to just turn General Dynamics away and say it’s worth it to further your personal politics, but for the poorest children, pushing General Dynamics out of the program could be a huge lost opportunity.

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