Commercial references in middle school math book has sparked controversy, but not locally.
Thursday, April 8, 1999
Thisisn''t your parents'' mathematics. The splashy layout, colorful images, and hip-and-happening commercial brand name references in a locally used middle school math book has managed to make math fun.
It''s interesting to the kids, say local educators, to work problems that relate to real life. Working word problems about purchasing a pair of Nike sneakers, or figuring out the fraction of your favorite M&M color in relation to the whole pack, keeps kids intrigued.
The book, Mathematics: Applications and Connections, published by Glencoe/McGraw-Hill, is used by middle schoolers enrolled in the Carmel, Pacific Grove, Salinas and Santa Rita school districts. But the book has come under fire recently for its perceived gratuitous use of commercial brand names.
For instance, the 1995 Course 1 edition, used by sixth-graders at Carmel Middle School, is peppered with a number of brand references, including Seiko watches, Dr. Mario video games, McDonald''s, Burger King, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut. Many of the references are accompanied by full color photos of the products.
But while local educators say the brand names make math more fun, critics say that the references read like advertisements, and that advertising doesn''t belong in textbooks.
"We''re seeing companies come up with more and more schemes to advertise to kids," says Andrew Hagelshaw, senior program director for the Oakland-based Center for Commercial Free Public Education. "And now they''re coming up with ways that are basically mandatory. It''s no longer taboo to advertise in schools. We think that any type of advertising in schools that creates brand loyalty is taking advantage of a captive audience."
Schools, says Hagelshaw, are the perfect market for companies vying to create brand-loyal consumers. The commercial references in the Glencoe book, says Hagelshaw, don''t belong in a textbook because they have nothing to do with mathematics. Moreover, he says, the references are distracting and undermine educational intent. For instance, while students may be learning about healthy eating in health class, references made to candy and fast food in a math textbook may reinforce unhealthy eating habits.
"It comes down to how we are going to treat our kids," continues Hagelshaw. "Are we going to treat our kids like precious resources, or as a market group?"
The Glencoe book has created enough controversy that state Assemblymember Kerry Mazzoni, chair of the Assembly education committee, has introduced legislation regarding the issue. In California, textbooks for grades one through eight are chosen by local school districts from a state-approved list.
Assembly Bill 116 would prohibit the state from adopting textbooks for grades one through eight "that provide unnecessary exposure to a commercial brand name, product or corporate or company logo." The bill is currently being deliberated in the Assembly education committee.
A Mazzoni aide says the legislation was spurred by a letter of complaint from a Berkeley-area parent. Attorney Joe Stein was outraged when he discovered the commercial references in the Glencoe book, which is used by his son''s school. The controversy following Stein''s complaint made national news when the New York Times reported on it last month.
But local educators say that the controversy surrounding the Glencoe book doesn''t add up. In a world where consumerism is increasingly a part of everyday life, educators say the book is merely reflective, not prescriptive, of kids'' habits.
"One of the real advantages of the book is that it related to real life," says Carmel Middle School math teacher Melissa Kubasch. "It''s something that the kids can actually get into. They pick up the book and say, ''Wow, cool, look at this math book!'' How often do you hear that?"
Besides, says educators, the Glencoe book is simply a good math book, and the baby shouldn''t be thrown out with the bath water. If the brand references achieve the book''s intention of making math more interesting for kids, they say, that benefit far outweighs any advertising value.
"The kids absolutely love it, and the parents do, too," says Barbara Novelli, coordinator of curriculum and staff development for the Pacific Grove Unified School District. "This has been a very effective book for us."
"It was definitely the best book available," says Carmel Middle School math teacher Gordie Campbell, who was on the selection committee which chose the book. "I wouldn''t call the [brand references] advertisements. It''s a way to catch kids'' attention, to make the book look like more than just a bunch of problems. We never thought of it as an advertising vehicle. We thought of it as something that kids can relate to. It catches their eye and makes math come alive."
McGraw-Hill says that no money was taken from the companies for advertising, and that the brand references are merely a way to make the book interesting to the kids.
"The trademark names are used simply to give students real life examples, ones they can identify with and ones they can appreciate," says Michael Kean, vice president for public and governmental affairs in McGraw-Hill''s Monterey office. "These books are written totally apart from any commercial advantage for McGraw-Hill. We don''t get a nickel from these companies."
"This is McGraw Hill''s standard answer," counters Hagelshaw, "but there is a way to make a book more interesting without outright advertising. There is a way to make the book more engaging that is more appropriate."
The controversy over commercialism in schools can be traced back to 1989 when the Channel One issue first hit. Channel One offers free educational television to schools, but it comes with a different sort of price tag. Kids are forced to sit through commercials sprinkled among educational programming.
"Education, for a number of years, has been concerned about the publicity of products in the classroom," says Donna Bessant, director of instructional materials and libraries for the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District (which does not use the controversial Glencoe math book). "With Channel One, the kids had to sit through two minutes of advertisements. Most school districts found that unacceptable.
"But in this case," she continues, "the [math book] publisher did not get any payments. It''s not like TV ads. In my mind, I would assume, because the images are static, they are not enticing to the auditory perception. I don''t know how insidious that is."
But what bothers Hagelshaw is that the Glencoe book is the first case of advertising appearing within a state-sponsored textbook, paid for by taxpayer money. "The real issue here is of companies getting into schools to advertise to children," he says, "and now you have taxpayers footing the bill for this type of commercialism."