Scholastic, the world’s largest publisher of children’s books, has announced that it is cutting back its InSchool marketing division’s corporate-sponsored projects, and creating a new review board to vet its materials.
Two months I wrote here that the company had pulled its biased coal curriculum, thanks to pressure from the media and from Care2 members. The curriculum, distributed to 66,000 fourth grade teachers, was sponsored by the American Coal Foundation, meaning that it somehow failed to mention any of the downsides of coal production: no negative effects of mining and burning coal, no toxic wastes, no lung disease, no greenhouse houses.
Scholastic Dumped Its Coal Curriculum – Now Others Are On The Chopping Block
Now Scholastic is taking further steps to loosen its ties with corporations.
Here’s what The New York Times reports:
“We have to improve our standards, and make sure there’s not a scintilla of anything that could be suggested to be biased,” said Richard Robinson, the president and chief executive of Scholastic. “The vast majority of our programs are not controversial, but once in a while there was a slip-up in editorial judgment.”
The company said last week that it would make a partial retreat from corporate and industry-sponsored programs and lesson plans it distributes free to teachers. It has already withdrawn some of its most controversial programs. But others, including a lesson plan sponsored by the American Egg Board recommending the health benefits of eggs, are continuing.
Scholastic InSchool, part of the company’s marketing division, distributes the materials, which are paid for by dozens of corporations and agencies like the Census Bureau. The InSchool unit accounts for less than 1 percent of Scholastic’s $2 billion in revenues, and fewer than two dozen of its 10,000 employees. The bulk of Scholastic revenues come from publishing books, like the Harry Potter and Hunger Games fiction series, and literacy programs like Read 180.
Shouldn’t Scholastic Abandon All Corporate Ties?
But wouldn’t it be better if Scholastic simply stopped producing any teaching materials paid for by a for-profit corporation or a trade group that promotes business interests?
In addition to the coal curriculum, Scholastic has distributed a program stressing the environmental wrongs of plastic water bottles, sponsored by Brita, which sells water filters. It also had a $3 million Microsoft campaign in which schools could earn points toward prizes for each Microsoft search, as well as a program featuring Playmobil’s small plastic figures.
Those programs have ended, according to Kyle Good, a Scholastic spokeswoman — and last week, after a reporter inquired about them, all traces of them were removed from the Scholastic Web site, as other programs, sponsored by Disney, Nestlé and Shell, already had been.
Can Any Corporate Programs Have Value?
As first reported in The New York Times, Mr. Robinson, the son of Scholastic’s founder, said the company had decided not to end all corporate sponsorships because “there are these programs that have some value that otherwise there won’t be materials in that area.”
It appears that Scholastic is forming a partner review board, made up of a curriculum editor, a teacher, a school administrator, a child psychologist and a parenting expert, to vet the InSchool partnerships. In addition, the InSchool marketing division is to be cut by about 40 percent, with corporate programs shrinking much more.
Scholastic Must Work To Earn Back Trust
Corporate programs have no part to play in education. Teachers should not be using any materials that are created with a corporate interest in mind. How can such materials be objective, when the very point of corporations is to influence people to buy their product?
For many schools and parents, Scholastic used to be the most trusted name in children’s books. Now we are all re-examining that trust, and Scholastic will have to work to get it back.
Photo Credit: woodleywonderworks via Creative Commons