Toys R Us, what are you doing?
Before I go on, you should watch this commercial for Toys R Us. I need to share the rage.
If you chose for some reason not to watch it, let me summarize it for you: Man dressed as a park ranger loads a bunch of kids on a bus, bores them with tree knowledge, then – VOILA! – the park ranger rips off his boring nature clothes to reveal that he’s actually an employee of Toys R Us! The kids aren’t going to some dumb park! They’re going to run wild in a vast warehouse of a toy store!
I think the marketing team for the chain toy store was just trying to see how much fail they could fit into 90 seconds. And to think, I had so much good will toward Toys R Us. The store had promised to stop its gendered marketing, in parts of Europe, at least. But now they’ve put out this gross commercial.
What’s the big deal? It’s just a company portraying their product as the best thing in the world. What do I really expect? The thing is that this commercial goes beyond that. This commercial is anti-learning. The commercial goes out of its way to make learning about the natural world seem passé. Come on, kids! Time for a leaf quiz! Haha nature is boring!
This is an incredibly unfortunate and dangerous message to send to young people. We live in a world that is increasingly dependent on a population that is literate in math and science. We also live in a world in which school kids in the United States are falling behind in those areas. A report released in 2009 showed that math and science scores in the United States have remained stagnant, while scores in many other countries increased. The analysis showed that U.S. high school students scored in the bottom quarter in math and below average in science.
It hasn’t gotten better, either. The results of another test released last year shows that fourth and eight graders are also lagging behind the rest of the world in science and math. The percentage of high achievers in the United States is staggeringly low:
Although the average scores among American students were not significantly lower than the top performers, several nations far outstripped the United States in the proportion of students who scored at the highest levels on the math and science tests.
In the United States, only 7 percent of students reached the advanced level in eighth-grade math, while 48 percent of eighth graders in Singapore and 47 percent of eighth graders in South Korea reached the advanced level. As those with superior math and science skills increasingly thrive in a global economy, the lag among American students could be a cause for concern.
Fifty-seven countries or educational systems took part in this particular test. The United States ranked 11th in fourth-grade math, 9th in eighth-grade math, 7th in fourth-grade science and 10th in eighth-grade science. One might argue that, out of 57, we didn’t do bad. But these placements aren’t great, and they are definitely not going to get better as long as we keep sending the message that science is dull. That’s exactly what this Toys R Us commercial is doing.
I don’t begrudge kids their toys. Playing is a form of learning, and there are lots of toys that can facilitate learning about the natural world. Fun and learning are not mutually exclusive. Making them so is irresponsible and let’s us all down in the long run.
Photo Credit: Håkan Dahlström