Sunday, March 29, 2009

Defending Scholastic: Part One

NOTE: Since I have a lot to say on this topic, I'm breaking it into parts.

Scholastic has been taking heat for some time now about their book fairs and brochures. It all started when a non-profit organization, Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, put the company it its cross-hairs and managed to get a number of Web sites and newspapers to reprint their press release. Since I'm sure you don't want to read all of those links, let me quote the relevant criticisms:

CCFC director, Dr. Susan Linn: "...Scholastic is abusing that privilege by flooding classrooms across the country with ads for toys, trinkets, and electronic media with little or no educational value.”

Of the items advertised, 14% were not books...

An additional 19% of the items were books that were sold with additional toys, gadgets, or jewelry.

Now, everyone agrees on a couple of things. First, that Scholastic does, in fact, still sell books. In fact, by CCFC's own numbers, fully 86% of the items are real, live, cheaply-bound books. Second, that Scholastic sells these books at far lower prices than you can buy them elsewhere. (We'll avoid a discussion of just how they accomplish this for the time being) Third, that teachers receive points or credit that can be spent on Scholastic products for their classrooms.

So let's take a hypothetical. Say Bobby hates reading but he's a persistent little snot and is eventually able to talk his mom into forking over ten bucks. Bobby's teacher takes the class down to the book fair and Bobby buys a whole slew of gel pens with his ten dollars. Doesn't even open a book.

A few questions: Would Bobby have spent the tenner on a book if the other junk had not been available? Even if he did, would Bobby actually read the book? If Bobby had known in advance that there were only books at the book fair, would he have asked his mom for the money in the first place? Given that Bobby's ten bucks increases the total revenue of the book fair and that the more money the book fair makes the more books teachers can add to their classroom libraries, shouldn't we thank Bobby for his contribution?

Because take Penny, a girl who loves reading but comes from a really poor family, a family so poor she knew better than to even ask her mom for ten dollars. Penny went to the book fair too and she spent the whole time touching the glossy covers and flipping through the pages. She even started reading the first page of a book about a girl and her pet guinea pig. It was really good.

Mrs. Nelson, Penny's caring teacher, noticed Penny's interest and when it was time to come down and select books for her classroom (made possible in part by Bobby's gel pen purchase) she remembered how interested Penny was in that guinea pig book and so she added it to her pile. She took the stack of books back to her class where her students practically knocked each other over trying to get at them. (I can personally attest to this behavior.) But Mrs. Nelson kept one book hidden, and while the rest of the class was attacking the new books like Amy Winehouse's left nostril attacks lines of coke, Mrs. Nelson called Penny to her desk and handed her the guinea pig book.

You might say the look on Penny's face was priceless.

Or, you might say it was worth about ten dollars worth of gel pens.


Tracy Edward Wymer said...

I love Scholastic. Used it with my students in 4th Grade, kids were from upper-class families and would order a lot. I used bonus points to build a READING REWARDS bookshelf. You read 5 books with parent signature and you pick a brand spanking new one off the reading rewards shelf to keep.

Can't say enough about Scholastic. They've always sold the little trinkets here or there. But who cares! Look at their books/prices.

Maybe you have to be a teacher or parent to fully appreciate it.

Anita said...

Let the children have pens or books or whatever the heck else their parents are Okey Dokey with.

Monica said...

wow.... ok. I think you've already pulled me away from the dark side, PMM.

Monica said...

i am a parent, Tracy. And my kids always wanted stuff from the scholastic flyers. I object to the amount of crap that they sell along with the books, but if selling those allows the teachers to buy books for the classroom, then i'm all for it. I just hope that Scholastic respects the role that they play in the classroom.

Lily Cate said...

"like Amy Winehouse's left nostril attacks lines of coke..."
Best line ever.

My son just got his first Scholastic order form from school- too little for book fairs yet.
I have to say, there are a lot of nice non-fiction titles in there, something our home library needs to stock up.