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Ads With Your Math

Commercialism and education are not a good mix. Children should get their math, reading, and current affairs undistracted by a peppering of brand names and sales pitches.

That common-sense position, however, runs counter to trends. Many American children have been getting a daily helping of advertising with their three Rs for at least 10 years, ever since the Channel One enterprise starting piping newscasts into classrooms in exchange for the right to aim ads at a young captive audience.

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Some districts allow product ads on buses, in halls, and at games. Some have contracts with soft drink companies that give them a lunchroom or vending machine monopoly.

Now the phenomenon is back in public view because of a California parent's disgust at discovering his son's sixth-grade math text was laced with brand names and de facto ads. The product promotions, it turns out, were unpaid and unintended - just an attempt to spice up otherwise ho-hum word problems with references to Nike, Sony, Oreos, McDonald's, and other familiar names.

This may be more disturbing than intentional pitches. It implies that commercial messages have become such an ingrained part of our thinking, we don't recognize them for what they are - whether we're young students or the professors who write their texts.

Aroused parents and state officials in California and elsewhere may get publishers to ax excess commercialism. We hope so. But if some brand names remain, perhaps they could be in problems that ask students to figure the premium paid for one brand over another that's nearly as good, but less popular. That way, schools may still be turning out young consumers, but they may be wiser consumers.

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