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Kids meet commerce as ads hit schools

Advertising seems to cover America. But does every space have to be surrendered to the commercial interest? Shouldn't the nation's schools, at least, be ad-free?

The strictest believers in free markets don't think so. Advertising and sponsorships can bring down the cost of education, they point out. Besides, most children and adolescents, brand-aware and media-savvy as they are, don't seem to mind the information and entertainment that ads provide.

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But James Twitchell, an English professor at the University of Gainesville, Fla., and the author of "Adcult USA," an influential pro-advertising tome, believes that advertisements in schools are "just dreadful."

"Bit by bit [schools have been] colonized by commercial interests," he says. "Athletics has become a venue to advertise shoes. Campus-wide 'pouring rights' have been sold to soft-drink companies. Channel One pipes commercials into the classroom in exchange for hardware."

At the university level, corporate inroads can be glaring. Consider that collegiate bowl games have for several years carried the names of sponsors, the FedEx Orange Bowl, for example.

And some experts question whether corporate foundations that endow departments (which then bear their name) are spiking philanthropy with advertising. Mr. Twitchell points out that no one bats an eye over endowed professorships anymore.

"What hasn't happened is the selling of an entire school," he muses. "But that's coming, trust me. Some fourth-rate provider is going to sell its name to Coke or Pepsi. It's just a matter of time."

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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