I hope I have convinced the
reader that the study of advertising deserves closer attention than it has
received in educational circles. If advertising is a behavioral science for
consumption, then education--particularly special education with its need for
behavior management-- can be defined as a behavioral science for production.
As Freires conception of education suggests, teachers need to focus on promoting
student production. We want to foster active producers and not passive
consumers. Much like advertisiers, special educators especially need to consider
how the mode of presentation enhances motivation, because it is not a given
that our students will do the assignment. We also concern ourselves with the
attention, memory, and attitude of the learner. Both the school and the world
of advertising act as bridges between the students home and the larger community.
Educators and advertisers also define the parameters of acceptable norms
In this context, it is important to remember that
deviance is a dormant strength: "There will be dissenters, disbelievers,
deviants, heretics, subversives, and critics who struggle against mainstream
conditioning for a variety of reasons. They are very important to the survival
and growth of any cultural system". (Key, 1989, p.36) The productions of special
education students are often unique and insightful, "exceptional" in the
best sense of the word. Their insights teach us about our culture all the time.
When our students say or do something profoundly antisocial, we must not
only consequate the behavior and insist on alternatives, but address the values
and norms that make such behavior possible. Once such behaviors are put into
their proper cultural context, we can see these students behavior as exaggerated
versions of the mental health difficulties confronting all Americans.
When a student sings in class, "life aint nuthin but bitches and money", we
must confront the values expressed and trace them back to their cultural origins.
If our students astutely express pervasive marketplace values in their
raw form, we are obligated to help them understand the fallacies they have internalized.
As educators address values, we must also address the textual
and visual techniques of advertising. Our language instruction must inform
students of the "dishonest and inhumane uses of language and literature by
advertisers". We must structure our grammar instruction so that our students
learn that if they know the rules of grammar, they are much less likely to
be fooled. Special education students with learning problems and enhanced emotional
needs may be particularly susceptible to the linguistic tricks common
in advertising. They represent a naive audience. Grammar instruction must directly
address and decode these tricks to insure the relevance of instruction.Our
students need to be able to judge if a statement carries any meaning or if
it is simply an empty enticement.
Advertisers are probably decades
ahead of educators when it comes to adapting the techniques of visual communication.
It would be wise to try to replicate findings from market research,
particularly such counterintuitive findings like ads half-watched have a greater
impact than those fully attended to. With educators beginning to design multimedia
educational software, we will need to consider how to best structure
visuals with text and audio to maximize learning. As advertisers have been
integrating visuals, text, and audio since the 1950s in order to get messages
across, we would do well to learn from their research.
The only result
of visual communication that advertisers are concerned with is sales. Educators
need to study some of the other results. What is learned from visual communication?
How is it processed? Can children turn messages visually received
into words adequately? If properly scaffolded, our students' exposure to advertising
could enhance skills in critical reasoning, comparison, symbolic thinking,
and interpretation. Higher order cognitive processes are involved in
the discernment of an advertisement. But precisely what sense does a child make
out of such a series of images: European village. . . luxury car. . . elegant
woman. . . ocean. . . bird. . . back to luxury car? A student makes meaning
out of such combined imagery, but this meaning is not often drawn out or
expressed. Visual communication needs to be an area of educational research.
Advertisers only know if their visual communication is working or not; they
do not know what is going on cognitively. We need to understand what kind of
incidental learning is going on beyond the message of the sales pitch.
education research could promote an understanding of the effects
of advertising on our youth. We could compare special education with regular
education students for their comprehension and evaluation of ads. Do students
with emotional and behavioral problems tend to agree with the values expressed
in advertising more than their regular education counterparts? Our students
also tend to, in the word of Erving Goffman, "crawl into some protected place
where [they] can indulge in commercialized fantasy". (Goffman, 1961, p.70)
We really need to study why our students take on certain commercial culture
characters. What purposes do such fantasies serve? Our students respond to the
commercial culture so creatively that their expressions should provide fertile
ground for research.
Teachers need to consider which culture they
are validating in their curriculum. When a teacher shows a Disney version of
a folk story, they are validating a highly-processed ideological version of
the story. Such curriculum is strong endorsement for the product, even if the
teacher asks the students to think critically. Similarly, when curriculum is
designed around televised events such as the Olympics or historical dramas,
the teacher is asking the student to take in hundreds of commercials. Many educational
materials are generated from industry marketing departments, and teachers
need to be wary of unintentionally marketing to a captive audience. Also,
some teachers talk television extensively with their students, perhaps to
show that they are current with the culture. However, Bart Simpson and Beevis
and Butthead are not authentic expressions of youth culture; they are commercially-driven
impositions that our students adapt to. When a student wants
to constantly talk television, that is an opportunity to explain the economics
of television programming.
Finally, since the problem of advertising
originates outside of the classroom, teachers would do well to become media
activists. With the promise of 500 channels looming, educators need to makes
sure they have access to some of these. Perhaps in a decade, teachers and students
will be making multimedia educational productions that are distributed
on non-commercial channels. Such a vision is legally correct, as the airwaves
are public. However, if educators do not actively fight for their piece of
the cultural pie, we can be sure that all 500 channels will go to the highest
bidder. In fact, the overwhelmingly commercial content of the public airwaves
is an ideal example of Freires concept of cultural invasion. So we need to
announce a future in which the culture is not simply one thinly-veiled advertisement.
must insure that cultural production and distribution
are not commercially-bound. It is quite clear that commercial culture lacks
appeals to reason and meaningful language. Access to a culture with a broad
range of perspectives is necessary. The internet seems like a wide-open cultural
arena, but already commercial interests are planning its constriction.
Though the logic of the internet suggests decentralization, Dan Logan of Time
Warner in 1994 said to the National Association of Advertisers, "stop thinking
about it as the information superhighway and start thinking about it as the
marketing superhighway". (Twitchell, 1996, p.122) And when President Clinton
announced the federal initiative to link every school to the information superhighway,
he appeared with the heads of Disney, Time Warner, and Turner Communications.
(West, 1995, p.23) New choices and technologies could create space
for real change or just increase the number of advertising venues. This is
a serious battle which educators must join.
Ultimately, the technological
revolution can create so many avenues of cultural production and distribution
that commercial control of our culture will weaken. A future is possible
where classrooms create multimedia educational productions and distribute
them over "open" television channels or the internet. As television becomes
more interactive and computers are better able to handle video, the two could
merge into one "screen" technology. How this powerful new medium will be structured
into peoples lives is still a question up for grabs. Freire believed
that liberating change happened only when a positive vision is announced while
the present situation is denounced. So as educators we must use our imaginations
and see a future where our students have access to cultural production
while at the same time help them understand the culture they are presently consuming.