Often when we try to understand troubled adolescents, we in special education find ourselves at a loss. As there is often no definable academic learning problem, we get caught in a muted game of blame. We may imply that the child is bad, or the family is bad, or the school is bad, or the neighborhood is bad. We avoid words like "bad" and cloak our beliefs in respectable academic garb, and of course we never suggest single causation. But research generally avoids larger cultural components of disability, perhaps because there is a widespread fallacy that we can not change our culture. Teachers often informally note the negative effects of our commercial culture; but when researchers consider culture, they usually examine the idiosyncrasies of minority group cultures that may hinder academic learning. Such an approach lets the mainstream cultural overlay off the hook. Many teachers of troubled adolescents realize that their students are not all that deviant-- they have internalized our commercial culture's most pervasive values of happiness through acquisition, competition, and individualism.

In my decade of teaching troubled youth in a variety of settings, I am confident that there is a strong cultural component to such problems as opposition/defiant disorder, attention deficit disorder, eating disorders, and substance abuse. I would not argue that our commercial culture plays a causal role in such difficulties, but it often reinforces and in some ways shapes disability. Certainly the standard of the good life that American advertising portrays presents a mental health challenge to all of us. This is perhaps another reason such an approach to disability is avoided; we must look at ourselves with the same lens as we see the troubled student. Teachers and parents who seek to minimize participation in our commercial culture learn quickly of its pervasiveness. This pervasiveness leads to a certain kind of invisibility that serves to keep advertising "under the radar screen" of most research. However, advertising, and particularly television advertising, was defined as an important topic for education and psychology research in the 1970s. A research agenda was delineated, but there has been little follow-through in the 1980s and 1990s. We in education, particularly special education, have an obligation to resuscitate such research approaches and understand how an advertising-driven culture defines norms and values.

With this paper I hope to revive the notion that advertising is a legitimate, in fact necessary, area of education research. For theoretical grounding, I would like to begin with the ideas of Paulo Freire. As Freire's framework insists on historical understanding, I will then trace American advertising's evolution in the twentieth century from a print-based medium to its present pervasive multi-media control of cultural distribution.

From this historical understanding, I will examine the knowledge advertisers possess concerning information-processing, linguistic constructions, and visual communication. The sheer volume of psychological research done in the name of commerce dwarfs the research educators do concerning learning. Advertisers have been quite successful in capturing the attention of our youth. Educators need to consider what advertisers know about learning so that we may be as successful in holding the attention of our students. Finally, I will look at the research that has tried to address the effects of advertising on youth, particularly those with behavioral and emotional difficulties. With this paper, I hope that new research directions become clear.

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