Americans are hard pressed to escape the ever-expanding realm of advertisements. Companies rent space on everything from people’s cars to their skin.
Last year, the New Jersey Assembly approved a bill allowing districts to sell ad space on the side of school buses. While lauded by some, this tax-free fundraising that multiple states are considering sends irresponsible messages: that public space can be bought, money prevails over safety and complete invasion of revenue-fueled messages is imminent and welcome.
Florida lawmakers are also considering school bus advertising as a means of alternative fundraising. The Florida Association for Pupil Transportation published a position paper against this proposal shortly after it was announced. They and others who oppose the bill worry about safety, citing that elaborate images on the outside of school buses will increase driver distraction and lead to more accidents.
The color “school bus yellow” was chosen because it is easiest to see in the darkness of the early morning. A large blue Oreo ad would undermine the scientific fact that yellow stands out as the most eye-catching color in our visible spectrum.
Aside from safety concerns, the policy would teach our kids at a very young age that all space is ad space. This will lead to even more ambitious and invasive marketing techniques from profit-driven companies that recognize kids riding the bus as a captive audience.
The ethical problem lies in the government supporting for-profit corporations with nonprofit public school space.
These are companies like BMW, which tested a high-powered light that burned the company logo into the retinas of audience members at a theater in Germany, according to Wired.com. Not to say that BMW is going to buy space in school bus headlights, but the mingling of profit-driven entities and public education is not the answer.
Districts that have adopted this plan recognize that funding for schools is hard to come by, but say that the money from the ads is a very small fraction of the school budget. But the problem of under funded schools needs to be addressed with more serious tactics than this “do-it-for-the-money” attitude that has leaked from the private to the public sector.
Advertisements are not all evil. Some make our entertainment and news possible. Without selling ads. this article could never be published.
But if they are fated to further invade American life, our schools should at the very least sell ad space to responsible organizations whose messages benefit public interest. They should be sure not to fall victim to greedy businesses looking to exploit areas in dire need of funding.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, but not at the expense of safety and integrity.
Joe Polito is a junior majoring in mass communications.