Columns » Public Eye

Students for Sale



The Nation magazine, publishing since 1865, is the latest magazine to weigh in on the growing phenomenon of commercializing classrooms and training kids how to be good corporate consumers of soda pop, junk food and expensive tennis shoes.

Bureaucrats from Colorado Springs School District 11 take full credit for revolutionizing the practice of signing deals with corporate sponsors who want to splash advertisements across school buses and across school hallways.

The featured story in the Sept. 27 issue of The Nation, titled "Students for Sale," will chronicle with haunting similarity many of the issues that were originally raised in a Colorado Springs Independent report over the practice nearly a year ago. The writer of the piece, Steven Manning, gave the Independent credit for breaking the story and for printing the now-infamous memo from self-described "Coke Dude" John Bushey, in which he urged principals to encourage their young charges to consume those Coke products -- even in the classroom.

Many educators have privately expressed an abhorrence over the trend to promote consumer products in the place of learning, although they haven't exactly been speaking out against the practice (after all, the money often helps them get money for classroom projects).

Alex Molnar, who is director of the Center for the Analysis of Commercialism in Education at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, as well as the folks from the Oakland, Calif.-based Center for Commercial-free Public Education, decry the practice. They say that corporations, with the complicity of high-salaried administrators, are just trying to hook kids on their products while they're good and young. Parents have been slower to weigh in on the phenom.

"This was the first school district in the nation to offer advertising opportunities, and the results have been great for our students," D-11 Superintendent Kenneth Burnley was quoted as saying in the piece.

Bravo for D-11, once again on the cutting edge! Meanwhile, Colorado's fourth largest school district is hardly getting noticed for improving its graduation rates and test scores or lowering class sizes over the past few years.

It took a year longer than many predicted, but when it happened, people still called it "very sudden." On Aug. 31, Denver Post publisher Gerald Grilly fired his editor, Dennis Britton. Rival Denver Rocky Mountain News editor John Temple seized the opportunity to tell the trade magazine Editor & Publisher, "There is not a lot of positives going on." Grilly said he just wants an editor who he can work with.

Britton had been criticized for alienating his staff and being unapproachable. A juvenile yet hilarious Web site was devoted entirely to spreading trash talk about Britton and lobbying for his dismissal. (The Web site's author, suspected to be a disgruntled former employee, was never identified) The day after Britton's firing, a tombstone appeared on the Web site, along with a simple message: "El Britto Grande, R.I.P. Out of respect for the dead, we will chill the contents of this Web site on Sept. 15.

Meanwhile, the newsroom's not exactly sitting still over at the Rocky, either. Late last week, Deborah Goeken was promoted to managing editor, and former ME Jack McElroy was made Internet general manager. Goeken, who had been an assistant managing editor for news, directed the Rocky's coverage of what has become our daily staple of "the tragedy at Columbine."

God knows, we the public can never get enough of the stuff.

Speaking of, whatever happened to that JonBenet Ramsey?

It's been months since Rich Braunstein did what then-Secretary of State Vikki Buckley swore was impossible: putting political-campaign finance reports online. Braunstein, a doctoral candidate at the University of Colorado, simply bought the records from Buckley's office and coded them for the Internet, marking a milestone in Colorado political history.

Most states have provided the information over the Internet for several years. But until Braunstein got organized, people had to drive to the Secretary of State's office in Denver to review the lobbyists and individuals who gave money to political candidates who ran for and got elected to state legislative offices -- and how much the candidates got and then spent it on.

Buckley has since passed away, the victim of a heart attack. Her appointed replacement, Donella Davidson, still doesn't have an official state contribution and expenditure site up and running. But Braunstein's site is doing just fine. Check out how much money your elected representative from Colorado Springs has accepted from the lawyers, gas and oil interests, bankers, lawyers, tobacco and beer interests by clicking onto

Similarly, you can check out what your elected representatives in Washington are up to by reviewing Project Vote Smart's Web site at The site offers an interesting array of info, including how special interests rate the politicians.

For example, take our very own Congressman Joel Hefley. A review of his performance evaluations shows that abortion opponents, the Christian Coalition and the National Rifle Association think that Hefley's A-OK (with a 100 percent approval rating all around). However, children's and women's groups, civil libertarians, students' and teachers' groups, organized labor and poor people gave Hefley consistently dismal scores.

And don't forget to also check out how Colorado's two U.S. Senators -- Wayne Allard and Ben Nighthorse Campbell -- fared.

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