Selling-Out Our Public Education System

The prospect that YNN programming will become a way of life at Meadowvale Secondary School, and by extension in the Peel Board, should be of grave concern to teachers and parents alike. As a model for Canadian schools, this pilot project should cause every teacher to think hard about the nature of corporate partnerships and the impact of such partnerships on the future character of public education.

While YNN, an acronym for Youth News Network, is ostensibly the brain-child of Athena Educational Partners Inc., it is obvious that the concept has been cloned from Channel One in the United States. Not only is the ethics of this mass-marketing experiment questionable, but also the credibility of this company's educational qualifications is suspect.

The primary motivation of Athena Educational Partners Inc. is not to encourage in students the growth of a better, more balanced and in-depth understanding of current affairs; its primary motivation is to make money by expanding its market to include the minds of a captive, vulnerable audience. YNN is little more than a foot-in-the-door strategy, a media tool crafted to expose students to the advertising world through the pretense of broadening their national and global awareness.

Of course, one could rationalize this agenda by claiming that students are already jaded by consumer images. In this case, how could a few more possibly hurt? Afterall, YNN's objective is being achieved in the name of higher education. More pointedly, it is working for the greater good, producing informed and responsible viewers (ones who are capable of making up their minds in taste-test challenges between Pepsi and Coke). One might even argue that anyone who opposes the development of such life skills is being naive because the reality of corporate sponsorship is inevitable.

Certainly, one could rationalize, while trusting the assurance of Athena Educational Partners Inc. that there is no cost attached to the infrastructure and state-of-the-art technology which the company is eager to hardwire into 2300 schools from coast to coast. Yet if this corporation is prepared to invest thousands and thousands of dollars, one cannot help but speculate that there are millions and millions of dollars to be made from building such a retail clientele.

The profit motive of Athena Educational Partners Inc. is clearly reflected in the terms of its contract, which would impose required viewing on teachers and students. To date, the Peel Board has not signed, nor even seen, a final version of the contract. It is rumoured, however, that the programming for YNN consisting of 10 minutes of reformatted news stories, 2 minutes of mainstream commercials, and 30 seconds of public service announcements?would have to be shown 180 days out of 190 days during the school year.

Since the YNN programming would be shown during the school day, it would be considered part of the students? publicly funded instructional time. As a consequence, teachers would not be allowed to turn the televisions off or the sound down, if they felt that the programming was disruptive or irrelevant to the delivery of curriculum. It has been proposed that students who do not want to view the programming, or students whose parents do not want them to view the programming, could be exempted in the same way as students who, for religious reasons, do not wish to listen to the National Anthem.

The comparison implicit in this solution, intentional or otherwise, seems to suggest that while the patriotic citizen listens to the National Anthem, the corporate citizen watches YNN. If this prospect does not prompt you to pressure the government into adequately funding public education, then welcome to a Brave New World scenario.

Mark Kikot, President
OSSTF District 19
February 22, 1999