Trojan Horse Arrives At Meadowvale High

Catholic New Times, March 1999

Timeo Danaos et dona ferentes. Virgil (I fear Greeks---even bearing gifts.

Youth News Network is a Canadian for profit organization which produces a daily 12.5 minute news program for high school students. Overnight it is beamed by satellite into a school's VCR where it is then fed throughout the school. Based on Channel One News in the USA, schools sign contracts which stipulate that for the loan of a satellite dish and TV monitors and other hi-tech sweeteners, they will hand over their students for 12.5 minute show daily. The news team is comprised of young people bringing their perspective on daily events.

Every show contains 2 minutes of commercials. This is an advertiser's dream: a captive audience with no remote control to turn off the zealous ministrations of Burger King, Nike, McDonald's and other products which enhance our lives so much. The contract stipulates that 90% of the children must watch this program 90% of the time. Sets are monitored for compliance.

Given the blatant and incessant invasion of public space by commercial interests, given the deeply ethical issue of the right of surrendering our children to the relentless evangelization of an amoral market, given the sacred duties of teachers to act in loco parentis when precious ikons of God are placed in our care, given the necessity of public institutions never to compromise their credibility as warders of the public good and safe havens for the vulnerable, given the longstanding and necessarily conservative tradition of preserving certain "sacred sites" as sacrosanct utterly above commercial depradation, given that schools have been one of those protective wombs, absolutely and unconditionally committed to the nurturance of the young, you might legitimately ask why once again our children are up for sale.

Youth News Network, rebuffed consistently in Canada since 1992, by a strong coalition of teacher unions, parent groups, media awareness organizations is back with a vengeance. Forget that the last statement issued by the Ontario Department of Education in 1992 stated that "the Ministry does not endorse the insertion of commercial advertising into the school curriculum nor does it condone the compulsory viewing by students of advertising as intended by YNN."

Forget that the Canadian Catholic Bishops in 1992 and 1996 stated that no Catholic schools should be part of YNN. This time it looks like it has a taker in a public school board just to the west of Toronto in Peel region. Meadowvale High School, supported by the Peel board has been quietly conducting a "pilot" experiment since November 1998.

When I called principal Laurie Pedwell on Feb. 5th and asked her about this, her first question was, "How did you find out?" When I asked her for an interview she said she would check with YNN---and she would get back to me.

She never did. But in the interim, interest began picking up and between Feb. 5 and Feb. 22, the night of a public meeting, the Globe and Mail, the Star and the Post all had called attention to the story. That night was a PR disaster as it ended with parents boiling over in frustration, refusing to let Mrs. Pedwell continue as she talked for 50 minutes about the great things YNN will do for her school. The meeting dissolved into chaos.

Mark Goldstein, a parent of three children at the school was one of those parents absolutely incensed. As he told me in the Meadowvale cafeteria after the principal walked out "This is the first meeting we've ever had on YNN and I'm afraid it's a fait accompli. I have so many questions that I don't know where to start. Fundamentally, it comes down to values. There's a big conflict here. advertising is about mindless consumerism. That's not what schools are about."

Just when you think that TV has addled the minds of all the young two students at Meadowvale (among many) give us all hope that this is not so.

The same day I called Pedwell and in the midst of an assembly where she announced the public meeting about YNN, grade 12 student Norman Oliver(a pseudonym) stood up and asked what veteran journalist Studs Terkel, calls "the impertinent question", a verbal missile which cuts through the bull and gets to the heart of the matter. Young Mr. Oliver asked, "What is a for profit organization doing in an educational establishment. Pedwell refused to answer his question. Oliver got a standing ovation. In an essay grade 12 student, Stephanie Lake savaged the Peel Board and Meadowvale for using the students as "guinea pigs without informing students or parents..why is there money for this and none for the pathetic stacks were supposed to call a library."

Rod MacDonald, ex Tory organizer and promoter of YNN means to win this time. He has hired top gun PR flacks Hill and Knowlton whose list of clients among others have included big tobacco, the Duvalier and Suharto regimes to spin his enchanting web. His strategy is fine tuned. He found a school outside of the more critical Metro, far from public transit, ensconced in Tory heartland and in a time of cut backs walked his Trojan Horse into Meadowvale High.

Ted Schmidt
18 Valhalla Blvd.
M1N 3B2

Phone: 416 690 2220
Fax: 416 690 1975