The issue of commercialization in schools is closely related to privatization, and can be directly addressed through Meaningful Student Involvement. Marketers see that students in schools are a captive audience for their products, and target those students. There is a lot of research that shows commercialization in schools can have negative impacts on student learning, physical and emotional health, and their ability to become successfully engaged in economic activities.

What It Looks Like

Anytime private companies or organizations extend their brand, logo, name or footprint into schools, that is an example of commercialization in schools. This takes a lot of different forms, including:

  • Notebooks or school book covers that are advertisements.
  • Buses with advertisements inside or outside of them.
  • School activities and atheletics sponsored by businesses that receive advertising opportunities in exchange.
  • Hallways, elevators, classrooms and other school spaces with logos, brands or other commercial images, mottos, etc.
  • Curriculum that reflects commercial influence, including names, concepts or specific approaches to learning and teaching in schools.
  • Curriculum donated or sold to schools at decreased costs that reflects corporate or commercial interests and influences, whether from nonprofits or businesses.
  • School television, internet and radio commercial campaigns.
  • Product samples of any kind distributed to students.

Where Meaningful Student Involvement Fits

Countering this story on many levels, Meaningful Student Involvement uses skill development, knowledge sharing and intentional Student/Adult Partnerships to create a counter-narrative to the predominantly passive expectations marketers have for students today. For instance, Meaningful Student Involvement can:

  • Show concrete examples of students actively, positively and powerfully creating and co-creating educative experiences throughout the education system
  • Demonstrate how private, commercial entities (including companies and nonprofits) have different motives from schools (profit increases and brand loyalty over civic engagement and educational attainment)
  • Empower students to see commercial influence and sensitize them to the effects and impact of private influences on education
  • Raise the awareness of students and adults about the presence and harms of commercialism in schools while revealing the conflicts between public education and private influence and control over schools
  • Position students as more than passive recipients of commercialism in schools by making them researchers, planners, teachers, evaluators, decision-makers and advocates who see the entire picture of education instead of just the parts adults choose to reveal to them.

All of this action can secure excellent outcomes for students, educators and the entire school community. Maybe the most important is that in addition to learning the value of choice and freedom, students can also internalize the responsible management of public, shared spaces and promote those into future generations as well.



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Published by Adam Fletcher

Adam is the founding director of SoundOut. An author, speaker and consultant, he has worked with K-12 schools, districts, nonprofits and others for more than 15 years. Learn more about him at

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