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Vancouver 2010 Winter Games: the Olympics and the corporatization of schools

The red Olympic mittens as a Kindergarten craft project

In the last blog posting, Myriam Dumont explained how she agreed to host a workshop in her classroom, called “Teaching 2010 Resistance”, which aimed to teach kids to think critically about the Olympics. She now tells about the backlash that ensued.

Politics in Schools

My colleagues were furious. People declared, “politics have no place in this school” and “you shouldn’t be pushing your own agenda!” I asked them why supporting the Olympics was not political but not supporting them was political, but no one had a good answer for me. In their article Shifting out of “neutral”: Beginning teachers’ struggles with teaching for social justice, Kelly and Brandes discuss how many teachers feel that their role as an educator is to remain neutral or unbiased about issues. This was a recurring theme in our discussions that day; teachers felt that it was not appropriate to talk about their view or opinions on issues, especially controversial ones. However, critical pedagogues agree that teaching is “inevitably political and that teachers cannot be value-neutral.” In the end, my administrator did not allow me to host this workshop in my classroom, and the workshop was moved to another location. This, however, was only the beginning of a series of long, isolated months where I was given very little support and much trouble for my political views and opinions.

The Corporatization of Schools

Corporatization of schools has long been the subject of debate. Proponents such as Peter Cowley from the Fraser Institute argue that corporate sponsorship can benefit schools, especially those in low-income neighbourhoods, such as Strathcona, by providing enriched learning opportunities that they otherwise could not afford. The opposing side of the debate argues that increased commercialism in schools raises concerns such as loss of accountability and increases inequalities. The loss of accountability is particularly worrisome as it does have serious implications with regard to decision-making, for example, regarding program funding. Much research has been done linking the activities of corporations in schools to building lifelong brand loyalty in consumer students. “Building brand loyalty while kids are at school has been known to be an effective long-term strategy since the 1960s, when psychologist Lester Guest showed that one quarter of consumers brand preferences were established in childhood”.

So, under the pretext of providing students and educators with “a once-in-a-lifetime chance to experience the excitement of an international event held in in British Columbia”, the Olympic games proved to be a great cover for corporations to enter our schools. Coca Cola, no stranger to school corporatization, the Royal Bank of Canada, and many other corporations were given access to our students under the guise of the Olympic games. When the torch ran by our school, Coca Cola representatives waltzed into our school grounds passing out flags and other freebies to the kids, and no one blinked an eye. The Royal Bank of Canada was also there, and nobody seemed too bothered by the fact that our students were being used as marketing agents for these companies.

When a wealthy businessman decided to give Olympic mittens to every child who attended an inner-city school in Vancouver, everyone was thrilled. No one asked questions about who this man was, what motives he might have, and why, if he really wanted to help inner-city children, had he not donated money for providing school supplies or much-needed food and clothing. I talked to my staff about how the Olympic committee, VANOC and the IOC act as corporations just like Coca-Cola or McDonald’s. They are in the business of “marketing” the Olympic brand, and their profits come from selling the rights to the 5-ring logo to broadcasting companies, sponsors and companies like HBC (the maker of the mittens). The logo is such a moneymaker that they do not even let the Paralympics use it. Naomi Klein writes in her book No Logo about “the corporate shift from marketing products to marketing brand names”. The IOC owns a very profitable brand: the Olympics. The Olympic mittens are selling a product (the Olympics) to children, and in turn, children are used to market that product without their full knowledge or consent. The staff at my school were very defensive and not open to this line of argument at all. The Olympics are about fun and sports, they felt, and what was wrong with that?

Check the VO website again soon for the final posting in this 3-part series.

 

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