In Montgomery County, where I live, the school board has decreed that communities are not creative enough about naming their schools. Too many buildings, it says, are named after dead white men or bland neighborhood locales. This is certainly the case in my end of the county, where the only diversity consists of a high school named for a dead white European man, and where the elementary schools are named for things like suburbs or subdivisions, or landmarks that don't seem to exist anymore.
I'd be happy to see these schools renamed--but only if I can get something out of it.
Consider how the Redskins, who seem to positively revel in their politically incorrect name, handled the apparently more nettlesome issue of what to call their football field. Jack Kent Cooke Stadium became embarrassingly inappropriate when Dan Snyder outbid Jack's son to become the landlord. Redskins Stadium, which seemed a perfectly logical and serviceable name, wasn't good enough, because there was nothing lucrative in it. So the stadium has been ringingly renamed FedEx Field, which has the great disadvantage of making the place so geographically indistinct that it could be in Dallas, but the apparently greater advantage of adding more than $200 million to the team's coffers.
Anyone besides me see the connection? Montgomery school board members, are you paying attention?
If naming schools after diverse people is difficult and divisive--and, more importantly, doesn't gain our needy system a dime in compensation--then the solution is obvious: The school board should sell the naming rights to new schools. And while it's at it, to the old ones. That way every community has a chance to benefit: All hail Barbie Elementary or Pokemon Middle.
This is a necessary move because the schools in Montgomery County, one of the richest public systems in the nation, seem to be alarmingly, appallingly short of money. How else to explain the weekly fund-raising appeals that my kindergartner totes home in her backpack? In the first few months of school, my husband and I have paid for supplies (paper towels, even), contributed to the building fund, purchased a calendar, ponied up PTA dues, attended the fall picnic and Halloween fund-raisers, collected grocery store receipts to redeem computer equipment, bought books from a book club and book fair, and ordered school pictures. Though we couldn't muster the nerve to peddle wrapping paper to anyone else, we did buy some rolls ourselves to make up for that shortcoming. But we turned down the opportunity to purchase several other items, figuring we'd better save some money for winter and spring.
And we had thought public school was, well, free.
Corporate sponsorship offers a way out. Each school could solicit bids and award naming rights based on how much the business is willing to pay, along with, perhaps, some supplies or services--free software from Microsoft, for example, or books from Amazon.com. Forget Coke or Pepsi, which already battle for the rights to put their soda machines in schools, or athletic companies, which already pay for logo-emblazoned scoreboards and apparel. You could make money off them and still sell the naming rights to other retailers desperate to forge brand loyalty with the massive youth market.
According to Texas A&M professor James McNeal, children ages 4 to 12 influence more than $525 billion worth of spending annually, from buying toys and snacks themselves, to pressuring their parents to purchase certain cars. That's good reason for corporations to vie for the rights to be attached to a school. Imagine the devotion inspired by that old alma mater Circuit City Middle or Tommy Hilfiger High. Imagine how much kids would like to attend a school with a cool name like Yahoo! instead of Thomas W. Pyle, no offense to the long-forgotten educator. (It might be tougher to imagine returning to Yahoo! for a 25th reunion, but never mind.) Imagine how much teachers would like to not have to spend valuable instructional time teaching youngsters to recognize the "Box Tops for Education" logo before they can read.
Don't worry, we could make the sale of naming rights educational. Students could put their math, language and civics skills to work by reading the proposals, analyzing the bids, perhaps even holding elections. They could campaign for their favorites with corporate donations; after all, the political parties already do.
And why stop with naming schools? Last time I looked, those big yellow buses had plenty of empty space on their sides. The school system could add advertising, like on Metrobuses. With the revenue, maybe then they could afford to outfit the darn things with seat belts.
Then there are textbooks. Corporations like Nike, Calvin Klein and Coke already offer free textbook covers. Why not charge companies to advertise in the books? If Oklahoma schools can stick creationism in their textbooks, then Gap Kids ought to be able to insert a few harmless ads.
Believe me, students already see plenty of ads, even on the Channel One in-school television network, which offers free TVs and satellite hookups to schools that broadcast its news and advertising content. A company called ZapMe!, which supplies free computers to schools, is mining the possibilities of the Internet: It advertises to students using its Web browser and then monitors the results so it can tailor its ads to attract more kids.
Since corporations are willing to go to such creative lengths to burn their brand names in our kids' consciousness, why not take full advantage? Just consider what selling naming rights offers: money, supplies, free stuff. But, best of all, liberation from that annual scourge of American parenthood: the wrapping-paper fund-raiser.
Elizabeth Chang, a copy editor in Outlook, is exploring the possibility of selling the naming rights to her family's widely traveled minivan.