Campbell Soup Co. boasts that last year, as part of its "labels for education" program, it exchanged nearly $2 million in education and sports equipment for labels from its red-and-white soup cans.
Not mentioned in the Camden , N.J., firm's accounts of its nationwide program is the number of labels it took to procure all those audiovisual machines and soccer balls -- as many as 200 million by the company's own reckoning.
The Campbell program is just one of the thousands of corporation-sponsored education activities -- ranging from equipment donations to free films, pamphlets, books and other "education kits" -- that are flooding the nation's public and private classrooms and raising the concern of some educators and corporate critics.
"Corporations have a special vested interest which influences these materials," said Shelia Harty of Ralph Nader's Center for the Study of Responsive Law. "We need a fairness doctrine for the classroom to insure that the other side has a voice, too."
Harty is the author of "Hucksters in the Classroom," a study of corporate education programs that was released today.
She said the average teacher does not have the time or budget to counter some of the pro-industry bias that can be found in the corporate material. One consumer-bases evaluation services in New York found that schools spend about 1 percent of their budget on supplementary classroom materials, but teachers use them about 90 percent of the time, Harty said.
As a result, teachers eagerly accept almost any type of supplementary material that comes their way, said Harty, a former teacher. The corporate sponsors of the material easily can slip in subtle and not-so-subtle plugs for their products or pro-business messages, she said.
According to Harty, two-thirds of Fortune Magazine's 500 corporations and 90 percent of the trade associations and utility companies supply materials to teachers.
The materials incluse a home economics book, "Cooking with Dr. Pepper," by the soft drink manufacturer; a film entitled "Mr. Peanut's Guide to Nutrition" by Standard Brands, the manufacturer of Planters Peanut Products, and booklets on reading sponsored by The Washington Post an The New York Times.
Utilities are heavily involved in educational materials, many of which promote the use of nuclear power, she said.
Harty said one study presented before a hearing of a House Agriculture subcommittee last year concluded that 38 food companies used the basic food grouping in their material "not as a nutritional concept, but as a way of justifying the purchase of their products."
"Under the guise of nutrition education," the survey reported, "they are promoting their products to captive audiences of children."
James R. Bennett, a literature professor at the University of Arkansas, said in an article this month in the magazine Education Leadership that catalogs of free films for teachers are heavily weighted with material produced by business.
"The corporate point of view enjoys great influence through free filmstrips," said Bennett. "Alternatives to the status quo rarely appear."
At LeLand Junior High School in Bethesda, media specialist Diane Walker-Allisonsaid the amount of industry-sponsored material had increased. "When I started in 1971 you could count the kits on your hands and feet," she said. "Now it fills up a whole room. The public relations outfits for these companies are real smart."
But Walker-Allison and other teachers said they attempt to give both sides of issues when they use the kits. "You've got to be realistic in this day and age." said Sylvia Darrow, a home economics teacher at the Bethesda junior high school. "We're teaching these kids to be smart consumers."
Educators Progress Service, of Randolph, Wis., the nation's largest cataloger of such material, lists more than 4,000 films in one catalog and 1,628 pieces of printed material for elementary school teachers. Most of the material is produced by businesses and corporate trades groups, EPS officials said.
Kathy Nehmer, an EPS editor, said all the material is screened before it is listed in the firm's 11 catalogs. "Many years we have thrown out up to 50 percent of what we get because it is just straight advertising or leans too hard toward advertising," she said.
The firm sponsored a book by two University of Indiana professors last year on free materials for education. In the book, Charles R. DuVall and Wayne J. Krepel noted the concern over possible excessive advertising in free educational materials.
"No criteria are known which define excessive, or which replace the judgment of the individual teacher as to when advertising becomes excessive or blatant," according to the book.
Industry officials concede that some instructional material is blatant advertising. But they said much of it can be valuable to teachers who use it carefully.
"The material should stand or fall on its merits as an educational unit," said Dennis Detzel, director of public policy for the McDonald Corp.
The giant fast-food firm sells about 40,000 of its "Action Packs" annually to schools for $3 each, said Detzel. The kits cover lessons on nutrition, economics, ecology, energy and "moving learning," which is about dance, he said.
Detzel said his company hired an outside firm to write and package the material in an effort to avoid charges of bias in the packs.
All the instructional material bears the corporate logo, but Detzel said McDonald's "bent over backwards" to avoid any charge that it was using the material to promote its products.
"We told the people who did it, 'For God's sake, we can't use these things to push hamburgers,'" he said.