Advertisers, marketers --my brothers and sisters -- I have a dream. A room full of captive teenagers, slack-jawed, drooling, trapped in their capris, staring numbly as your logos flit across a screen in front of them.
Call it education. Call it networking. Call it the future. Call it whatever you want. Just don't say the Youth News Network stinks or you're going to get your plug pulled or your ass suspended or your sorry self sued.
That's what happened to David Brand, who was booted out of his high school's recent battle of the bands when the message on his T-shirt conflicted with the school's sweet deal with a private company.
The 18-year-old is a grade 12 student at Mississauga's Meadowvale Secondary School, one of the 13 pilot sites for the notorious YNN, a Montreal-based initiative that gives schools computers and televisions in exchange for beaming a 121/2-minute daily news program (complete with two and a half minutes of commercials) into classrooms every day.
But when Brand sashayed on- stage wearing a "YNN Stinks" shirt and, because he's punk rock, demanded of the crowd what they thought of YNN, a teacher promptly pulled the plug.
"TV shouldn't be in school," says Brand. "They're just selling us as a target market."
The future rock star's performance isn't the only casualty of the rumbling YNN wars.
Lindsay Porter, now a student at Carlton University, was back at Meadowvale two weeks ago to join a protest that students held in hopes of persuading the Peel school board to can YNN.
Lawsuit launch Back in her grade 13 Meadowvale days last year, Porter was threatened with suspension for distributing a zine called Eat Me Completely (well, all right) sharing her thoughts on YNN.
And just last month, Athena Educational Partners (AEP), which produces YNN, launched a lawsuit against three teachers, a private citizen and a group called People Against Commercial Television in Schools. It alleges defamation and asks for millions in damages for criticizing YNN.
The parties to the lawsuit would not speak to NOW because the matter is before the courts, and Meadowvale teachers and the principals aren't talking until the Peel board issues a report on the six-month trial at the end of the month.
But what's all the fuss?
"They're selling off public-school time to a corporation," says Porter. "You shouldn't be able to sell that."
YNN is modelled on the successful Channel One project in the States, which is viewed by over 8 million students daily.
"There's no doubt that YNN is looking to make money, and of course the hardware is attractive," admits Peel school board trustee Janet McDougald. "But the board won't approve a program that doesn't impact the classroom curriculum positively."
Much of the debate around YNN and Channel One focuses on the concept of students watching commercials while in school.
While YNN stresses that nobody is made to watch the show (the conscientious can opt out), YNN does monitor viewership.
AEP president and CEO Rod MacDonald disputes critics' claims that YNN will remove all the equipment if they find less than 80 per cent of the students are watching. He says instead that YNN would simply have a "dialogue" as to the nature of the dissent.
In response to the hot issue of commercial advertising on YNN, AEP recently announced that it would be replacing mainstream ad spots with sponsored public service announcements.
Subtle messages "'Don't bully,' brought to you by Nestle," scoffs Erika Shaker of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives' education project. "It's the exact same thing. It's still commercially supported."
And in the brand-awareness wars, subtle messages are just as insidious as full-on commercials.
"Everybody's focus has been so much on advertising in the classroom," says MacDonald, president and CEO of AEP, who points out that many corporations already have a presence in public schools and that while teachers' groups across the country have all come out strongly against YNN, most parents and students are unruffled by it.
"We're enhancing technology in the classroom. The only way students are going to get plugged in on any sort of mass basis is if the private sector steps in. The schools just don't have the funding."
But that, says YNN dissenters, is exactly the point.
Beyond commercials-versus-PSAs or even the wider issue of branding in the school environment, the simple "strategic philanthropic" presence of organizations like YNN in a public-school setting both assumes the inevitability of a dwindling funding base and the appropriateness of the role of private businesses in the classroom.
There's a lot of money to be made in education once the doors open, and that leads to inequitable access to education (among other things).
"It's a way of thinking of public education that is antithetical to public education," says Shaker. "I would really like to see those corporations (who are) writing a cheque or slapping their logo on a gym uniform to instead say they would like to stop fighting for tax breaks."
Wrapped up With the six-month Meadowvale trial wrapped up and the Peel board set to vote on its return in July, AEP already has contracts with 30 schools across Canada set to take off in the fall and is planning to launch a Web-based educational empire complete with online courses and personalized Web pages for every student and school.
All of which is bad news to opponents of the corporate sector in schools. And to David Brand.
"I think YNN is a bad idea in the first place," he says. "But everything that has happened around it has totally ruined the school year. You can just feel the tension."