Tom Farber gives a lot of tests. He's a calculus teacher, after all.
So when administrators at Rancho Bernardo, his suburban San Diego high school, announced the district was cutting spending on supplies by nearly a third, Farber had a problem. At 3 cents a page, his tests would cost more than $500 a year. His copying budget: $316. But he wanted to give students enough practice for the big tests they'll face in the spring, such as the Advanced Placement exam.
"Tough times call for tough actions," he says. So he started selling ads on his test papers: $10 for a quiz, $20 for a chapter test, $30 for a semester final.
Ads on test papers because the school district cut the supplies budget? This is a Libertarian’s wet dream. Free hand of the market! Problem solved! After all, in modern society everything is a commodity and everyone is a potential buyer! Everywhere a sales pitch, even in high school math class. Got to get that consumer messaging in early.
I think I'm going to be sick.
Farber says he was overwhelmed with requests from prospective advertisers. I’m not surprised. Young people today are an exceptionally ripe market for advertisers. They have few expenses and a lot of disposable income, and they’re easily suckered into buying a lot of crap they don’t need. And you don't get a more captive audience than a high school kid showing up to take the calculus final.
If this doesn’t ring some alarm bells, I don’t know what will. Says Robert Weissman, managing director of Commercial Alert:
"The advertisers are paying for something, and it's access to kids," he says.
Exactly. I railed against advertising to children and youth well over a year ago when I was nauseated by the constant barrage of sales pitches at the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta.
Free enterprise has its place. I just wish it would remember to stay in it.