It’s a sad, sad day when public school teachers have to sell ad space on tests because their school won’t buy them paper. Yes, paper.
Unfortunately, Jeb Harrison, a high school teacher in Pocatello, Idaho, didn’t have a choice. His public school “cut back on paper allowances for teachers to prevent shortages” according to the Associated Press on March 11, 2009. Without enough paper, yes, PAPER, he did what we all do when out of options: he sold out.
Harrison approached Dan McIsaac, owner of a local pizzeria, and proposed a deal. For $315 worth of paper, Harrison would print ads at the bottom of his tests reminding students that they could buy a 14-inch pizza for $5 at Molto Caldo Pizzeria.
“The classroom, is ideally, a sanctuary, free of biases or private agendas. The separation of church and state ensures (most of the time) that the precious hours our children spend in school are not used to promote the private beliefs of society. Yet here we are congratulating a teacher who, in order to provide paper, YES PAPER, has to promote the private beliefs of a company.”
Let us be clear. Harrison is an American hero for doing what he had to in order to educate our future leaders and fulfill his duty as a public employee. McIsaac is just as commendable for taking a financial and public-relations risk to support his local schools. But the choice they made, to use students as market-fodder instead of depriving them of tests or homework, is the lesser of two evils.
The classroom is, ideally, a sanctuary, free of biases or private agendas. The separation of church and state ensures (most of the time) that the precious hours our children spend in school are not used to promote the private beliefs of any faction of society. Yet here we are congratulating a teacher who, in order to provide paper, YES, PAPER, has to promote the private beliefs of a company.
Is there any difference between placing a pizza ad on a public school test and placing a cross? And if there is, which is less constitutional? And if you can decide, does it matter? How did we get to this point?
The question of whether our educational system is broken has already been discussed to ad nauseam, and settled. It’s broken. The question at hand is, does anybody really care? We called McIsaac to ask about how his customers have reacted since his ads have made national news.
“We haven’t seen any increase in students coming into the store,” McIsaac said. “But as soon as the story ran we’ve seen an increase in our night sales. We’ve had an increase in parents who come in and say ‘yeah, we saw your story. It’s very cool of you guys, that’s why we thought we’d come in here and give you guys a try.'”
It’s “very cool,” they say. So it worked. McIsaac and Harrison designed a horrible plot to expose the depravity of their school system’s situation, and it got people’s attention. But what kind of attention?
The ad on the test was an act of social martyrdom, a sacrifice of morals that ought to have made us say “Good Lord, look how close we are to the bottom. Let’s make sure this never has to happen again.” What if by “very cool,” those customers really meant, “look, they’re supporting the schools, we should dine here more often?” We are at a junction with our stance on education where we can either embrace the educators who make sacrifices or we can riot and demand that no sacrifices ought to be necessary. We can order the superintendent to hear our cries or we can order pizza.
It should be noted that Harrison’s test was on economics. Because of that ad, even the students that failed it learned something about how money works in this country.