Who gets to support education?
The case for Book It, Pizza Hut's reading incentive program:
...the program -- which has given away more than 200 million pizzas -- has deep roots and many admirers at the highest levels of politics and education. It won a citation in 1988 from President Reagan, and its advisory board includes representatives of prominent education groups, including teachers unions and the American Library Association.
"We're really proud of the program," said Leslie Tubbs, its director for the past five years. "We get hundreds of e-mails from alumni who praise it and say it helped them get started with reading."
Dallas-based Pizza Hut says Book It is the nation's largest reading motivation program -- conducted annually in about 925,000 elementary school classrooms from October 1 through March 31. A two-month program is offered for preschoolers.
Teachers find the program an enjoyable way to build interest in reading, Tubbs said. "We're helping them to do their jobs," she said.
Additional (tempered) support from principals:
At Strafford Elementary School in Strafford, Missouri, the roughly 500 students collectively read 30,000 books a year with Book It's help, said principal Lucille Cogdill.
"I don't have any negative things at all to say about it," Cogdill said. "I know there's concern about obesity, but Book It is not causing it, and the schools aren't causing it."
Chris Carney, principal at Bennett Elementary School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, also is a Book It fan, saying it encourages family togetherness and provides a tool for persuading children to try books instead of video games.
"I don't want to see kids gorging pizzas," he said. "But the positive effects outweigh other effects."
The case against:
Book It, which reaches about 22 million children a year, "epitomizes everything that's wrong with corporate-sponsored programs in school," said Susan Linn, a Harvard psychologist and co-founder of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.
"In the name of education, it promotes junk food consumption to a captive audience ... and undermines parents by positioning family visits to Pizza Hut as an integral component of raising literate children," Linn said.
Among those campaigning against Book It is Alfie Kohn, an author whose 11 books on education and parenting include "Punished By Rewards, which questions the value of incentive programs.
"The more kids see books as a way to get pizza or some other prize, the less interest they'll have in reading itself," Kohn, a former teacher, said in a telephone interview. "They tend to choose easier books to get through faster."
Another critic of Book It and the broader phenomenon of corporate incursions into schools is Alex Molnar, director of the Commercialism in Education Research Unit at Arizona State University.
He described Book It as a "dreadful program" that puts pressure on parents to celebrate with their reward-winning children at Pizza Huts.
"This is corporate America using the schools as a crow bar to get inside the front doors of students' homes," he said. "It's very hard for children whose parents who don't want to engage in this to not feel ostracized."
Personally, I think programs like this are great - it gives principals and teachers an incentive at no cost to encourage academic performance. It's not mandatory - if schools or communities feel it's not appropriate for kids, they're perfectly free not to participate as individuals or as a group. And remember that obesity is a lifestyle issue - one piece of pizza (or one birthday cake, or one christmas cookie, etc...) won't make you fat. There's absolutely nothing wrong with the occasional reward to mark an occasion or an accomplishment.
Moreover, I'm always wary of "experts" like Linn, Kohn, and Molnar deciding what is and isn't right for other people. Their opinions certainly don't start and end with pizzas: rest assured they have other thoughts on how we should all live our lives. And that's not a responsibility I'm willing to give up.
But I'd love to hear other thoughts. Should businesses only contribute to education if they're "pure"? Should they only provide financial contributions? Should they be required to work anonymously?
And what do you think would happen to the already limited amount of investment businesses make in public education if we follow that path?
Hat tip to Joanne Jacobs for highlighting the article.