New issue of Stay Free! out now!

Carrie McLaren carrie at
Wed May 2 22:17:24 EDT 2001


The new issue of Stay Free! magazine should be finding its way to a store
near you any moment now. But please consider buying it the old fashioned
way (from me):

3 issues for $10
Single issues $4

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Issue #18 | the "history" issue

Contents include:

[see below]

Selling Advertising: Inger Stole discusses the history of the advertising
industry's public relations.

WarXploitation: A brief look at ads during World War II.

Trivial Pursuit: an interview with historian and author James Loewen (Lies
My Teacher Told Me).

Top Ten Most Embarrassing Moments in the History of the American Textbook.

Dumbing Down the Kids: Jane Healy explains the impact of media use on

MeBay! Ebay for Fun and Profit.

When Law Goes Pop: Richard Sherwin reveals the influence of television on
the legal system.

Advertising History According to the Textbooks: reprinted from the Journal
of Advertising.

Your Ad Here: As advertisers rush to cover every available surface, are
they driving us insane?

and, naturally, much more!

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In New York over the past year, the school board has been soliciting
various corporations to revolutionize the public school system. Its
solutions? Not increased teacher pay, or lower classroom size, or anything
nearly so mundane as adding desks: The school board wants a commercial web
portal and laptops for all, fourth grade on up.

The plan, as you might imagine, is baldly profit-driven. The Board's
feasibility study calculates the "Lifetime Value" of its student
"customers"; uses "content" as a synonym for "education"; and promises to
move away from "teacher-directed" lessons to computer-centered,
"teacher-as-facilitator" activities. But the pitch doesn't stop at the
bottom line. In its request for proposals, the Board treats the
laptop-ification of grade school as a matter of life or death. In the now
standard rhetoric, the drive for computers is compared to "other great
American opportunities or crises," like "bringing electricity to all
corners of the nation" and "finding a cure for polio."

Despite these token nods to the past, the Board's plan is almost willfully
ahistorical. The same claims it makes for computers in the classroom were
made for radio and film in the 1920s and 1930s, for television in the 1950s
(which one broadcaster called a "21-inch classroom"), and even for now
obscure devices like John B. Watson's "teaching machine." Some of these
technologies have no doubt added real value to learning, but not one has
come anywhere near to being the cure-all, the surrogate teacher that
techno-utopians promised. So how can anyone who purports to know something
about education push computers as a panacea?

This question is the focus of this issue of Stay Free! How can history
survive in a country ruled by commerce? Short answer: It can't. If Martin
Luther King Jr. selling internet gear hasn't yet driven the point home, the
repeated attempts of marketers to pass off advertising as education reveals
the Man's ingrained loathing of certain types of learning. History--a true,
warts-and-all inquiry into the past--is a nuisance. So it should be no
surprise that the happily-ever-after pablum that passes as history in
schools is, in the end, a lot like advertising. There is, however, a
notable difference: Advertising is focused on the future, targeting our
ever-increasing quest for the new. So while advertising aims to increase
desire, this history (or pseudo-history) hopes to kill it. By
decontextualizing events, by erasing competing arguments, by boring
students to death, pseudo-history inspires nothing but a distaste for
history. Therein lies a great irony, which we discuss elsewhere (starting
on p. 22): History has become the least imaginative and most hated subjects
taught in school precisely because it is so important.

Stay Free! has long wrestled with the need for alternatives to the culture
of advertising. Rather than simply attacking something like "advertising"
or "corporatization"--rather than defining what you're for by what you're
against--to create the culture we want to support. These are, after all,
two ways of addressing the same problem. To push for historical
understanding, to read and ask questions about the social and political
world, this is to counter market ideology... which is why we chose to
devote an issue to history, and why, in the future, I hope to provide
historical context for everything we write about.

Carrie McLaren

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