Under President Obama and in fairness under other Presidents as well, The U.S. Department of Education has been attempting to provide leadership in encouraging education and literacy, committed to leaving no child behind. Yet, Madison Avenue and American businesses coast to coast continue to promote product visibility at the expense of the English language –fracturing the spelling, writing and reading ability of our youngsters.
This is not a partisan issue; it is a right of every American to become literate in our own language. The issue is also historical. How many of us grew up with the Esty Advertising Agency feeding us the Winston Cigarette line: ‘Tastes good like a cigarette should.” What happened to ‘as’? I guess ‘like’ was one step above the original concept: “Tastes good like a cigarette ought to,” which was the original line. Either way, generations grew up with this mind-branding statement, and the use of ‘like’ sticks to our pattern of communication. And who was the target of this communication of the language? Young People, minorities and other niche groups.
The common result of our disregard today for seamless reinforcement of learning to spell plays a role in the fact that the United States is 28th in the World in literacy. Kids who do not re-learn to spell the right way and develop low self-esteem will see their academic competency go lower and lower, further complicating their effort to compete with a college graduate. Is this what we want for our young people?
There is enough evidence on the streets of our cities across America, which shows kids are getting their education by reading the billboards and names of businesses; Young students in poverty are particularly influenced. How much longer will our kids be subjected to those billboards displaying ‘Kars for Kids!’ A recent T-shirt in a display window of a clothing store on 125th Street in Harlem, New York had written across it – “Kamera.’ In fact, shop down Lexington Avenue in Manhattan and you will come to an eyeglass store named OPTYX. And, do we really believe that X-Box is serving the younger generation well by promoting ‘Kinect’?
I remember going to the Coney Island Amusement Park in Brooklyn, New York and seeing kids reading a sign saying- KRAZY KANS for $1 – I hope it was after their spelling test in school. And, it is hard enough to remember how to spell neighborhood without a youngster regularly walking done 132th street in Harlem and having to read Neybahood every day on a barber shop window. An Amusing marketing tool I guess for adults – devastating to the literacy future of our country!
In 2001, Julie A. Washington of the University of Michigan wrote about young African-American preschoolers and observed that, “A young child’s home and neighborhood are the most important context for early literacy development. The home has TV and our neighborhoods are packed with billboards and signs.
This election year I am listening to and reading about all our presidential candidates speaking on behalf of our young people, but I do not hear anything about a concrete plan to assure and even increase literacy, thus, spelling, in our great United States in the next five and ten years. This clearly is a topic our presidential candidates should be addressing in the coming months.
The President and Congress must work together to create a national policy of LITERACY IN ADVERTISING – not just making sure something does what it says it will do (we do that already), but the words used for or associated with a product meet a standard of literacy which reinforces the spelling competency of all our children from all of our neighborhoods. Substandard literacy causes ripples in our economy and leads to a second class status as a nation, especially ironic in a global world economy, at a time when English has become the international language of commerce.
As the American Recovery and Investment Act spends down $5 Billion for early learning programs, and $77 Billion to strengthen elementary and secondary education, it would be a shame to have advertising billboards like the one in Missouri (A Tasty Contraditcion), which appeared some time ago, undermine the investment made in America’s education; a spelling error today is a kid’s memory and use tomorrow!
There should be NO argument about government oversight when it comes to protecting the learning interests of children. If Madison Avenue Advertisers want to sell ‘chiken’, or popular ‘kulchur,’ it is selling Americans short of achieving academic ‘sukses,’ so says Teresa Stillo in an article which appeared in the Salt Lake City Tribune.
I agree with Ms. Stillo: enuf is enuf!
Dr. Cammarata is the author of THE FUN BOOK OF FATHERHOOD, former NYC Commissioner of the Department of Youth and Community Development and former Member of the NYC Central Board of Education. He is currently the Chief Operating Officer and Dean of Student Affairs at Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine – Middletown, New York.