Teachers Snub Scholastic's Toys
June 7, 2009
Scholastic, the longtime children's book publisher, is being sent to detention by some teachers who say its book club catalogs and fairs are too heavy on toys and too light on quality books.
Some 1,262 teachers have signed a petition by consumer group Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood asking Scholastic to stop enlisting teachers to sell toys to students.
The scolding comes at a time when the world's largest educational publisher — which markets through schools and has sold more than 6 billion books over 60 years — is processing final summer book orders.
Scholastic also is the U.S. publisher of the Harry Potter series.
The watchdog group says its review of Scholastic's 2008 elementary and middle-school book clubs found that a third of the items for sale weren't books but toys, trinkets, even lip gloss.
A May Scholastic catalog offers a 7½-inch Build a Bear set for $8; and an $8 battery-operated Princess Room Alarm for kids to hang on room doors to "keep nosy brothers and sisters out."
"Scholastic is taking advantage of its privileged place in schools," says Susan Linn, director of the consumer group. "Some teachers are fed up enough to say, 'Stop.' "
Scholastic spokeswoman Kyle Good says the charges are unfair and that Scholastic's goal is to get students to read.
"We have 1 million teachers that ask and beg us to keep doing what we're doing," she says. That's the number of teachers who take part in its book clubs and fairs, and in the process get free books or materials.
Some teacher complaints:
•Too much branding. Scholastic used to be about great books, says Margo Ross, a kindergarten teacher at Tierra Pacifica Charter School in Santa Cruz., Calif., "but now it's about gimmicky stuff based on TV shows" like Hannah Montana books.
•Too much stuff. At book fairs, students often pass up the books and go for the bracelets, video games and erasers, says Larry Burt, a fourth-grade teacher at Roseway Heights School in Portland, Ore. He's recently stopped passing out Scholastic book orders in his classes.
•Too much pressure. Amie Buchman got to the point where she felt like she had to send notes of apology home with book order forms. Instead, the first-grade teacher at Pierce School in Brookline, Mass., stopped sending them. "It embarrassed me to send them home," she says.
But Laura Bush, a second-grade teacher in Vernon, Conn., says Scholastic provides a great service, even for kids who order toys. "I don't care if a child gets a SpongeBob toy if that encourages them to read. And if a child writes a wonderful story because she got a fuzzy fairy pen, that's great."