The AP today reported that critics have targeted Book-It, a reading program sponsored by Pizza Hut since 1985. Over 50,000 schools have used this program to boost book reading since 1985. But now, the program is under fire by the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood.
This group of no-fun people cites that the program promotes junk food to a captive audience, and one person goes as far to call the program ‘dreadful.’ I know that childhood obesity is a problem in America, but you know what? So is literacy. In this editorial, I will debate the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood and give them a ‘slice’ of how this reading initiative is a positive one.
Setting Goals is a Good Thing for Children
I remember reading in my Big Bopper magazine in the early 90s that Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen once threw a fit on the set of Full House because they wanted Happy Meals. You know, bribing kids with something sweet or special is nothing new. Parents do it al the time. “If you’re good at the store, we’ll stop for ice cream.” While enforcing good behavior at all times without the promise of getting something is ideal, I use this point to illustrate that having something to motivate our children can help them reach a goal.
I took part in the Book It program for many years in my elementary school. As a kid, I loved to read anyway. Each week, our teacher would ask us what books we read. If I liked what a classmate said about a book, I’d check it out of the library later. This facilitated discussion each week about reading.
Each week, we had a goal to reach. Those small goals turned into a big goal at the end. To win the pizza party, the class had to reach a team goal. An individual goal. A team goal. To me, those are too great things to learn at a young age.
Sure, there are things teachers and parents can do to encourage reading and make it fun, but what is wrong with the promise of a pizza party on one day? What is wrong with giving a gift certificate for a family dinner? You know in this day and age, that night out at Pizza Hut may be the only time the family actually gets a chance to sit down and enjoy a meal together.
Underwriting is Often Needed for Community Service Programs
The Boston Globe quoted Susan Linn, a Harvard psychologist and founder of the Committee for a Commercial Free Childhood as saying: “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.”
Face it. Whether their intentions are purely to serve the community or to gain publicity, major corporations for years have been backing causes or even starting their own public service campaigns. When I was in high school, Nationwide Insurance sponsored the Prom Promise. Those who sign the Prom Promise vowed not to drink and more importantly, not to drink and drive on prom night. We got pamphlets on Nationwide Insurance and cool, chunky, funky Prom Promise pens that said Nationwide on them.
The Prom Promise program was embraced by my school district, regardless if it was a plug for a school with 600 high school seniors who either have cars or would be getting them before heading off to college. Perfect age to get us thinking of a car insurance brand, but with that subliminal ad, hundreds of students also were able to think twice about doing something illegal and dangerous on prom night.
The critics of the Book It program claim that schools are captive audiences and campaigns like this force students to hear a message. So, if the message is a good one, why does that matter? Isn’t that what school assemblies with motivational speakers do? If not in school, students are still going to be hit with PSAs sponsored by companies.
Folks, the government, and more specifically school districts can’t fund everything; so let private companies design educational programs for kids.
Pizza Hut and Other Restaurants Do Serve Healthy Options
Why is pizza so bad? Is it junk food? Yes. But excuse me and all the other people who like to order pizza once a week. While I do not have a family yet, my fiancé and I get pizza every Friday. I see families, and overhear them talking to others about it being the ‘family pizza night.’ If families are eating pizza anyway, why does it hurt to have Pizza Hut sponsor a program.
I mean, it’s not like kids don’t already know about pizza. And, if health is an issue, for crying out loud, there are many things to do to make the meal less fattening. Limit the number of slices. Include the salad bar. Skip the breadsticks. Order a water, milk or diet soda. Sometimes it is just the idea of going out for pizza that is fun.
When it comes to the in-class party, perhaps the teacher can ask for bottled water or get milk from the cafeteria. Again, slice per kid can be limited and raw veggies can be served with it.
Many school districts prohibited in-class birthday parties where parents can send baked goods into class. If that’s not enough, the Campaign wants to take away a SINGLE pizza party and a SINGLE free pizza from a family?
Just because a place has ‘pizza’ in its name should not instantly make it the bad guy. I feel bad for places that offer ‘junk food.’ While I feel that eating it every day is a totally bad decision, there is nothing wrong with indulging every once in a while. Which leads me to another point:
Parents and Teachers are Still in Charge
Outside of school, if we take our children to the grocery store, to a sporting event, to the mall or even for a ride on public transportation, there are going to be ads. Children still must ask their parents for something they see an ad for. Parents do not have to say yes.
If the class does win a pizza party, the teacher can monitor what the children are eating. This does not mean that each child is going to eat pizza until they puke.
I am a graduate of the Book It program. In fact, at age 28 I still have my Book It button from 4th grade in Mrs. Bryant’s class. I still vividly remember the Pizza Hut pizza party that I shared with people I am still friends with today. I still remember the trip I made to the Mount Pocono Pizza Hut with my mom, proudly wearing that button.
I never forgot what the company did for me, so its message did work. I still dine at Pizza Hut a few times per year, but the program by no means made me only indulge in pizza during my youth. It by no means made me totally loyal to only Pizza Hut. When I did well on my report card, we did not celebrate only at Pizza Hut.
Although the Book It program promotes Pizza Hut to a captive audience of children, the program also encourages reading at a young age. Shame on this committee for taking such a public stand on something that has been coveted by school districts for decades.