Good Riddance to BusRadio

It is with no small sense of satisfaction that I note the passage of BusRadio, a hare-brained idea that, for about the last three years, force-fed advertising into school buses under the guise of “safety” and then crowed to its potential sponsors about the size of its “captive audience.” Details are sketchy, but late last month the company suddenly called it quits, citing adverse market forces.
BusRadio, above and beyond the ethical issues it raised, always seemed to me to be a little bit sketchy. And after several school districts – followed most recently by the FCC – took a closer look at the modus operandi of the business, it would seem investors dried up. And for good reason.
I know these are tough economic times for public schools, but school administrators would be wise to take the demise of BusRadio to heart. Based upon my time in college classrooms, I can say that students who’ve been through a corporatized K-12 educational environment react one of two ways when they’re informed about how their schooling has been manipulated to train them as consumers.
The more savvy ones already recognize the advertisements for what they are, which makes them cynical – not just about advertising in modern American society, but also toward the system of education itself. Those who never noticed before are shocked and then angry that their young minds could be “violated” (that’s a quote from a student) in such a way, having put such trust in their schools to teach them the basics – of which “proper” consumption was never (officially) on the curriculum.
Either way, the “captive audience” eventually wakes up to the manipulation and in both cases BusRadio and their ilk breed more antipathy than the service is worth. That’s the lesson: school districts and administrators really should think long and hard about the tradeoff between bumping up the revenue for their districts by a few percentage points and the veritable economic and cultural prostitution of their charges.