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Do you want fries with your curriculum?

By Dr. Daniel Conn & Dr. Joseph Zajdel

Upon entering McCoy Elementary, visitors see an intersection of the building’s main hall crossing with a short hall from the front entrance that leads to the school’s cafeteria. A large presentation check, payable to McCoy, for $1,704.58 hangs directly above the cafeteria entrance. The large golden arches of McDonald’s adorn the left corner of the check from the local franchise. “McTeacher’s [sic] Night” is written in the check’s memo. A bulletin board across from the office, which once displayed students’ artwork, now displays photos of the school’s teachers working behind the counter, the drive-thru window, and the dining area of a local McDonald’s fast-food restaurant. Block letters, posted above the teachers’ photos, reads, “McCOY STAFF Is More Precious Than GOLD!” The photos show McCoy’s teachers wearing aprons with “McTeacher’s Night” logos, posing with restaurant employees, and delivering trays of food to students and parents. McDonald’s received labor from professional teachers; sales from the students, parents, and community members purchasing from the menu to support the school; and the opportunity to advertise the golden arches on a giant check, as if it were a donation, over the cafeteria—in plain sight from the front doors of the school. As a bonus, McDonald’s gave the students red rubber bracelets with the McDonald’s logo. In return, the McDonald’s brand is potentially on every student in the school. Although the implications of McDonald’s capitalizing on McTeacher’s Nights may seem benign, this practice is an example (among others) that normalizes corporate branding in schools.

Questions to consider:

  • In what ways do you see marketing to children in schools?

  • How can you use these attempts to market to children as teachable moments for your students?

  • If your school must engage in corporate fundraising, are there ways to ensure that the product being promoted is not detrimental to students’ health and well-being?

  • What new products do you anticipate will marketed in schools in the future? (Examples might include: apps, guns, drones, artificial intelligence, etc.)

Zajdel, J., & Conn, D. (2018). Consumerism in the school ecology: Do you want fries with your curriculum? Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue, 20(2), 71-86.

Joseph Zajdel, Ed.D. teaches at Cumberland University and serves on dissertation committees at Delta State University. Daniel R. Conn, Ed.D. taught K-12 in Colorado (2004-2014) and is now faculty at Minot State University (2014-present). Connect with Daniel on Twitter, @DanConn7.