Sunday, April 29, 2012

Seeing Red: Check Out the Billboard: Fashion Designer Kenneth Cole Lacks Ethos Regarding Education Policy

(Title change 4-30 to better reflect the content of this post)
"In my 31 years of teaching, I've seen the efforts of teachers to reinforce the rules of standard English usage and correct spelling undermined by advertisers repeatedly. Arguably, advertising burrows into a student's mind via reinforcement over long periods of time, yet Kenneth Cole, et al. continue to blame only (hasty generalization intended) teachers when students don't learn.

I posted my initial reaction to designer Kenneth Cole's billboard promoting misspelling red for read.  

The Gotham Schools blog reads the billboard as the latest jab at teacher's unions. I, however, read the billboard as an ironic commentary from those who undermine education and the efforts of hard-working teachers to teach the very concepts folks such as Kenneth Cole admonish us for not teaching. Rather than reinforcing standard usage, the billboard promotes its opposite. 

Yes, I get the play on words and appreciate its cleverness, but business can't have it both ways. I don't accept their twisting and manipulation of language to sell products and ideas on the one hand and excuse the impact of this among John Q Public on the other hand. 

In small print, the billboard poses a question: "SHOULD UNDERPERFORMING TEACHERS BE PROTECTED?" and is followed by an invitation to visit the Where Do You Stand website. 

Classic argument fallacies brim from the billboard. The question is based on a false premise: Underperforming teachers are protected. The question reduces the issue of education quality to an either/or fallacy. Cause/effect fallacies abound in the ad, which is typical of advertising and helps explain why it's so effective. 


As do the vast majority of teachers, I stand on the side of academics. I stand against those who fancy themselves education experts simply because they have the money to erect a billboard in New York City or spent time sitting in a student desk. I stand on the side of responsible use of power, including the power vested in language, whether on a billboard, in a blog, or behind the closed doors of policy makers who have closed those doors to teachers such as myself. Most importantly, I stand for students and against those who undermine their futures. 

The billboard clearly articulates where Kenneth Cole and his ilk stand: Far away from students and far away from education. It makes me see red.

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