My Father's Clouds Caffeine and the First Amendment by John Borowski
Apparently, defending children from the perils of caffeine rocks the boat. My principal informed me that “down town”, a reference to the superintendent’s office, was vexed by my overt and public criticism of our school district’s unholy alliance with PepsiCo. I was instructed not to state that I was an employee of the Salem/Keizer school district when I wrote editorials critical of our soda “contract” with PepsiCo. Emails re: the pitfalls of the soda contract were not to be shared with fellow teachers during school hours.
With the opening of a 6th high school in Salem this fall, an innovative young cheerleader named Andrea Boyes got permission from a booster’s club to sell bottled water under the new school’s logo, the “Titans.” PepsiCo, with exclusive pouring rights in the Salem schools, including their own bottle water, ‘Aquafina’, quickly squashed the deal. So—besides peddling colored sugar water to kids, PepsiCo would not let young Ms. Boyes threaten their $27 Billion dollar empire built mostly on caffeine, coloring and sugar.
Ironically, Ms. Boyes was made to be the scapegoat for circumventing protocol and interfering with the sacred powers that invade public schools seeking brand loyalty and windfall profits; health be damned. Instead of scorn, Ms. Boyes should have been heaped with praise. Her courage persuaded me to act like the public servant I am and not a bought-out corporate quisling.
Pandora’s box has swung open, spewing the ugly and twisted alliance between schools and a corporate seducer. But check this out! Behold page 33 of the new West Salem High Parent/Student handbook. Under “Use of Tobacco Products, Alcohol and Other Drugs”, the policy clearly outlines rules against caffeine products. “No Doze or caffeine tablets” are clearly grounds for administrative action against students! With “No Doze”, the 100 mg of caffeine per tablet is considered a health threat. But a 12-ounce pop contains 55.5 mg caffeine, and students need only drink two pops to violate the “no tolerance policy.” I routinely see students walking with an open 2 liter bottle in my school. Obviously their caffeine consumption is a drug offense, as laid out by our district’s own policy.
The district claims that a 10 year, five million dollar contract is too good to renege on. What is not explained is that this contract is based on increasing pop sales by 5% each year, every year of the ten- year contract! PepsiCo has all its focus on cash, not kids.
Pepsico has the audacity to propose that the school invest in a “credit card” type purchasing mechanism for students. I imagine the parents would be billed later. The soda king further suggests redoing the electrical capabilities in grade schools, so antiquated buildings could handle the new pop machines. And it doesn’t end there: “Pepsi would request the District name a funding program, the Pepsi Scholarship”. The only wrinkle? “This program is to act as a volume incentive for Students in the District.” In other words, the more they drink, the more scholarship money is earned.
How despicable can this multinational be? How low will we grovel for money for our schools? There is an epidemic of obesity in America’s youth, leading to major diseases like diabetes and premature death. Pushing pop daily only exacerbates that problem
Why do we, as a society, not employ the lessons of civic responsibility we claim to teach to our young adults?
Having two daughters, will I blindly accept that public schools are now actively encouraging students to pursue a life of osteoporosis and diabetes? As a teacher for over 24 years, will I not heed my own words of encouragement to the thousands of students I have taught—“one person makes a world of difference.”
I know we live in a time of incredible fear. ‘Stay quiet, stay numb and be a hapless consumer’. Every thing apparently is up for sale, even the health of children and the integrity of schools.
But the First Amendment challenges us, as citizens, to question the tyranny of silence. Parenthood urges us to protect our youth—no matter the power of those backed by the almighty dollar.
Teachers like me need to reconsider our role as educators. Nowhere does our job description call for being obsequious lapdogs to corporate carpetbaggers looking to turn our nation’s schools into breeding grounds for lifelong consumers of brand items.
I refuse to sheepishly follow the new order of corporate domination. Will others join me to get soda pop contracts and fast food out of public schools? Will the adults of this nation step up as elders to defend the health of our children? PepsiCo is selling and I am not buying. Nor are young Ms. Boyes and her family.
The children of this nation are waiting to see what we do.
John F. Borowski is Environmental & Marine Science Teacher, North Salem High, Salem, Oregon. His pieces have appeared in NY Times, UTNE Reader and Liberal Slant. He can be reached at [email protected]