book cover

This Little Kiddy Went to Market

The Corporate Capture of Childhood

by Sharon Beder
with Wendy Varney and Richard Gosden

Published by:

Pluto Press, London, UK
Publication date: May 2009
UNSW Press, Sydney, Australia: July 2009

also The Oriental Press, China, 2011 (Chinese translation)

This Little Kiddy Went to Market investigates the way that corporations are strategically shaping children to be hyperconsumers, submissive employees, and passive, unquestioning citizens as well as feeding a burgeoning pharmaceutical industry by ensuring children who cannot be shaped are given a psychiatric diagnosis.

It covers the way that corporations are targeting ever younger children with a barrage of advertising and marketing; the way that children’s play has been turned into a commercial opportunity; and how corporations have taken advantage of childish anxieties and insecurities, and reshaped children’s very identities. It shows how school funding shortages have opened the door to an influx of corporate materials into schools aimed at inculcating consumer and business values.

The book analyses school reforms in English-speaking nations to uncover the hidden agendas behind them including: shifting of responsibility for the consequences of funding shortages to school management; turning schools into competing business enterprises where children are drilled and constantly tested; producing submissive employees with basic literacy and numeracy skills rather than developing an informed active citizenry with critical thinking skills; enabling businesses to take control of more and more aspects of schooling; and eroding the ideal and reality of public schooling.

‘A chilling assessment of modern commercial culture and how it distorts childhood, corrupts civic
institutions, and endangers the planet.’

Alex Molnar, Professor of Education Policy, Arizona State University

  1. Introduction (Read extract)
  2. Turning Children into Consumers: Children are viewed by many corporations as first and foremost potential consumers and secondly as primary influences on their families spending. Their lives have become saturated with unhealthy advertising messages. Marketers and advertisers deliberately set out to bypass parents and exploit children’s naivety. (Read extract and see Advertising to Children website)
  3. Turning Play into Business: The commercialisation of toys and children’s entertainment has resulted in a general impoverishment of play, as children’s leisure activities are increasingly determined by the market. The focus of contemporary toys is materialism and individualism rather than socialising and childhood development. A vast interlocking network of commercial interests has developed including television programming, movies, toys, licensed products and games.
  4. Branding Childish Identities: Advertisers recognise that brand loyalties and consumer habits formed when children are young will be carried through to adulthood and that select children can be used to dictate what is cool and desirable. Advertisers and marketers take advantage of all the insights that psychological and sociological studies can provide them in order to make children feel insecure and inadequate if they don’t have their products. (see Marketing to Children website)
  5. Teaching Consumer Values: Schools have been seduced into opening their doors to commercialism because they are desperate for funds. A massive infusion of corporate messages bombards school students everyday. Businesses seek to sell their goods to children, develop brand loyalty now and into the future, through sponsorships, competitions, communication technologies, and industry-produced classroom materials. (see Commercialism in Schools website)
  6. Turning Schools into Businesses: Instead of investing as much as possible in education, the new emphasis is to educate as many children as possible for the least investment. School funding cuts, combined with pressures from business groups, have led to an emphasis on productivity, cost-effectiveness and performance evaluation in schools. Education systems have been restructured so that centralised bureaucracies establish the goals of education, core curricula, and resource allocation, while school boards and principals are left to manage schools on reduced budgets. (see Turning Schools into Businesses website)
  7. Making Schools Accountable: School boards and principals are held accountable through regimes of standardised testing. To ensure that the standardised tests are taken seriously, even though they have little educational value, educational authorities have attached various rewards and punishments to performance in them. Attaching these ‘high stakes’ to test results is also a way to ensure that schools teach to the curriculum. Standardised testing stresses students, demoralised teachers, and reduces education to little more than memory work.
  8. Business Campaigns: Businesses have campaigned to get the changes discussed above into schools, particularly the business model with its devolution of responsibility, outcomes-focused accountability, standardised testing, and narrowed curriculum. They have formed powerful overlapping and interconnected business coalitions and advocacy front groups and promoted an atmosphere of crisis to achieve school ‘reforms’. (see Business Campaigns website)
  9. Made to Order: The renewed emphasis in schools on long hours, discipline, rewards and punishments results employer demands for graduates with a good attitude, a strong work ethic, honesty, loyalty, dependability, trustworthiness and obedience. The rhetoric of international competitiveness has been used to promote these changes but they are turning schools into places of training rather than education.
  10. Dumbing Down Future Citizens: Around the world, curricula have been narrowed and standardised to emphasise literacy, numeracy and computer skills, and a particular business-friendly view of history and society. This narrowing has been a means of achieving efficiency but also a means of ideological control, a way of undermining alternative views of society and avoiding subjects that develop critical tendencies in future employees and citizens. (see Standardised Curricula website)
  11. Teaching Corporate Values: Industry-sponsored school materials give students a distorted picture of environmental, health and social issues. They present a corporate view as ‘fact’ and report the results of corporate-funded studies without saying who financed them. They promote an industry or company and defend it from its critics. Corporate-sponsored economic education, business studies and enterprise education seek to get young people to view the world through the eyes of employers and assume that what is good for business is good for them. (see Sponsored Classroom Materials website)
  12. Privatising Schools: There has been a major move towards the private provision of educational services in many countries. This has included educational services such as tutoring, educational software and after school care but also core education, such as managing or operating schools and preschools. Many of these privatisations have been damaging for the schools and students involved. (see Privatising Schools website)
  13. Turning Schools into Markets: It is not enough for schools to be managed like businesses but business reformers also want them to behave like businesses and compete in an educational marketplace for students. The right of every child to a high quality education has been replaced by the right of every parent to choose the school their child attends. Education, once a public good, has become a private good. (see School Choice website)
  14. Privatisation Proponents: In the US several wealthy foundations, which have gained their money from large successful business enterprises, have financed the push for the privatisation of education and free-market reforms in schools.  Wealthy businessmen fund private voucher schemes and subsidise charter schools. Think tanks provide the ‘scholars’ and studies to support privatisation. (see Business Campaigns website)
  15. Controlling Wayward Children: Children who are naughty, lively, bored, inattentive or depressed as a result of the assaults described in previous chapters, are identified in schools and disciplined through the use of psychiatric drugs. The pharmaceutical industry portrays these ‘medications’ as a way of ‘normalising’ children’s thinking and behaviour  and controlling mood variation in children in order to expand the child and adolescent market for psychiatric drugs.
  16. Conclusion
Professor Sharon Beder has written 10 books, around 150 articles, book chapters and conference papers, as well as educational monographs, consultancy reports and teaching resources. Her research has focussed on how power relationships are maintained and challenged, particularly by corporations and professions. Her books, some of which have been translated into other languages, include:

Dr Wendy Varney is an honorary fellow in the Institute of Environmental Sustainability at the University of NSW. Her doctoral thesis on the social shaping and commodification of children’s manufactured toys. She has written two books on other topics as well as a number of articles and book chapters on the marketing and commercialisation of toys and the consequences for children’s play. Wendy has frequently been interviewed on children, toys and consumption on TV, radio and in newspapers.

Dr Richard Gosden did his doctoral thesis on psychiatric controversies over the cause of the symptoms of schizophrenia. He has written a number of  articles on the early treatment of schizophrenia, psychiatry and human rights, and the use of psychiatry in social control. He was originally trained in advertising. He has wide media experience. He is the author of: