I know an entire toy store chain that's on Santa's naughty list, and I don't mean Toys in Babeland. Have you seen this Toys"R"Us field trip ad? Our story begins with a sad crew of unfortunate children being driven to a (SIGH!) nature preserve or whatever via the "Meet the Trees Foundation" bus. A super-boring teacher puts the kids to sleep with his lame "match the leaf with the tree" quiz. But then: Surprise! They're not going to have a rare, hands-on educational experience in the natural world after all. Instead, they're going to the TOY STORE! Wheee!!!
Oh the joy. The children run up and down the aisles, eyes bright with excitement. They play. They squeal. And what's that other sound? Oh yes, it's the sound of science and math test scores dropping with a thud. It's the sound of teenagers opening rejection letters from universities. Good job, Toys"R"Us. Thanks so much for that.
Let's just get the obvious out of the way first. I hate, HATE that they made environmental science the bad guy here. In this ad, science education is a boring chore to be suffered through, the very opposite of fun. I think that approach is simply lazy. And it makes parents' and teachers' jobs harder. Why would a toy retailer want to piss us off like this? Who do they think is watching the ad and paying for those toys? What the hell are they thinking?
And who says trees are so boring?
Supposedly this ad is part community service. I guess these are underprivileged kids who were told they could each take a toy of their choosing for free. I think we're supposed to get a warm fuzzy feeling because those poor kids, they never get new toys. Except that's probably not true.
The sad truth is, kids are likely to be more familiar with the inside of a toy store than they are with the natural world. It's easier to scrape and borrow to get your kid the toy they want for Christmas than it is to arrange a meaningful educational experience in the forest. Science education is mostly happening through textbooks and worksheets. The few field trips kids go on are usually rushed marches through overcrowded museums. I know, I've seen those marches dozens of times. Hell, kids these days are lucky if they get to step outdoors for recess or gym class.
Here's the thing, though. This isn't even an either/or situation. Science, nature, exploration -- toy stores are all over that! I've bought my son a portable hand-held microscope he can use to explore the natural world, and I bought it at Toys"R"Us. Fun and science are not enemies. Science education can be fun and engaging if you really care.
OMG, this commercial just taught me something -- the definition of a FALSE DICHOTOMY.
But hey, making science education engaging is a lot of work. Grownups hate work! It's so much easier and more rewarding to just throw a bunch of toys at some underprivileged kids. Those childhood memories will keep them warm when they're adults who can't compete with the rest of the world for jobs in science or technology.
Does this ad bother you as much as it bothers me, or do you think it's just harmless fun?