Caffeine and the First Amendment
Apparently, defending children from the perils of caffeine “upsets the applecart.” 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 about 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. Besides peddling colored sugar water to bring school district’s begging for hard cash, 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, 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. Reading page 33 of the new West Salem High Parent/Student handbook reveals a colossal blunder on part of the school district. 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” specifically mentioned, the 100 mg of caffeine per tablet is considered a health threat. With a 12- ounce pop containing 55.5 mg, students need only drink two pops and they are in violation of the “no tolerance policy.” I routinely see students walking with open 2 liter bottles in my school, obviously they are using too much caffeine as laid out by the districts’ own policy.
The district claims that a 10 year, five million dollar contract is too good to renege. What is not explained is that this dollar value is based on increasing pop sales 5% each year, every year of the ten- year contract! What parents don’t know is that PepsiCo has all the focus on cash, not children. They suggest the school investigate a “credit card” type purchasing for students. I imagine the parents could be billed later. The soda king suggests redoing the electrical capabilities in grade schools, where antiquated buildings could handle the new pop machines. “Pepsi would request the District name a funding program, the Pepsi Scholarship”. The only wrinkle you ask? “This program is to act as a volume incentive for Students in the District.” The more they drink, the more scholarship money is earned. How despicable can this multinational be? How low will we grovel for needed money? Will we not employee 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 of 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. The First Amendment challenges us to be citizens who question the tyranny of silence. Parenthood urges us to protect our youth no matter the might of those backed by the sacred dollar. Teachers need to reconsider their role as educators nowhere does their job description call for being obsequious lapdogs to corporate carpetbaggers looking to make schools their market for lifelong consumers.
I refuse to sheepishly follow the new order of corporate domination. Will others join together 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 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. Maybe “upsetting the apple cart” will be viewed as a good thing.
John F. Borowski is an Environmental and Marine Science Teacher at North Salem High, Salem, Oregon. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org