Since 1985, that's been the gist of Pizza Hut's Book It, an incentive program used by 50,000 schools nationwide to reward young readers with free pizzas. The program is now under attack by child-development experts who say it promotes bad eating habits and turns teachers into corporate promoters.
Book It, which reaches about 22 million children a year, "epitomizes everything that's wrong with corporate-sponsored programs in school," said Susan Linn, a Harvard psychologist and co-founder of the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.
This week, Linn's organization called on parents to end their schools' participation in the long-standing program.
Though some activists have previously questioned Book It, Linn said Friday that only after the recent upsurge of concern over child obesity and junk food did her group feel it could make headway with a formal protest campaign. She said many schools are trying to reduce students' access to soda, and contended that Book It should face similar scrutiny.
But the program -- which has given away more than 200 million pizzas -- has deep roots and many admirers at the highest levels of politics and education. It won a citation in 1988 from President Reagan, and its advisory board includes representatives of prominent education groups, including teachers unions and the American Library Association.
Dallas-based Pizza Hut says Book It is the nation's largest reading motivation program -- conducted annually in about 925,000 elementary school classrooms from October 1 through March 31. A two-month program is offered for preschoolers.
Participating teachers set a monthly reading goal for each student; those who meet the goal get a certificate they can redeem at Pizza Hut for a free Personal Pan Pizza. Families often accompany the winners, turning the event into a celebration that can boost business for the restaurant.
At Strafford Elementary School in Strafford, Missouri, the roughly 500 students collectively read 30,000 books a year with Book It's help, said principal Lucille Cogdill.
I remember reading something about this in the book Fast Food Nation - there the author described the fact that many children were induced towards pairing their love for fast food and reading.
Theoretically, this should work. In essence, Book It! is a token economy, in which a person receives tokens (tickets, money, etc.) which may be exchanged for items later on. Many people have raised concerns that using this techniwque is analogous to bribery.
That's so wrong, it is not funny. Bribery is the attempt to get someone to do something that is wrong or illegal. Here we are pairing something that the child finds enjoyable with reading. We do it when children first learn to read with praise. Pizza Hut is just doing it with disgusting fast food which kids love.
I think that that is the problem - the choice of rewards is limited and not appropriate. In essence, the fast food chain is using the behavioral technology uniethically - there should be a choice of healthier awards that children should be able to choose from.
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