Pan pizza


November 18, 1999

ONE mother shares a strange dream that came early one morning before her son's first day of school: As she walked the hallways, she realized every billboard was brightly decorated by a corporate sponsor.

The dream was forgotten until a PTA meeting some weeks later, when her son's kindergarten teacher explained a schoolwide reading incentive program. Each month, children who finished 10 books would receive a reward. Great, thought the mother, until she heard more.

Each child's prize: a coupon from a pizza franchise for a child-size pie. She noticed the bright red roof of the restaurant on the coupon.

Every month, she thought, her son would, too. What was he learning in the long run about the love of reading from a flash-in-the-pan pizza?

When she talked with other parents, they protested. Kids are so distracted with television and computer games, they said. Anything to get them to read, they said.

Anything, she thought. Exactly.

Shouldn't incentives in a reading program include, say, books?

It seems retailers encourage loves other than literary ones by offering opportunities to redeem coupons (and -- incidentally -- buy dinner for the rest of the family).

We can hardly protest advertisers' hooking children at an early age if we seat them with us at the dinner table. To one mother's mind, it is certainly food for thought.

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