This looked like such a good initiative – a free memory stick was exciting enough, but the idea of it coming preloaded with all kinds of goodies? I had actually started thinking about something similar myself, a while back – the idea of a small number of resources, easily adapted by teachers to make their lives easier. That idea actually grew into this blog, which hasn’t quite worked out as planned but has still been interesting. The ‘free’ memory stick, however, is yet to come. I had pretty much written it off anyway, but the December newsletter arrived at a time when I had a chance to read it properly. Hmmm. Time to blog about this, I thought. So let’s be organised and separate my concerns.
Talk is cheap
The memory stick never arrives. According to threads all over the place (Times Ed, a forum for history teachers, IT professionals, MoneySavingExpert) most people haven’t received them. More interestingly, different people get told different time scales and reasons for the non-arrival.
I’ve had a look around on the website, but have yet to find a specific reference to (a) the number that have been sent out or (b)how long it will be before they are delivered. There is plenty of information about how good they’ll be, although a lot of the material seems to be aimed at companies offering advertising space rather than at us, the teachers.
They’re not listening
There has been no response to the ‘unsubscribe’ requests I’ve made, using the link at the bottom of the monthly
spam newsletter. There’s been no reply to the contact form I filled in on their website. And they haven’t (yet) replied to my email asking for clarification of the figures. Of course, I could phone them – via the 0871 number on their website. Don’t think I’ll worry about that.
Just because a company makes it difficult for us to talk to them isn’t necessarily suspicious. But it is interesting.
The email isn’t for our benefit
On reading the monthly newsletter, it doesn’t feel like it’s really aimed at teachers as professionals. There are some teaching-related items, but these are in the form of adverts for discounted resources or occasionally links to professional groups such as the Royal Society of Chemistry. (More about these in a moment). Many of the adverts are totally unrelated to teaching. Digging a little deeper, I’ve found that it’s effectively a project run by RGS Media, a company offering advertising links to teachers. This suggests to me that the email is their way of telling their customers (the companies and groups paying for adverts, not us the teachers) that they are ‘reaching the target audience’. Presumably they not only have numbers showing how many teachers are being emailed, but also by following through the clickable adverts, or using the discount codes, teachers demonstrate the email is working. Working for them, not us.
A quote I remember on Lifehacker seems to fit nicely: “If you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer – you’re the product being sold.”
Choice of advertisers
I’m sure there are other advertisers with dubious practices – after all, relatively few large companies have completely clean hands. But one in the last email particularly caught my eye.
The ‘Human Values Foundation‘ is a group, international in scope, which offers complete teaching packages to schools. These schemes of work, with lessons plans and other resources, are designed to fill a gap in ‘values-led education – what in the UK is called Personal Social and Health Education or PSHE. Their website suggests that they are values-led but not linked to any particular faith or religion:
“The HVF is a non-denominational and independent body, which does not represent or work on behalf of any particular religion or spiritual interest.”
This is an interesting claim as there is an uncanny similarity between the five guiding principles of the Human Values Foundation (listed here) and those of the teachings of ‘Sri Sathya Sai Baba, the revered spiritual leader who resides in India’. (principles here). Now, despite my own religious preferences (i.e. none to speak of) I have nothing against these ideas – in fact they seem like a reasonable start. My own objection is that the HVF claims to be secular, while in fact being based on the same principles as a religious sect. Maybe it’s a science teacher thing – they either need to give their references or stop making claims!
The sample activities visible seem, to a non-specialist, pretty good. I certainly don’t object to the content, or even to the mode of delivery. I’ve asked on the TES Forums about the complete package, but have had no replies to date, I’m particularly curious about lessons and parts of the course dealing with the usual flash points between religion and citizenship – equal opportunities, sexuality, abortion and so on. Please drop me a line if you have any information!
Anyway, this is just one example of the – shall we say uneven? – nature of the advertisers who use the Memory4Teachers ‘initiative’ to reach us, as teaching professionals. I’m not going to argue that RGS Media should be doing their job differently – after all, they don’t work for us! But having written this piece I have a fresh appreciation for two pieces of advice. One is from one of my favourite authors, Robert Heinlein, the other attributed to another, older science fiction writer, H G Wells:
“TANSTAAFL: There ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.” and “Advertising is legalized lying.”