Reading, Writing...And Retail

This Jan. 30, 2009 file photo shows the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort in Atlantic City, N.J. An employee was shot Wednesday May 27, 2009 inside the Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort and died soon afterward, and a suspect was in custody, the casino's CEO said. AP Photo/Mel Evans, file

Across the country, a growing number of schools are taking America's classrooms into America's malls, reports CBS News Correspondent Mika Brzezinski.

A group of Chicago kindergarteners recently went on a school field trip. But the animals they saw weren't in the zoo, they were at a Petco pet supply store.

Some fifth graders took a trip to learn about sports, or rather sporting gear, at a local Sports Authority chain store.

The schools are coordinating these outings through The Field Trip Factory in Chicago, the brainchild of marketing expert Susan Singer.

Says Singer: "If you can take that lesson and teach it two blocks away at a local retailer and it's really the same lesson, why not?"

Clients, including Petco and The Sports Authority, pay her company to coordinate "educational field trips." The Field Trip Company offers these outing to schools free of charge.

What do the clients get in return? A captive and eager audience.

"These children have the potential to be their future customers and not only their future customers but their future employees," says Singer.

On a recent trip, kids were asked if they would want to come back to The Sports Authority. A swath of hands went up.

Field trips certainly can be fun and educational. But critics say these particular trips teach more about brand loyalty and shopping than anything else.

"What is the point? I think the point is to drum up business for the local retailer," says Alex Molnar, of the Education Policy Studies Laboratory. Molnar is the author of an annual study which finds a growing acceptance of commercialism in schools.

"I think we need to be looking for ways to reduce the amount of commercial exposure children have, not increase it," says Molnar.

But a teacher on one of these trips said she buys into the idea of the program.

"They will come here with what they've learned and be better shoppers and better consumers for it," says Sandy Marciniak, of Piper Elementary School.

And that, says marketing expert Singer, is one way stores can give back to the community. It's a formula that sells.

"Two years ago we were in eight states. This past fall we were in 43 states, and this coming fall we're hoping to be really everywhere," she said.

So parents may want to get ready for the new curriculum of reading, writing ... and retail. Coming to a school near you.

  • David Hancock

    David Hancock is a home page editor for CBSNews.com.

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