Kids are Alaska's future, but they're an untapped resource for today

Alaska's political candidates are all wrapped up in talking about resource development, and none seem visionary enough to look into the future beyond the next election cycle. If you listen to their nonstop ads, you know that oil production is going the way of the dinosaur, and according to the commercials, only this governor or that senator would know the real solution of how to keep Alaska rolling in revenue.

What we lack are new ideas, and no one seems to be reading the writing on the wall. You know, the one wall that isn't covered in campaign and initiative posters. It's clear where our future lies: Kids.

OK, that sounds like a cliche campaign sound bite coming from an educator like me, so let me revise that. It's clear where our future lies: Kids and advertising.

While all these candidates are debating about oil taxes and education funding, none of them seem to be recognize the potential right in front of their eyes. With recent Supreme Court rulings, Alaska's kids are potentially the equivalent of new legacy oil fields, giant open pit gold mines, and old growth forests waiting to be drilled, dug and chopped. Under those rules corporations are now people, and kids, if fed and educated properly, can turn into healthy and productive little companies.

Enter school reform.

It's no secret our schools are in trouble, and that we get little return on our investment in them. Under the current system, the cost-benefit of educating our kids is virtually nonexistent, and no fun. The kids grow up and move out, and then move back in and take up couch space and bandwidth. But what if they earned us revenue and learned valuable career skills?

The answer lies in turning Alaska's schools into learning factories. We don't even need to pour money in the schools, or hire the best of the best to teach the kids! All we need to do is to get the kids learning the new three R's: aRt, Ad wRiting and Revenue.


Here is what we do. We turn the school system into a "Mad Men"-style marketing firm (without the racy parts, naturally). Some students will focus on the arts, others toward more quantitative pursuits.

We could bring school bands back, and they could write and perform ad jingles. Drama departments could develop voice talent. Kids could become adept at designing and illustrating campaign materials. English classes could focus on letters to the editor and other communication services, and after election season they could run issues-based campaigns. The sciences would focus on cutting-edge film and animation technology (TV and Web, of course), and more importantly the psychology of marketing. High-level math will be needed to help with marketing budgets and all the revenue the kids will generate as they make the most effective political campaigns known to man. These are just a few ideas, but if the state plays it right, the schools could become a full-service shop, providing great value to clients and contributing to the bottom line instead of just adding red ink.

Now hold on, this isn't some socialist plan to have our students working for the state. That would be ridiculous and un-American, like Alaska selling its own oil or something. Instead, what we'll do is hold auctions and lease out the schools to corporations, the bigger the better. They'll take over the training, production and management of the kids and their advertising throughput.

Of course we wouldn't take that much revenue from the leases themselves. Our sole goal would be just to entice a few big companies to call Alaska home, and the real money will come in from a tax structure on the ads themselves. Creating those taxes will take complicated math that really only the corporations and select politicians themselves will be able to understand, and there is little doubt those rates will be completely fair and equitable.

Naturally there will be some political arguments about the level of taxation on this potentially giant new source of revenue, but the one thing we can all agree on is that with the new unlimited campaign ad rules, the possibility of revenue generated from leasing our schools would be virtually unlimited, and advertising might really become the "new oil" of Alaska's future.

Don Rearden grew up in Southwest Alaska and now lives in Anchorage. He is author of the 2013 Washington Post Notable List novel "The Raven's Gift" and is an associate professor at UAA. His views are his own. He also has an unusual sense of humor and in no way supports leasing Alaska's schools as advertising factories.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

Don Rearden

Don Rearden, author of the novel "The Raven's Gift," lives and writes in Anchorage, but often pretends he's still back somewhere on the tundra outside of Bethel.