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A friend, who happens to be an early childhood expert, just got off the phone with the Judge Baker Children’s Center here in Boston. She is withdrawing future support for the Center’s research and will no longer pay membership dues. That’s a tough blow for the community mental health center which, up until today, was well-respected for supporting the well-being of children.
And my friend is not alone.
Advocates for early childhood are fuming about this report in today’s Times. The center provided a home for the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, a coalition of advocates dedicated to protecting children from consumerism. It got ousted from its office after Disney complained about the Campaign’s advocacy efforts against Baby Einstein, a Disney-owned franchise.
It seems the big boys at Disney were none too pleased when the Campaign forced its marketing team to take the word “educational” out of its advertising for the Baby Einstein products, which were hyped as a tool to teach your baby to be a genius. The Campaign produced research contending that the company’s videos were not educational at all, but simply functioned as an electronic babysitter. Threatened with a lawsuit, Disney eventually offered refunds for the videos.
(Disclosure: I bought the Baby Einstein video in a community toy store, when another parent gave me the hard sales pitch, contending that her husband, a concert pianist, thought they were brilliant. It made my son, then about 15 months old, wail when a dinosaur puppet opened its mouth wide and shouted “Bleh!” Alas, it’s long gone, so I didn’t get my refund.)
Anyway, it was unprecedented that Disney would offer the refunds, although none of the lawyers in the settlement would comment at the time. It seemed so refreshing: A little advocacy group takes on a giant corporate conglomerate and wins. Hey, it’s the stuff of fairy tales, maybe even a Disney cartoon!
But it turns out that Disney didn’t take this one and just walk away. According to Dr. Alvin V. Poussaint, the Harvard psychiatrist who oversees the Campaign and runs a media center at Judge Baker, Disney put up its dukes and complained to the PTB at the community health center. As a result, the tiny advocacy group got booted from its office last month.
This is just incomprehensible. No one from the Center is talking about what conspired during phone calls with Disney, but it is bizarre that a center that prides itself in research and treatment for children’s mental health issues would capitulate to pressure from Hollywood. The uproar that is about to ensue is going to shake the foundation of a community organization that relies on good will and grassroots support.
I have a feeling the phones are ringing off the hook at the Judge Baker Center, and many people are withdrawing their support. And Poussaint, remember, is a Friend of Bill — as in Cosby, another educator who champions the health and education of young children. Disney may have gotten the critics evicted, but these critics are not going to cower when the Big Bad Wolf Business wields its power. A big fat donation from Disney isn’t going to undo the mistrust that’s simmering in the community. The score may be even, but this isn’t over, not yet.