As a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, Alex Molnar dealt with a controversial situation that taught him the importance of education policy and research.
The task force he was in charge of made a recommendation (later passed as law), to reduce K-3 class sizes to 15 students per teacher in schools with high percentages of students living in poverty stricken areas.
Molner said that those opposed argued, “it would cost a lot of money and not produce in the way of results, they were simply in error.”
“There was a lot of research and support to do exactly what the task force recommended,” Molnar said. “Perhaps some of the most powerful research in American education stood behind that particular recommendation.”
Regardless, the subject became contended and “intensely debated politically.”
This propelled Molner to realize that “by its nature, education policy and education policy research is going to always involve some measure of controversy, it’s inescapable.”
The Research Professor and Publications Director at the National Education Policy Center, Molnar was recently recognized as one of the top 200 influential researchers in the nation in education.
Motivated by his main goal of seeing that “every child has access to a high quality public education,” Molnar’s primary responsibilities as publications director for the NEPC are to oversee the management of the website and to organize and manage the publication of research produced by the NEPC.
A professor for over 40 years now, Molnar grew up in a working class neighborhood on the northwest side of Chicago in the 1950s and 60s. Coming from a family with very little financial support, Molnar still had access to a high quality education.
“The experience that I had shaped my interest that other kids that came from modest circumstances, or circumstances that are more desperate than my own would have the same chance,” Molnar said.
After graduating high school, Molnar attended Wilbur Wright College, North Park University, East Illinois University, Southern Illinois University and the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.
Throughout his life and education, Molnar worked with many influential professors and researchers, people such as Merrill Harmin, author of “Inspiring Active Learning: A Complete Handbook for Today’s Teachers,” Steve De Shazer, a psychotherapist who developed solution-focused brief therapy, and Jim McDonald who was a researcher for curriculum design and “a philosopher of education.”
A father since the age of 18, Molnar’s children and wife also influenced him to become an advocate for equal rights in education regardless of financial situation.
Molnar’s book “Sold Out,” which will soon hit the shelves, speaks of how marketing to children in schools threatens their well-being and undermines their education.
Since 1999, Molnar has provided an annual report on commercialism in schools, published by the NEPC’s Commercialism Education Research Unit, or CERU, available on the NEPC website.
Molnar gave the example of Unilever – a corporation that owns both Dove and Axe – to describe the concepts revolving around this book.
“Dove is marketed to women and girls and Axe is marketed to boys and men,” Molnar said.
“If you look at Dove, they have a highly praised commercial campaign that says ‘Your beauty isn’t defined by others’ in effect,” Molnar said. “The same company is happy to promote to boys that girls will become rapaciously attracted to them, unthinkingly attracted to them, if they douse themselves with Axe.”
Molnar continued by saying that he has a 13-year-old grandson who does the latter “probably not even knowing exactly why, but Axe folks want him to believe that semi-naked women are going to be jumping out of bathtubs, running across fields to be near him because he is wearing Axe.”
“These semi-naked women are being told that they shouldn’t let others define what beauty is, so what does Unilever then represent? Dove or Axe?” Molnar said.
He said that the answer was that both of the campaigns are Unilever while not being Unilever at the same time.
“Those values are essentially meaningless,” Molnar said. “They are values deployed for one purpose: to sell products, and that’s a very different thing then educating young people to not to look to others for a sense of understanding for what their beauty and value is.”
“It is a very different thing than helping young people understand that they are attractive to others when they are not attractive to themselves,” Molnar said.
This is just one example of the kind of topics investigated in “Sold Out.”
He expressed the difficulty of doing this type of research for a long time.
“It’s sad, it’s hard to live with the sorrow of it and it’s discouraging because if you examine the research year after year people will say: ‘Advertising doesn’t influence my behavior,’” he said.
The evidence provided through Molnar’s research suggests otherwise.
“People are wasting a lot of money advertising,” Molnar said.
Soon to be published by Rowman & Littlefield, his book is projected to be released in late spring or early autumn.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Rebecca Viale at email@example.com.