Opinion
Education Opinion

Pikachu Goes To School

By Bruce S. Cooper & Sheree T. Speakman — April 01, 2000 4 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print
Believe it or not, kids’ obsession with Pokémon can be put to good use in the classroom.

Marketing products to children has reached a new high, as Pokémon has expanded from a Japanese Nintendo game; to trading, playing, and collectible cards; to T-shirts and other merchandise; to a blockbuster film. It’s all pitched to America’s youngest consumers (even kindergartners), who now command millions in sales through the efforts of parents to please their kids.

For those not in the know, Pokémon (short for Pocket Monster) is a Japanese cast of monster characters that can be collected as color cards ($4 for a set of 11 at Toys R Us). There are 151 characters with different powers, values, weights, weaknesses, categories, and sub-categories. The character Charizard, for example, is a flying dragon with a burning tail; Snorlax, an overenergized cat; and Pikachu, an Asian version of Pooh Bear. Some cards are rarer than others and thus more valuable: A single card showing Hitmonlee, a collector’s item, is worth $10 on the trading market, and a few of the rarest species have sold for $100 or more. Since Pokémon series are discontinued one by one, the cards gain value over time and are peddled to the highest bidder.

Given the massive assault on our children’s senses, we shouldn’t be surprised that Pokémon is having fascinating, complex effects on their education and, potentially, on their schools—some good, some bad.

Let’s start with the bad: Elementary school administrators and teachers complain that collecting Pokémon cards has an element of gambling to it (a kiddy Lotto) since, when buying packets of the cards, children don’t know which characters are included. Kids buy packet after packet in the hope of landing the most coveted cards.

Teachers report that recess, once a time when children would run around, play sports, and let off steam, is being transformed into a frenetic trading session that resembles the New York Stock Exchange. Children burst into tears when transactions go wrong and demand their cards back. Bigger and smarter students prey on the smaller and weaker ones, as the cards become serious sources of antagonism, violence, and exploitation. One mother reports a late-night visit from a parent returning a Charizard worth $35 that his child had ripped off. “Learning to share” doesn’t work very well in the competitive world of Poké-paraphernalia.

While some kids can’t identify state capitals if their lives depend on it, they can rattle off the names and special qualities of scores of Pokémon monsters. Cards become sources of power, money, and prestige for little children. As with other collectibles, Pokémon cards, balls, toys, films, videos, and whatever other “products” the industry churns out are symbols of unity and inclusion among young children, even as they become sources of conflict and chicanery.

A number of schools have already banned Pokémon cards as disruptive, unhealthy influences on children. Still, teachers report catching students swapping cards on the sly in bathrooms and hallways. Some kids have even been found trading during lessons and fire drills. Students caught with the cards are reprimanded and may be required to bring a parent to school. A second offense can lead to card confiscation until the end of the school year.

The Pokémon phenomenon disturbs people on two levels. Some critics are bothered that companies market so effectively and expensively to children so young. Others worry that these children—bankrolled by their parents and perhaps aping other grown-ups—are becoming avid capitalists, selling and trading with the same intensity as the manufacturers and advertisers who push these cards, videos, games, and other junk to youngsters.

But could there also be benefits from Pokémon? Lynn Darling thinks so.

But could there also be benefits from Pokémon? Lynn Darling, an author and parent writing on the op-ed page of the New York Times last November, thinks so. In her piece, she described how her daughter “sees Pokémon as a world over which she has total control, a place where her perseverance is rewarded” and where she can establish her own code of ethics.

Perhaps educators need to take a closer look at the Pokémon card game, with its complex rules, similar to bridge or hearts. (In the game, students put cards on the table as an ante and, using a 60-card deck to build “tricks” based on the relative power or enhancements of card combinations, “take” the other student’s tricks. Winners claim the six-card pot.) Surely, curriculum designers should be able to harness the game’s concepts and strategies and apply them to, say, Greek mythology or the periodic table: “I’ll trade you two barium cards for three nitrogens.” Why not convert engrossing children’s games into exciting learning tools?

To the degree that Pokémon cards are a disruption, a source of conflict at home or at school, they need to be controlled, just like any other toy. But they also give young students something in common that’s not as violent as other games. And like baseball cards, they test children’s skills to categorize, value, and buy and sell. The challenge for educators is to make Pokémon-style learning more of an opportunity for students in the classroom.

And who knows? These cards may actually be training young entrepreneurs to become our future stock-option experts and global business leaders, exhibiting early skills needed in our fast-paced, Pokémon-eat-Pokémon, capitalist society.


A version of this article appeared in the April 01, 2000 edition of Teacher as Pikachu Goes To School


Commenting has been disabled on edweek.org effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Teaching Webinar
6 Key Trends in Teaching and Learning
As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and a return to the classroom for many—we come better prepared, but questions remain. How will the last year impact teaching and learning this school
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Education More States Are Requiring Schools to Teach Native American History and Culture
Advocates say their efforts have gained some momentum with the nation’s reckoning over racial injustice since the killing of George Floyd.
3 min read
A dancer participates in an intertribal dance at Schemitzun on the Mashantucket Pequot Reservation in Mashantucket, Conn., Saturday, Aug. 28, 2021. Connecticut and a handful of other states have recently decided to mandate students be taught about Native American culture and history. (AP Photo/Jessica Hill)
Education Judge's Temporary Order Allows Iowa Schools to Mandate Masks
A federal judge ordered the state to immediately halt enforcement of a law that prevents school boards from ordering masks to be worn.
4 min read
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds speaks to reporters following a news conference, Thursday, Aug. 19, 2021, in West Des Moines, Iowa. Reynolds lashed out at President Joe Biden Thursday after he ordered his education secretary to explore possible legal action against states that have blocked school mask mandates and other public health measures meant to protect students against COVID-19. Reynolds, a Republican, has signed a bill into law that prohibits school officials from requiring masks, raising concerns as delta variant virus cases climb across the state and schools resume classes soon. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Education Hurricane Ida Deals New Blow to Louisiana Schools Struggling to Reopen
The opening of the school year offered teachers a chance to fully assess the pandemic's effects, only to have students forced out again.
8 min read
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021. Louisiana students, who were back in class after a year and a half of COVID-19 disruptions kept many of them at home, are now missing school again after Hurricane Ida. A quarter-million public school students statewide have no school to report to, though top educators are promising a return is, at most, weeks away, not months.
Six-year-old Mary-Louise Lacobon sits on a fallen tree beside the remnants of her family's home destroyed by Hurricane Ida, in Dulac, La., on Sept. 4, 2021.
John Locher/AP
Education Massachusetts National Guard to Help With Busing Students to School
250 guard personnel will be available to serve as drivers of school transport vans, as districts nationwide struggle to hire enough drivers.
1 min read
Massachusetts National Guard soldiers help with logistics in this Friday, April 17, 2020 file photo, at a food distribution site outside City Hall, in Chelsea, Mass. Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker on Monday, Sept. 13, 2021, activated the state's National Guard to help with busing students to school as districts across the country struggle to hire enough drivers.
Massachusetts National Guard soldiers help with logistics in this Friday, April 17, 2020 file photo, at a food distribution site outside City Hall, in Chelsea, Mass.
Michael Dwyer/AP