By Ruth Conniff on July 16, 2014

By Ruth Conniff and Nick Surgey

Grom Social, a new social media site for kids, is bursting with cuteness and commercial appeal—from the freckled 13-year-old listed as its founder, Zach Marks, to the cheerful cartoon characters on the site.

During a lunch-time presentation at Freedom Fest 2014 in Las Vegas, Zach's dad Darren explained that Grom not only allows kids to connect with friends and learn valuable lessons, it promotes a wholesome anti-bullying message and is safe, since parents monitor every click. But, best of all, according to Darren Marks, Grom is poised to cash in big by marketing products to children and parents alike, and by transforming public-education funds into profits for investors.

Walmart is in talks with Grom about advertising, the senior Marks told prospective investors in Las Vegas this month. And, the site will soon be pushing products using the subtly persuasive art of product placement and its cast of adorable cartoon avatar characters. Launched eighteen months ago, Grom has grown to more than a half million users. It is "an advertiser's dream,” Darren Marks said in Las Vegas.

Grom’s most significant partner to date is Florida Virtual Schools—the biggest provider of online classes in the nation.

Florida Virtual Schools (where Zach Marks and two of his siblings happen to be enrolled) has entered into a ten-year partnership with Grom to market a 3-D video game—newly launched on the Grom site this week—to teach math to fifth- through eighth-grade students. Students will be able to receive school credit after completing the game. The production costs, totaling $475,000, was paid entirely by Florida Virtual Schools, which will promote Grom to the 2.2 million children that use its services.

"This will be the first form of monitizing our company," Darren Marks told the rightwing crowd assembled in Vegas.

Florida Virtual Schools runs on public funds. It is fully funded through a line item in the Florida state budget. It receives additional public funds by charging local school districts when students enroll in online courses. It also sells its virtual wares to students outside the state for a $400 per semester fee.

But the big money, Darren Marks told prospective investors in his presentation, will come through merchandizing.

Teen star Kendall Schmidt has signed an exclusive contract with Grom to post a weekly column, he said, and will push Grom to his 3 million followers on Twitter and Facebook, for which he will be paid $100,000 a year, plus an “equity grant” based on performance.

MTV2 taped a segment on Grom and the Marks family for its show “Jobs that Don’t Suck.” And the Marks family appeared on Disney Interactive, Grom’s investor materials reveal, at the Grom Pound—the family compound that includes Grom headquarters, a motocross track, a six-foot half-pipe, a quarter pipe, pool, and trampoline.

The family itself is a big part of the Grom sales pitch.

Each member is depicted by a cute avatar in the Grom prospectus.

Meet Zach’s mom, “Sarah the trainer,” a certified doula and childbirth educator, as well as a triathlete, personal trainer, and mother of six.

Zach’s dad, Darren, is a former competitive body builder, competitive surfer, motocross rider, and entrepreneur.

Zach’s siblings include his brother, “Luke the Surfer,” his sister, Caroline, who won the U12 Girls United States Surfing Championships, six-year-old competitive surfer Dawson, and “Jack the Gamer,” who dreams up games for the Grom site.

Even two-year-old Victoria is said to be “constantly talking about Grom,” according to Grom's investor materials.

If Grom is successful, you may be seeing a lot more of the whole family, as they realize their dream of cashing in on education privatization.

Zach and Darren Marks came to the annual Freedom Fest conference seeking investors. Other exhibitors at the conference included the Charles Koch Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Heartland Institute, and Americans For Prosperity.

Welcome to the brave new world of education privatization, where there is money to be made by cashing in on kids, and public funds used to pay for kids’ education can be transformed into profits.

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Comments

Just another reason why the reactionaries are "pro life", wouldn't you say? The more kids The more money.
Looks like yet another front in the war against public education that Arne Duncan and the president are assisting by carrying on the practices begun during the Bush administration (and admirably exposed by Diane Ravitch, disillusioned member of the Bush Dept. of Education). The end goal is a system of publicly financed but privately managed money-making sort-of schools that push right-wing attitudes while dispensing with civics and other classes that actually foster democracy.
It amazes me the instant sceptisism and envy that is placed on anyone creating any sign of progress or success that is not already embraced by a major corporation. Cashing in on kids?? I guess Target store better stop selling pencils to students. I had the pleasure of meeting the Marks and specifically Zach, he is a smart and fun kid with a bunch of great ideas and one of them was creating a social media site that actually takes children safety into consideration. Once again we watch as websites like this and individuals like the posters above reveal how afraid they are for something that may be potentially bigger then anything they thought up. And yes it was done by a pre-teen and in most individuals lifetime they may never achieve what he has already. Way to go Marks and shame on you progressive.org. Obviously there are not a lot of parents working in your corporation and obviously you don't understand young vibrant talent when it smacks the world in the face.
There is nothing wrong with Florida Virtual Schools advertising for customers outside its state. More paying customers means less of a burden on the taxpayer for its operations. Public schools already need parents to pay for school supplies, so arguing that public spending should not allow for the creating of private market-oriented services is silly. Where's the evidence this is some right-wing front to exploit children? The biggest exploiters of kids are actually unionized public school teachers who demand more pay while test scores decline.

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Capitalism is the enemy, and the ideology of growth and dominion over the Earth.

 

South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham recently joined many of his Republican colleagues, declaring that...

John Kerry used two weak arguments to justify President Obama’s war-making.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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