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Larry Leach: Do We Want A Corporate-Influenced Education System?

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As a follow up to my recent post on the Calgary Board of Education's new policy which opens the door to corporate sponsorship of Calgary classrooms, lets take a look at some real life situations that can realistically happen in the near future.

One school, which will look outside public dollars is the National Sports School, which has had many successes in combining a quality education and the rigorous schedule of a high performance athlete. In partnership with Winsport Canada, our Calgary Olympic legacy organization, it is said to be at the cutting edge of educating tomorrows medal winners. A fantastic breading ground for corporate spokespeople and a great source for future payback. In this scenario, the athlete's need corporate sponsorship to achieve their goals and need to learn how to attract and keep a good sponsor.

So how will a classroom sponsorship affect the relationship with their own sponsors? Will these athlete's be beholden to these CBE corporate sponsors without their agreement? Will these classroom sponsors expect first dibs on all on the most marketable athlete's? Will the thousands of dollars they put into their sports dreams be influenced by the classroom sponsor? The Air Canada gymnasium, the Nike science lab and the Gatorade cafeteria will all have legal agreements in place that will make sure the corporation gets it's full value for this classroom sponsorship. So these athlete's who travel all over the world, will choose Air Canada, drink Gatorade and wear Nike?

This is not "Pie in the Sky", "what if" thinking. The policy is there, today and real. Agreements with corporations may be already on the works or even in place? Currently there is no mechanism for these agreements to be made public until the Corporation and the Calgary Board of Education administration decide it is time for us to know. Our publicly funded, taxpayer owned schools, branded to influence minors, right here in Calgary.

Scenario number 2 is one I think will hit home to many parents. Will Corporate branding of classrooms influence my child's education? If we rewind a few years prior to the large off shore Oil Spill off the coast of Florida, BP had branded itself as a clean energy, environmental thinking company investing in wind and other sustainable energy sources, they still do today. They were and currently are sponsors of "A plus for energy" program which funds schools based on environmental project the students would undertake, the winner of which would get $10,000 for their school. Based on that, and Calgary being Oil rich and home to many head offices, it is highly likely BP would have been happy to enter into a partnership if the opportunity presented itself, to brand classrooms and fund ongoing environmental studies in Calgary schools. They may even currently be in talks now?

So if you are a teacher in this scenario, in a classroom sponsored by BP and the Oil Spill is the number one story for months in the news, how do you as a teacher discuss this without bias? Can you be honest about BP's well publicized failures? Can you speak about it with candor in your social studies class? Even if you are free to speak your mind, how does it look to your students and parents. You may have no credibility just having the company logo on the wall. How would the Calgary Board of Education look in this scenario? Would environmental groups target the CBE for associating itself with such a corporation?

This too is a very real scenario, that will play itself out in the coming months. If you feel strongly about it, one way or the other, contact your elected representatives.