Would You Let Halliburton Teach Your Children?

Source: Houstonisd.org. 

Halliburton Company (NYSE: HAL  ) , Royal Dutch Shell (NYSE: RDS-B  ) (NYSE: RDS-A  ) , Apache Corp. (NYSE: APA  ) , and other energy companies have teamed up to help open the first "Energy Institute" high school in the nation. The state-of-the-art school is enough to make any cash-strapped system salivate, but with corporate interests attached, will your child receive a well-rounded education?

Academia and energy
Located in Houston, the magnet Energy Institute High School offer students grades 9-12 a unique opportunity unlike any other. With an eye toward "the big crew change" taking place in Big Oil and Gas, energy companies like Halliburton, Royal Dutch Shell, and Apache have taken teaching into their own hands to support this new school.

In the ribbon-cutting ceremony, seen in the following video, Independent Petroleum Association President and CEO Barry Russell notes that there "are many opportunities in the industry, and we think that there are some real-world ways we can share that with the students."

Energy Institute HS Ribbon Cutting from Houston ISD on Vimeo.

According to a Rigzone interview with Rene Flores, the school's science, technology, engineering, and match coordinator, the Energy Institute offers students three academic paths: geosciences, offshore technology, or energy alternatives. The Institute places high importance on project-based group learning -- every four-year student will complete 150 different projects in 150 different groups and give 150 presentations by the time they graduate.

But while the education design is innovative and the funding fantastic, there's no beating around the bush that Halliburton, Royal Dutch Shell, Apache, and other energy company executives will be sitting on the institute's board, helping to design the school's curriculum. That could mean that students are receiving the best education possible -- but a biased one.

Corporate classroom?
The Energy Institute High School may be the first of its kind, but Corporate America's classroom exposure has been a contentious issue for decades. Parents have long worried about the overbearing presence and subliminal marketing of food and beverage companies in schools throughout the nation.

In Fast Food Nation: The Dark Side of the All-American Meal, author Eric Schlosser follows the forays of the man who essentially created school sponsorships, starting with a 1996 deal between a Texas school district and Dr Pepper Snapple Group, worth $3.4 million. Over the next three years, the broker would go on to negotiate $200 million in corporate school sponsorship deals across 60 school systems and 17 universities.

An article in the January 1999 issue of Beverage Industry makes it easy enough to understand why: "Influencing elementary school students is very important to soft drink marketers because children are still establishing their tastes and habits." According to the article, 8-year-olds are considered ideal customers, because they have around 65 years of purchasing to go.

Energizing adolescents
It doesn't take too much imagination to envision a similar article hitting the stands of any energy publication: "Influencing high school students is very important to energy employment because students are still establishing their skills and interests. They are ideal candidates, because they still have a full 40 years of employment ahead of them."

The Energy Institute High School will undoubtedly benefit from state-of-the-art facilities. Students will reap the rewards of meaningful internships and real-life experiences. But with executives from Halliburton, Royal Dutch Shell, Apache, and other energy companies sitting on the board and helping to design school curricula, one wonders at what cost?

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