This past Wednesday evening I accompanied my wife Tina to the Excellence in Education dinner hosted by the Keller, TX Independent School District at the Marriott Solana Hotel in Westlake, TX, which I think it’s curious to note is NOT in the Keller, ISD. Tina was recognized as her campus’ (Friendship Elementary School) Teacher of the Year, along with the Teachers of the Year from dozens of other schools in the district (some schools in Keller ISD have as many students as the entire Littleton, MA school system where she used to teach). Tina was also recognized as one of the five finalists for the Keller ISD Elementary Level Teacher of the Year, which will be named this coming Monday at the next Keller ISD Board meeting. It was a wonderful recognition, a nice dinner and a chance to meet her principal some of her other colleagues. The event was crisp and started and ended right on time, 7-8:30 p.m. It also made me think, as I tend to do about things that were never said at the event, but were hovering in the background, looming and from my perspective possibly menacing.
The event had an unmistakeable corporate presence. So much so, it seemed to me that this Independent School District is in danger of not being an arm of the public or commonwealth, but an extension of the local Chamber of Commerce. The current fiscal mess that is state budget in Texas leaves increasing little help for local ISD budgets and education seems like it’s not much of a priority here to begin with, the focus being on football and standardized testing. The dinner had a slew of corporate sponsors, local businesses and people who donated money to pay for the event. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing as there probably wouldn’t have been a dinner without them, but it was like being at a sporting event, with their names displayed on a easel at the front of the room. Many local businesses are involved with the Keller Education Foundation and help to support the Keller ISD through “financial aid made available to students and teachers of the Keller ISD.” Some of this support is in the form of grants to schools and faculty which were awarded at the dinner on Wednesday. There’s no doubt that this financial help is needed as money for funding education is sorely needed in Texas, but where should this money come from and who are we as parents and educators beholden to for the support? I’m curious and worried when the school environment becomes the corporate environment.
It was noted at the dinner on Wednesday that often people who serve on the Keller Education Foundation go on to serve on the Keller ISD School Committee. Is this something to be proud of and promote? I’m not sure. The Keller Education Foundation’s seal or logo is a pentagon, a five sided, geometric figure representing Teachers, Students, Excellence, Achievement and the Community, yet I wonder if the Community is represented or is it just the business community? Are regular citizens and member of the Community really the bulk of the Keller Education Foundation, or is that the PTA? It seemed on Wednesday night that the Keller Education Foundation was really a group of local businesses that donate money to the Keller ISD. It’s great that local businesses support education, to a point. There can also become a point where the corporate world expects their agenda carried out in exchange for their funding. This is the point that worries me.
There’s a novel by Max Barry called Jennifer Government. It’s a crime novel set in the not very distant future (it’s a world most us can imagine seeing before we die) where:
The world is run by American corporations; there are no taxes; employees take the last names of the companies they work for; the Police and the NRA are publicly-traded security firms; the government can only investigate crimes it can bill for.
The schools in the world of this novel are run by each company and corporation, teach the history of business and/or the company, and skills needed to work for that company. Things like art, music, literature, are pursuits for your spare time when you are not at work. This is the world I fear we are headed for when I see school district awards dinner so dominated by corporate presence. Is the Keller Education Foundation ever going to award a grant to a social studies teacher, for example, to teach students about the troubling history of corporate personhood? Probably not. Maybe so, I don’t know. I’m still too new to schools being run by entities not directly tied to local governments to understand their full complexities, but it seems the system is more ripe for privatization and abuse. I do know I am more motivated than I was to spend what little time I have available to find out and get more involved. Tony Church signing off.