This week, the story broke that BP took part in developing environmental education curriculum for more than 6 million students in California. This raises the question of the role of corporate involvement in education and the potential for improper influence on educational content that may have bearing on how corporate energy interests are portrayed. According to the Sacramento Bee, BP was represented in a technical working group that developed the program’s guiding principles. Specific examples of questionable content have not been provided at this point, but objections were raised by several sources in light of BP’s already dismal safety and environmental records even before the Deepwater Horizon disaster—not to mention the company’s tight control of media coverage and the slick PR campaign deployed after the incident. And why is the world’s sixth-largest oil producer spending “heavily on green education initiatives in California,” when it declined to pay for a blowout preventer that could have forestalled the worst environmental disaster in US history?
The article in the Sacramento Bee quotes Gerald Lieberman, a curriculum expert who served as the state’s consultant, as saying that “it was important to get all sides of the environmental debate involved in developing the classroom materials.”
The mention of an “environmental debate” is troubling in reference to science curriculum—because, after all, we’ve seen this movie before—but so far no specific evidence in this case. So the bigger question is: how appropriate are corporate sponsorships of or participation in designing educational initiatives? Who is watching out for how curricula might be affected by the involvement of powerful corporate interests? We already know the designs that coal companies have on educational content in West Virginia, for one.
Although BP was the only oil company represented, the following “industry and private institutions” are also listed as participating organizations in the technical working groups in developing the curriculum (universities, environmental organizations, and government agencies are also represented):
American Chemistry Council
American Plastics Council
British Petroleum America, Inc.
California Conference of Directors of Environmental Health
California Forest Products Commission & the Forest Foundation
Consulting Engineers & Land Surveyors of California
Gladstein and Associates
Glass Packaging Institute
Hitachi Global Storage Technologies
Lockheed Martin Aeronautics Co.
McGuire Environmental Consultants, Inc.
National Geographic Society
California Ocean Science Trust
Pacific Gas and Electric Energy Center
The RAND Corporation
Education and the Environment Technical Working Groups