Redo. This is an opportunity for redemption I offer my students when they perform poorly on a test because I believe in second chances. Last Wednesday afternoon, the students of Strom Thurmond High School were called out of their class to a hastily organized assembly (pep rally). We were given 48 hours notice but knew few details. Everything was hush-hush. I began hearing whispers from the students a couple of hours before the event. A corporation not from around here was donating a large sum of money to the school’s athletic department. It did not involve a Thurmond graduate, they said. I walked with my class toward the gymnasium and looked up at the large monitor hanging over the commons. It said, “Strom Thurmond welcomes Kinder Morgan.” What? The gas pipeline company? They couldn’t convince Georgia legislators to let them dig on their side of the river so they’ve come over to ours? Surely, our school board was not so gullible and so desperate for money that we couldn’t see through the obvious. This was an attempt to use money to soften us up so our students and the citizenry in general would think well of them and persuade our legislators to let them run their pipeline through the western counties of our state. Were there strings attached to this, as it turns out, $50,000 “gift?” Not in so many words. But the PR guy called this a “partnership.” A public service from a good corporate citizen, he said, while passing out leaflets extolling the virtues of a Kinder Morgan pipeline in our state. What does “partnership” mean? What are we expected to do on our end?
I am disturbed that our students were obligated to attend this assembly. I am disturbed the company only visits schools in their targeted counties. Would they donate money to a school NOT in their zone of interest? I am especially disturbed at their aim to have legislatures vote to use the constitutional provision of eminent domain to condemn our property if it lies in their designated pipeline area. Were these questions asked by the school board before they voted to let these people come? Why the secrecy? Why were our students allowed to be used as pawns in a high stakes political game? This is a matter of ethics. If it was a test, I think we may have failed. Rather than think of it as failure, however, it might be more gracious to approach this moment as an opportunity for our Board of Trustees to rethink and perhaps redo.