Monday, April 30, 2012

Penny Wise and Pound Foolish Conservative Ideology

So have you noticed the huge increase in drug addicted applicants applying for public support? No? Neither has anyone else. Yet, among the proposals of some conservatives is to drug test applicants for welfare.

Why? Well, quite frankly, it's another one of those legislative sleights of hand meant to address offenses that are the figments of the imaginations of its supporters. You know, like 'welfare queens' driving Cadillacs (Reagan's invention); Rapist Willie Horton, terrorizing the country side while on furlough (George H.W. Bush and Lee Atwater's contrivance) and the foreign born non-citizen assuming the identity of a conscientious American citizen in order to stand in line and vote (the fictitious villain of the 2012 GOP).

The other one is the heroin-crack-meth addict who is trying to apply for unemployment...

Now of course, this is all done in under the guise of fiscal responsibility. We have to stop these people before they drain the national coffers, because its these poor people who are the one sapping the economic vitality of the U.S.

But it is again, the habit of blaming the poor for the economic woes of this country.

Pulitzer Prize columnist Cynthia Tucker has it right when she says, "Poor people are useful during political season."

"Politicians offer up the impoverished to distract from the myriad problems for which their platforms propose no workable solutions: Is the treasury awash in red ink? Are there too many demands on a shrinking government purse? Then let’s tighten up on largesse for the very poor."

"Never mind that traditional welfare programs barely make a dent in federal spending. Middle-class voters are eager to hear plans that aim the budget-cutting ax away from the entitlement programs, such as Medicare, which have a large constituency among the well-heeled."

"After all, voters, like political candidates, find it useful to point the finger at the less fortunate. The impoverished serve to remind the rest of us of our obvious moral superiority, of our wise choices, of our supreme good judgment in not being born poor."

"That’s why the current season has brought another round of the faddish insistence on mandatory drug tests for beneficiaries of welfare. Nathan Deal, Georgia’s Republican governor, has become the latest political leader to get in on the mischief-making, signing a bill passed by the GOP-dominated Legislature that would require drug tests for recipients of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families."

"In places where conservative policymakers tend to gather — such as meetings of the American Legislative Exchange Council — proposals such as this are offered up in lieu of legislation that might actually reduce spending or boost government efficiency or improve the lives of the poor."

"Mitt Romney, the likely GOP nominee for president, has endorsed the idea. In February, congressional Republicans refused to pass an extension of unemployment benefits until the legislation allowed states to require drug tests for the jobless."

And Tucker proves how ridiculous this thinking is when she reports the results of such laws when placed in effect...

"...[Florida] GOP Gov. Rick Scott signed the drug-test requirement last year."

"Though conservatives insist that the measure will save money, it didn’t in the Sunshine State. It didn’t reduce welfare rolls or uncover a culture of meth- or crack-addicted “welfare queens.”"

"According to Florida state documents released last week, only 108 of the 4,086 would-be beneficiaries who were tested from July to October of last year failed. (The documents were released by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which obtained them as a result of a lawsuit against the drug-testing requirement. The ACLU notes that the law violates the Fourth Amendment ban against unreasonable search and seizure.)"

"That’s 2 1/2 percent, folks — a far smaller percentage of drug users than among the general population. According to last year’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health, conducted by the federal government, 10 percent of Americans reported regularly using illegal drugs."

"Since taxpayers pay for the drug tests and since the requirement is likely to continue generating lawsuits, it will end up costing more in the long run. But it’s pretty clear that this idea was never about saving money or helping the poor. Quite the opposite: It’s another in a long list of mean-spirited proposals to inconvenience and intimidate the impoverished, as if their lives are not already difficult enough."

Of course there is real fraud to which conservatives could turn their attention...

Medicare billing fraud costs tax payers about $60 billion a year. That's fraud by medical professionals. If Florida Governor Rick Scott were serious, he'd realize that the money he used to test 4000 people applying for unemployment, would have better been used helping the feds catch those who fraudulently filing Medicare claims for HIV/AIDS victims. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, 72% of the nations claims came from South Florida. Of course the problem is only 8% of the HIV/AIDS Medicare beneficiaries actually LIVE in South Florida. 

But of course, we're not talking about the poor, now are we? 

Our problem is that it is to easy to mask our political expediency in garbs of 'concern' for the poor and the 'morality' of fiscal conservatism. We want to be distracted by simplistic arguments that will help us avoid the discomfort of caring and actually thinking. The poor are easy targets for that type of distraction - and our politicians know it...

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Dr. William J. Shaw: An Example of Preaching Excellence

It was 1975 and I was a one of 1100 young men and women in the freshman class at Bishop College.
I had just started preaching earlier that spring, and I went to Bishop to study for the ministry.
In the black Baptist church, preaching is what credentials you and in those days, preparation for the preaching ministry meant an education, and Bishop was known for 'producing' some of the most profound preachers in the country.

At 18, I had not yet discovered very many models for preaching beyond my father, grandfather and their peers. But one day, at one of our schools chapel services, one of the trustees of Bishop and one of the most prominent preachers in our convention delivered the message. He was Dr. William J. Shaw, pastor of the White Rock Baptist Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Dr. Shaw was himself, an alumnus of our school and was a preacher of some renown, but even though I had grown up in the church, I hadn't heard him or of him, for that matter. But that day, he became first among my 'preaching heroes'.

Shaw's message that Friday was 'The Bottom Line of Excellence', in which he explained how Christ's obedience, even to the point of death on Calvary, was the model for excellence - a model for which the Resurrection was Heavenly recognition and reward.

On that day, I realized that he was the 'type' of preacher I wanted to be. Without disrespect to my father and grandfather, Shaw's smooth manner in the pulpit, his ability to make Biblical truth plain; his scholarly and yet accessible approach to proclamation was emotionally satisfying and intellectually stimulating.

This sermon is evidence that 37 years after I first heard William Shaw, he still has those same qualities; qualities that I still strive to emulate. But they are also qualities that I believe make preaching something more than mass therapy or ecclesiastical entertainment. It really is the means to which God, through the men and women He chooses, reaches out to the hearts, souls and minds of mankind to draw them to Himself. In my mind, very few have done it as well as Dr. Shaw. Even fewer have done it better.

I trust this blesses you as it has me!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

George Allen


National Football League Hall of Fame Head Coach

“People of mediocre ability sometimes achieve outstanding success because they don't know when to quit.”

Friday, April 27, 2012

Catholic Academics' Letter to Rep. Paul Ryan

I'm no expert on the Catholic Church's teaching on social justice. I generally rely on my friends who are Catholic priests for that. But it will come to know surprise to you that I admire the letter written by 98 Catholic scholars to Rep. Paul Ryan delineating how his proposed budget is antithetical to the values and teachings of their Church.

Did I say 'admire' - 'envy' is more like it. I wish that more leaders within my denomination would come forward with a similar missive to explain how a politics of materialism and exclusion is not only inhumane, but is the very definition of class warfare.

Here's the letter - a superb explanation of the need for a politics which, in order to be truly reflective of the heart of the Christian faith, cannot evade a commitment to our most vulnerable citizens...

Dear Rep. Paul Ryan,

Welcome to Georgetown University. We appreciate your willingness to talk about how Catholic social teaching can help inform effective policy in dealing with the urgent challenges facing our country. As members of an academic community at a Catholic university, we see your visit on April 26 for the Whittington Lecture as an opportunity to discuss Catholic social teaching and its role in public policy.

\However, we would be remiss in our duty to you and our students if we did not challenge your continuing misuse of Catholic teaching to defend a budget plan that decimates food programs for struggling families, radically weakens protections for the elderly and sick, and gives more tax breaks to the wealthiest few. As the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has wisely noted in several letters to Congress – “a just framework for future budgets cannot rely on disproportionate cuts in essential services to poor persons.” Catholic bishops recently wrote that “the House-passed budget resolution fails to meet these moral criteria.”

In short, your budget appears to reflect the values of your favorite philosopher, Ayn Rand, rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Her call to selfishness and her antagonism toward religion are antithetical to the Gospel values of compassion and love.

Cuts to anti-hunger programs have devastating consequences. Last year, one in six Americans lived below the official poverty level and over 46 million Americans – almost half of them children – used food stamps for basic nutrition. We also know how cuts in Pell Grants will make it difficult for low-income students to pursue their educations at colleges across the nation, including Georgetown. At a time when charities are strained to the breaking point and local governments have a hard time paying for essential services, the federal government must not walk away from the most vulnerable.

While you often appeal to Catholic teaching on “subsidiarity” as a rationale for gutting government programs, you are profoundly misreading Church teaching. Subsidiarity is not a free pass to dismantle government programs and abandon the poor to their own devices. This often misused Catholic principle cuts both ways. It calls for solutions to be enacted as close to the level of local communities as possible. But it also demands that higher levels of government provide help -- “subsidium”-- when communities and local governments face problems beyond their means to address such as economic crises, high unemployment, endemic poverty and hunger. According to Pope Benedict XVI: "Subsidiarity must remain closely linked to the principle of solidarity and vice versa.”

Along with this letter, we have included a copy of the Vatican's Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, commissioned by John Paul II, to help deepen your understanding of Catholic social teaching.

Click here to see the signers of the letter.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Federal Minimum Wage - the 'Other' Stimulus

With all the talk about how to stimulate the economy, one that hasn't been tried, but which is beginning to be discussed in a number of states (among them New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Illinois and Massachusetts. Washington State's minimum wage is already $9.04) is a raise in the minimum wage. The last hike in the federal minimum wage to $7.25, was in 2009.  

Yet, according to 'Working Economics' the direct and indirect benefits could mean surprising and significant benefits to the nation's economy. A bill offered by Iowa Senator Tom Harkins would raise the federal minimum wage to $9.80 per hour.

 "...increasing the federal minimum wage in three steps to $9.80 per hour, as described in the Harkin bill, would raise the wages of 28 million Americans. About 19.5 million workers whose wages are between the current minimum and the proposed $9.80 rate would be directly affected. Another 8.9 million whose wages are just above the proposed minimum would also see a pay increase through “spillover” effects as employers adjust their overall pay scales."

"In a historical context, the increase proposed by the Harkin bill is long overdue. As John Schmitt and Janelle Jones at the Center for Economic and Policy Research explain, the real value of the minimum wage is far below its historical levels, despite the fact that the low-wage workforce is older and better educated than ever before. Congress has had to raise the minimum wage 17 times since its peak value in 1968 in order to combat inflation. Indexing the minimum wage, as 10 states have already done, would fix this problem once and for all."

You can read the rest of the article here...

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

More Criminal Injustice

Next month, two more men will be released from prison, sentenced in 1983 for 99 years for a crime they didn't commit.

Raymond Jackson and James Curtis Williams are just the latest in an apparently growing string of wrongfully incarcerated citizens whose fate must cause us to call into question our assumptions about the criminal justice system - and those we are branding as criminal.

Today, one out of every 100 citizens in the United States is in prison and black Americans, though representing a little over 13% of the nation's population are more than 40% of our country's prison population. The impact is devastating on communities and on families. Not just devastating now, but devastating in it's rippling effect on the lives of children and neighborhoods where to have a family member who has encountered the criminal justice system is not an anomaly - it's the norm.

And yet, more and more, we are hearing of these exonerations: mostly men, mostly poor, who have spent decades behind bars for crimes they didn't commit. These two men represent nearly 30 men, exonerated in Dallas County alone, nearly 300 across the country should make us question the near $50 billion a year we spend operating prisons.

How many people languish in a prison cell who don't belong there? We don't know. We will never know. Like Tim Cole, some have died in prison. Many are more than reasonably sure that we've executed some who were innocent. But the stories of nearly 30 in Dallas County and almost 300 across the country tell us that there will be more...

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Can We Get a Do-over?

The question is, is a moral vision governing the economic life of our country, antithetical to aims of a successful capitalist society? In other words, is it preferable to have a system which assures continued astronomical growth of a few at the expense of a persistently weakened, shrinking middle class and a growing population falling into and trapped in poverty in America. 

Former Congressman David Obey, has a prescient analysis and warning about continuing on such a path - it is difficult for me to see how arguments against his presentation hold water. 

Excerpts of Obey's speech follow. The full text of his presentation is can be found  hereThe video contains Obey's remarks and an interesting panel discussion.

"Americans want to succeed.  And yes, they want other Americans to succeed.  They want hard work, risk, and imagination to be rewarded, but they believe there are certain norms of decency.  They don’t want a tiny lucky few to take all the marbles because the warped “markets” do not provide any checks and balances that give hardworking wage earners any power at all to defend their right to a decent living standard."

"Studies tell us that two factors account for much of the explosive growth in the gap between the uber-class and everyone else."

"The first is the nature of corporate governance which produces obscenely high compensation packages for corporate CEOs.  The second is that investment income is taxed at a much lower rate than income from wages.  The old saying “You have to have money to make money” is more true today than ever before. 

Now apologists for this picture will say that “economic volatility will produce a churning effect that will enable people from low-income families through initiative, to join the elite.”  That argument no longer holds water."

"I submit that both the Occupy Movement on the left, and the Tea Party movement on the right are rooted in the belief that today’s political and economic decision making processes are producing little of value to people of modest means.
Yet, so many of the political voices who have sounded the alarm the loudest about the anemic middle class in third world countries, seem to have no problem whatsoever with the almost obscene growth in income inequality that has occurred in our own country over the past generation.

·        Between 1979 and 2000 the income gap between the top 1% and the poorest 40% more than tripled.
·        In 1976, the top 1% of earners took in 9% of the nation’s total pretax income -- by 2007, that had grown to 24%.
·        The top 1% today has net worth larger than the bottom 90% of our population.
·        The top 400 households paid 17% of their income in federal income taxes in 2007-- down from 30% in 1995.
·        400 Americans now control more wealth than the poorest 150 million Americans.
·        The CIA tells us that income inequality in the US is greater than it is Yemen.
·        Tax rules have been changed so that consumers can no longer claim a tax deduction on interest on credit cards but they can still claim a deduction for mortgage interest.  That creates incentives to borrow against your house rather than borrowing against your credit card. That means that if those people lose their jobs, instead of facing a credit card crisis, they face the loss of their home.
·        And the tax code is so packed with tax exemptions, gimmicks, and preferences that taxpayers receive almost as much in tax credits ($1.08 trillion) as they pay in income taxes ($1.09 trillion).  So the income tax is being used largely to transfer wealth, not to raise revenue.  And, much of that wealth is being transferred up the income scale.

"The Congress reviews appropriated amounts in the budget every year during the annual appropriations process but no such annual review is conducted on these tax giveaways.  They survive for generations without serious examination.
The result of all of this is that the income gap between the economic elite and everyone else is once again the largest it has been since the Great Depression was triggered in 1929."

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Shape of Things to Come?

Last week Congress made two curious decisions which may be a harbinger of things to come.

They voted to give $46 million in tax relief to households making over $1 million and then cut food stamps or the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) by $33 million.

Although touted as a 'small business tax cut' the impact by some counts, benefits only 16% of business making under $200,000. On the other hand, cutting food stamps impacts nearly 2 million Americans (about 300,000 Texans) while costing jobs.

I'm sure there's some math that makes sense here...but I'm not quite getting it.

Especially given the strong evidence of the extent to which food stamps kept those most economically vulnerable from falling deeper into poverty...

"Food stamp benefits led to a decline of 4.4 percent in poverty from 2000 to 2009, according to a new report from the USDA's Economic Research Service."
"The impact was particularly strong for children, who are more likely to live in poverty than adults. Child poverty was reduced by 15.5 percent, on average. The researchers also looked at the depth and severity of poverty, and found that severity was reduced by 21 percent. They say looking at this gives a better measure of the role of food stamps in improving the lives of Americans, compared to just a straight look at the poverty rate."

"In 2009, 21 percent of all children, or 15.5 million, lived in poverty. That's up from 16 percent in 2001, an increase attributed to the economic downturn. And that's including the buffering effect of food stamps."
So again, what type of arithmetic supports the logic of strengthening the country's economy by giving those who are rich more money, while weakening the safety net for the most economically challenged?
Here's a better question: 'Who's declaring class warfare on whom?'

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Friday, April 20, 2012

Let's Be Honest - We Don't Value the Work of All Mothers

I was watching CNN when Hilary Rosen said it and while I understood what she meant, I also knew it was problematic. 
For the next several days, I listened to every pundit and politician who could find a microphone pay personal homage, to the 'hard work of motherhood'. Some, liberal and conservative, actually meant it. Some, liberal and conservative, didn't have a clue as to what they were talking about.
The fact is, we don't value the work of all mothers in our country. We don't believe that single mothers who don't make enough money, who travel long commutes to work, or who work and go to school to better themselves are 'hard working mothers'. We actually want poor mothers to work AND make the PTA meetings AND cook the nutritious meals AND discipline the children AND do all the other things that middle class and wealthy mothers - single or married - tell you they can hardly do themselves. And if the mothers aren't able keep up, they are branded as irresponsible and their morality is questioned. If, on the other hand, middle class and well to do mothers aren't able to meet the demands of their role - well they are simply 'overwhelmed' by the demands of motherhood.
This article, about a bill that puts all of the political sophistry and preening about motherhood to a test. It also shows that the work of all mothers is not actually so highly regarded after all...
"House Republicans emphatically agree with Mitt Romney that stay-at-home moms work just as hard as anybody in the workforce. But when it comes to applying that standard to mothers on welfare, they draw the line."
"Romney weighed in on the work of stay-at-home moms last week after Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen suggested that Ann Romney, a stay-at-home mom, had "never worked a day in her life." Mitt Romney defended his wife's choice to stay home with their five sons by saying, "All moms are working moms.""
""Well, I agree," Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said of Romney's comment."
"But when Mica was informed of a Democratic bill that would allow child rearing to count toward the required "work activity" that must be performed by recipients of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families -- the federal program born out of welfare reform in 1996 -- he had a change of heart."
""It's a stretch. It's a stretch. It's a stretch," Mica told The Huffington Post earlier this week."
"Specifically, the bill, called the Women's Option to Raise Kids (WORK) Act, would allow low-income mothers with children ages 3 and under to stay at home with their children and continue receiving benefits. It will be introduced by Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) and has about half a dozen Democratic cosponsors."
""It really is a luxury these days for a mom to be able to stay home and raise the kids," Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a cosponsor of the WORK Act, said Thursday on MSNBC. "But if you're lower income, it's just virtually impossible right now not to look for some outside income.""
"Mica tried to explain why he thinks the work of stay-at-home moms is different from other kinds of work."
""It is work, but it isn't work in the normal sense that you would qualify for those kind of benefits," he said."
"Asked if he understood the point that Democrats were trying to make with their bill -- that if everyone agrees that raising children is real work, the government should treat it as such, too -- Mica said he did."
""I see the argument. Yeah," he said. "But it doesn't pass the test.""
"Some Republicans became irate as they tried to square their views on the work of stay-at-home mothers with the aim of the Democratic proposal."
""Anybody who knows what they're talking about would know it's darn hard work," said Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), a former chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee. "The entire issue is that women bear a disproportionate share of the hard work. Birthing, carrying, the whole thing -- it's hard work.""
"But he raised his voice when asked if that meant he could support the Democratic bill."
""Of course not!" he said. "I'm for jobs!""
"Rep. Connie Mack (R-Fla.), who is running for Senate, called the Democratic bill "disgusting.""
You can read the rest of the article here...

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Let Your Voice be Heard!

Let your voice be heard! Last year CitySquare worked tirelessly with our allies to get state legislation passed to curb the exploitation of some of our most vulnerable citizens.

Texas Faith for Fair Lending reports...

"After the Governor Perry signed the bills into law, the Office of Consumer Credit Commissioner (OCCC) has been working hard with stakeholders on how to adopt these laws."
"The OCCC has adopted a disclosure form that describes the consequences and alternatives to someone seeking a payday loan. To see Texas's disclosure, click here."
"The OCCC has also created the licensing form that payday lenders fill out to become registered and a quarterly report form."

Find out how to give your comments to the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau here...

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Profile in Superficiality

I must confess, this was pretty eerie, especially after I saw a report about the increasing acceptance of plastic surgery. And this, on the heels of actor Ashley Judd's comments about the preoccupation with her features on her new television show 'Missing'.

The Twilight Zone, is one of those series that never gets old. I think of them as morality plays that teach us more about the human condition than we are sometimes comfortable with.

In his introduction, Twilight Zone creator Rod Serling, sets the period for this 1964 episode ('Number 12 Looks Just Like You), in the year 2000. Can anyone argue that we are becoming a less thoughtful, less substantive culture? Or that our primary concern is with 'happiness'; that we have found some pill or elixir that is capable of altering our mood to enable us to live more 'stress free'?

Or how about our ideas of beauty, normalcy, or the categories in which we profile people - 'safe', 'unsafe', or 'threatening'?

The government doesn't 'force' people to undergo cosmetic surgery in order to conform to a preset image of beauty and acceptability. Yet we certainly have societal 'norms' which cause us to treat one another differently because of how they look, where they are from, or even their politics. And we certainly do have code words that label people as 'other' who do not fit those norms.

It appears that Rod Serling was more prophetic than he realized. Not in predicting the era and time frame, but in his diagnosis of the human spirit: the less challenged we are to understand and accept others who are different; the more we live in communities and sphere's of influence that only serve as echo chambers for perspective on life that make us comfortable, the less authentic we are as human beings. We become entrenched in lives of stagnating sameness and ripe pickings for anyone who continually tells us only what we want to hear.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Story About All of Us...

Steve Blow, columnist for the Dallas Morning News has an interesting article that further interested me in a story that had appeared in the paper several days ago. 

A Hispanic pastor Rev. Julius Ruiz of a mission church in Frisco, Texas, was fired from his congregation by the mother church First Baptist Church of Frisco. But, the pastor's congregation, loyal to the leadership he has provided has followed their pastor. It is a heartbreaking and inspirational story about a people who have determined to be in charge of their own destiny, even if it means rejecting the resources of their sponsors. 

"In Frisco, a Baptist church sits mostly empty while the congregation that once filled its pews holds services on the sidewalk across the street."
"The church doors have been open the past two weeks. But members of Primera Iglesia Bautista de Frisco have refused to enter without their pastor, who’s been banned from the building."
"The Rev. Julius Ruiz was fired last month by the First Baptist Church of Frisco, which holds title to the Hispanic mission’s building at Fifth and Ash streets near downtown."
"For nearly a dozen years, Ruiz and his wife, Ivette, also an ordained pastor, have counseled and cared for the congregation of about 10 families. Primera Iglesia’s members speak primarily Spanish. Most are poor even though they have full-time jobs. They have little formal education. But they take pride in their church and its focus on giving."
"Primera Iglesia members say they’ve legally incorporated and are ready to go out on their own — with their pastor at the helm. About 50 people have signed a petition declaring their unconditional support of Ruiz and refusal to accept intervention from First Baptist Church."
"First Baptist officials say the issue is a confidential personnel matter and decline to go into details."
""Ruiz, who described the situation as “ungodly,” said bricks and mortar do not make a church.""
"“The church is us, the people,” Ruiz, 57, said during Sunday’s services over the noise from passing vehicles and a neighbor’s weed trimmer. “The Lord is with us wherever we go.”"
I'd probably wouldn't have paid that much attention to the story, had it been reminiscent of a similar story I know of years ago with a colleague of mine, a black pastor and church, in south Dallas.

Blow's column, however, speaks volumes about attitudes we have towards others. Stereotypes which overtly or inadvertently, probably play more into this disagreement than even leaders of Frisco's First Baptist Church realize...

"Awhile back, I was invited to a dinner honoring the senior members of Frisco First Baptist. The church staff served as waiters that evening."
"When Ruiz stopped by our table, tea pitcher in hand, the older folks all greeted him warmly. When he left, they told me what a great guy he was, how he preached at their Spanish church and was also in charge of cleaning all church facilities."
"“Where is he from?” I asked. And the table fell silent. “Well, uh, Mexico, I guess,” someone ventured. People looked at each other around the table. No one really knew. “Yeah, Mexico,” they agreed."
"When Ruiz came by our table a few minutes later, someone asked, “Hey, Julius, where did you grow up?”"
"“Bolivia,” he replied, creating puzzled looks all around. “And then Venezuela. But I was born in Marseille — in France. And served in the French Foreign Legion in Africa.”"
"Well, the church folks had their mouths hanging open by this point. Ruiz had been on the church staff for years, and they all just thought of him as the nice Mexican who cleaned and preached."
"I visited with Ruiz and his wife, Ivette, this week. They laughed knowingly when I told them that story. They understand stereotypes. “Brown skin and a Spanish accent — everyone here just assumes you are Mexican,” Ruiz said."
"“I just say ‘Orale, orale, sure, I’m from Mexico,’” Ivette said with a laugh, using Mexican slang. She’s Bolivian. “The funny thing is,” she added, pointing to her husband of 37 years, “he has never even been to Mexico.”"
As I read Steve's column, I wondered whether or not church leadership would have treated Rev. Ruiz with more respect had they realized his diverse and distinguished background. Would he have been only a member of the wait staff and cleaning crew (positions with the church from which he has also been fired), or would he be a member of the pastoral staff? Would they be touting his leadership as a significant part of their mission of reconciliation and outreach, and saying that they seek to provide the best pastors to their mission ventures? Or in their minds, have they seen the Bolivian cleric as 'just a Mexican'. And even if they think he is 'just a Mexican', why should that make a difference. 
Now let me say, I have no idea if the church's leadership knows any of this and if there are extenuating circumstances that go beyond the articles. 
I do, however, know church. And I know, that under normal circumstances, Ruiz, with his background and his commitment to his calling and his people, would be receive a significant amount of respect. 
At the same time, I can't cast stones - at least not huge ones - at First Baptist leaders. I recently recognized stereotypical behavior, equally, if not more stupid in myself. 
Recently while taking a break on our office floor's patio, I encountered one of the tenant's in our building out there. I spoke to him and made a couple of comments about the nice weather. I've seen him around enough to realize he doesn't speak much, if any English. When I went back inside, I realized that I had done something really silly - in exchanging pleasantries with the man, I raised my voice as if he was hard of hearing, or somehow less intelligent!
Isn't it interesting. As much as I might criticize the First Baptist of Frisco, for being unceremonious and patronizing to the pastor of their mission congregation, I was unconsciously doing the same thing pretty much the same thing. 
Does it mean we ought to cut one another some slack? Realize we all 'mean well'?
Uh, no...
It means that we ought to go out of our way to treat one another with more respect and with more dignity. There may be more to us than our lapses in courtesy, kindness and respect - but there's more to those whom we lightly regard too!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

Captain Edward J. Smith

Commander, RMS Titanic
"I never saw a wreck and never have been wrecked, nor was I ever in any predicament that threatened to end in disaster of any sort."

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Standardized Testing: We Should All Apologize!

Yesterday's post regarding the DISD trustees' consideration of an resolution condemning the overemphasis of standardized testing came as a breath of fresh air!

By the time many of you read this, I hope you're preparing to come to CitySquare's Annual Prayer event in which we are discussing education and poverty. Precious few aspects of public education show the perversion of one of the hallmarks of American democracy - a free public education to all citizens - than the tyranny of this 'testocracy'. While it is problematic to the education process in every school, it is a particular burden on underfunded schools in poor neighborhoods. It leads to children who have been trained to pass the test, but who's school days are so filled with teaching to and preparation for the test that our most gifted teachers have little opportunity to do the job for which they were hire...and which they would love to do: impart real knowledge!

Dallas Morning News writer, Robert Wilonsky (who wrote the article on which yesterday's post was based), cites Washington Post reporter Valerie Strauss, who wrote of the 100 similar school districts sending similar resolutions to the Texas Education Agency. In another post Strauss relays this moving letter from Ruth Ann Dandrea, in which Dandrea apologizes to her students for having them take an English standardized test. What is said of this test, could be said of STAAR, TAAKS, TAAS or any othe myriad acronym heavy, system clogging mind numbing 'high stakes' tests inflicted on our children to ensure 'accountability'. School districts are arriving at the conclusion that most of us arrived at decades ago and which politicians have known even as they've pushed these tests on our children - these exams do not show that a child is educated, they simply show that they have learned how to take the test.

Teacher: Dear students, I’m sorry about that test I made you take

By Valerie Strauss

This was written by Ruth Ann Dandrea, who has taught secondary English in upstate New York for 29 years. A freelance writer, she is co-author of “Women on Water,” about women’s kayaking, which will be available from North Country Press this spring. This appeared in “Pencils Down,” a new book from Rethinking Schools, a publisher of educational materials.
This is the letter from Ruth Ann Dandrea:
Dear 8th Graders,
I’m sorry.
I didn’t know.
I spent last night perusing the 150-plus pages of grading materials provided by the state in anticipation of reading and evaluating your English Language Arts Exams this morning. I knew the test was pointless—that it has never fulfilled its stated purpose as a predictor of who would succeed and who would fail the English Regents in 11th grade. Any thinking person would’ve ditched it years ago. Instead, rather than simply give a test in 8th grade that doesn’t get kids ready for the test in 11th grade, the state opted to also give a test in 7th grade to get you ready for your 8th-grade test.
But we already knew all of that.
What I learned is that the test is also criminal.
Because what I hadn’t known — this is my first time grading this exam — was that it doesn’t matter how well you write, or what you think. Here we spent the year reading books and emulating great writers, constructing leads that would make everyone want to read our work, developing a voice that would engage our readers, using our imaginations to make our work unique and important, and, most of all, being honest. And none of that matters. All that matters, it turns out, is that you cite two facts from the reading material in every answer. That gives you full credit. You can compose a “Gettysburg Address” for the 21st century on the apportioned lines in your test booklet, but if you’ve provided only one fact from the text you read in preparation, then you will earn only half credit. In your constructed response — no matter how well written, correct, intelligent, noble, beautiful, and meaningful it is —if you’ve not collected any specific facts from the provided readings (even if you happen to know more information about the chosen topic than the readings provide), then you will get a zero.
And here’s the really scary part, kids: The questions you were asked were written to elicit a personal response, which, if provided, earn you no credit. You were tricked; we were tricked. I wish I could believe that this paradox (you know what that literary term means because we have spent the year noting these kinds of tightropings of language) was simply the stupidity of the test-makers, that it was not some more insidious and deliberate machination. I wish I could believe that. But I don’t.
I told you, didn’t I, about hearing Noam Chomsky speak recently? When the great man was asked about the chaos in public education, he responded quickly, decisively, and to the point: “Public education in this country is under attack.” The words, though chilling, comforted me in a weird way. I’d been feeling, the past few years of my 30-plus-year tenure in public education, that there was something or somebody out there, a power of a sort, that doesn’t really want you kids to be educated. I felt a force that wants you ignorant and pliable, and that needs you able to fill in the boxes and follow instructions. Now I’m sure.
It’s not that I oppose rigorous testing. I don’t. I understand the purpose of evaluation. A good test can measure achievement and even inspire. But this English Language Arts Exam I so unknowingly inflicted on you does neither. It represents exactly what I am opposed to, the perpetual and petty testing that has become a fungus on the foot of public education. You understand that metaphor, I know, because we have spent the year learning to appreciate the differences between figurative and literal language. The test-makers have not.
So what should you do, my beautiful, my bright, my intelligent, my talented? Continue. Continue to question. I applaud you, sample writer: When asked the either/or question, you began your response, “Honestly, I think it is both.” You were right, and you were brave, and the test you were taking was neither. And I applaud you, wildest 8th grader of my own, who — when asked how a quote applied to the two characters from the two passages provided — wrote, “I don’t think it applies to either one of them.” Wear your zeroes proudly, kids. This is a test you need to fail.
I wondered whether giving more than 10 minutes of every class period to reading books of our own choosing was a good idea or not. But you loved it so. You asked for more time. Ask again; I will give you whatever you need. I will also give you the best advice I can, advice from the Nobel Prize-winning writer, Juan Ramón Jiménez. Ray Bradbury thought this was so important, he used it as the epigraph at the beginning of Fahrenheit 451: “When they give you lined paper, write the other way.”
It is the best I have to offer, beyond my apologies for having taken part in an exercise that hurt you, and of which I am mightily ashamed.