Monday, July 30, 2012

Test Taking is Still Just Test Taking

It won't surprise anyone who reads CTW that I have issues with standardized testing. I believe that we have by extolling multiple choice testing as the summum bonum of academic accountability is an education system that forces teachers to become excellent test facilitators and students to become excellent test takers.

Of course mine is not the only point of view. Phil Montgomery, founding advisory chairman of Educate Texas at the Communities Foundation of Texas, offers an opposing view in this op-ed.

"The controversy about the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR exams, has become mired in myths and falsehoods about the role of assessments in our education system. This rhetoric has led some prominent state leaders to begin the shortsighted call for a rollback of our current — and nationally recognized — assessment and accountability system. Such a move would be counterproductive for children and a tremendous step backward for Texas."

"Assessment has been, and will continue to be, a fundamental component of our educational system. We always need to understand what parts of our public schools are succeeding and what parts need additional support and resources. Parents, teachers and administrators in every school district need to know how well in the aggregate, and individually, students are learning so they can make adjustments based on that data. Coupled with improved data systems, these assessments provide the tools for teachers to better differentiate instruction and provide extra support to struggling learners."

"As our economy changes, we are seeing first-hand the need for better educated students. The current unemployment rate for high school dropouts is 12.6 percent, while the rate drops to 7.5 percent for those with at least some level of postsecondary attainment."

"These numbers re-emphasize why the Texas Legislature ordered a new assessment system focused on college and career readiness. Opponents charge that it is unrealistic to expect all students to meet this standard. But as a national and global economic force, Texas cannot afford to allow our students the option of being neither college-ready nor career-ready. In 1973, only 28 percent of jobs required some form of postsecondary education. By 2018, we expect that number to reach 63 percent. Our current postsecondary-degree attainment rate projects that we will fall short of that mark by 3 million graduates."

"Our current system rights the wrongs of previous decades during which low-income students were pushed into low-skill, low-income tracks and not given the opportunity to achieve more and reach their full potential."

Montgomery's apologetic negates the fact that more and more we're learning that this system we've constructed isn't working. Which doesn't mean that the tests aren't giving proving what the tests are designed to prove. It means that a preponderance of class time is consumed preparing for tests taking, tutoring for tests results, teaching for tests results and of course, taking the tests. It means our children will ultimately learn how to pass the STAAR test - and any other test put in front of them, by any other acronym - but they won't be educated.

I've checked, and without exception, no employer I know is looking for someone to fill in multiple choice bubbles. They are looking for critical thinkers, people who can work well with others, people who have self-discipline, who read with comprehension, know math and/or science.

That's not what we're doing. We're teaching children to take tests and we're trying to make ourselves feel good about it.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

William Raspberry

Pulitzer Prize Winning Columnist

"Your best shot at happiness, self-worth and personal satisfaction - the things that constitute real success - is not in earning as much as you can but in performing as well as you can something that you consider worthwhile."

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Stop Exploitation Masquerading as Commerce

CitySquare's fight against payday and auto title lenders is a tough one. Working with the Anti-Poverty Coalition locally, we were able to successfully push for the strongest regulatory ordinances in the nation. The city of Austin followed suit. San Antonio, Houston and El Paso seem to be preparing to pass similar ordinances. 

This story tells why the fight continues. Unable to do business as usual in Dallas, one chain, Title Max, is transferring it's Dallas loans to it's stores in the suburbs in an effort to evade compliance. 
The Anti-Poverty Coalition is now trying to meet with mayors of DFW suburbs to urge them to fight back as well. Our elected representatives must protect its financially vulnerable and sometimes even desperate citizens. 

There is something wrong with a business model that must enslave consumers in order to make a profit. We're fighting back. You can join us! If you live in a Dallas suburb, call your city officials and demand that they adopt the Dallas/Austin ordinances. Call on them to draft a resolution to your state representatives and senator in support of even tougher legislation to regulate this industry. Let them know that Texans will not support regulation masquerading as commerce!

In This Corner - Public Education vs. Health Care!

I hope I'm wrong, but I heard and my friend Bill McKenzie at the Dallas Morning News, appears to confirm that in next year's legislative session we can expect to see education funding pitted against Medicaid. You know the deal, 'You can have one or the other, but you can't have both!'.

Not only do I not believe that, I believe it's one of the most cynical games that politicians and bureaucrats play. The 83rd session of our state legislature should be one of unprecedented citizen action, to make certain that the chicanery and short-sidedness of 2010 doesn't repeat itself.

Believe me, we don't want Bill to be right on this one!

"Texas educators understandably are eager to see legislators make up for the damage they did to school spending in the 2011 Legislature. As you may recall, at least $4 billion in school funds were cut then.""Those numbers weren’t some ethereal figures, either. They hit the bottom line of many districts."
"The cuts are why Dallas had to close some schools. They are why districts will struggle to hire specialists to help failing students. And they are why some classrooms will be more crowded this year."
"The ugly truth was, the Legislature had to cut something from schools to make ends meet in 2011. The deficit was so huge lawmakers couldn’t have avoided them. But I don’t blame the districts that have filed suit claiming that the state is not adequately funding them. They are forcing legislators to make schools a higher priority next time."
"Here, though, is another element that school districts won’t like. Although Comptroller Susan Combs predicted last week that the current two-year state budget could end up with $6 billion in unanticipated revenues, those extra dollars already have a claim on them."
(UPDATE: Combs’ office said she gave no official estimate, despite reports to the contrary. The Austin American-Statesman, however, did some crunching and estimated the number around $6 billion. Also, the comptroller’s website shows tax collections up about 14 percent over this time last year.)
"Legislators closed up shop last year postponing about $5 billion in Medicaid payments. They have to take care of that debt before they can start making up for the damage they did to schools."
"What should we wish for? Even more extra revenues so Medicaid and schools both can be done right during the 2013 session."
"Eva DeLuna Castro, a budget expert at the Center for Public Policy Priorities, suggests an even better revenue picture is not a pipe dream. She knows as much as anyone in the state about the budget picture, so I hope she is right."
"Meanwhile, educators must be realistic. Medicaid is ahead of them in line for the revenues that already are being projected."

Read Bill's more expansive editorial on this subject here...

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Penn State's Football Program DOES Deserve the Death Penalty

With great interest I watched NCAA President Mark Emmert announce the sanctions against Penn State, for the complicity of Joe Paterno and university officials in covering up former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky's abuse of young boys on the school's campus. Sandusky, found guilty of sexually abusing boys over a 15 year period, awaits sentencing on 48 counts of child abuse.

This is uncharted territory for sports - college or professional, so it was hard to anticipate what the penalty might be. And, there is no doubt that penalty should be as unprecedented as the crime. And that's what it was. This was not a 'rules infraction'; it was a crime. So I, with sports fans across the nation listened as Emmert intoned the penalties:

  • A $60 million fine
  • A four year ban from post season play
  • The loss of 10 scholarships a year for four years
  • Penn St vacates all victories from 1998-2011

And my first reaction was, 'What? No death penalty?'!

Now, I know that sounds unforgiving and unyielding. And in a way it is - unyielding. This has nothing to do with forgiveness. According to the Freeh Report, commissioned by the university itself, officials at Penn State, including legendary coach Joe Paterno placed protecting the reputation of Jerry Sandusky and the football program above the safety of the boys they continued to allow him to bring on campus.

This is not a rules infraction. This was the most callous disregard for children by an institution of higher learning that we've been exposed to in our lifetimes. This is a crime in which the bodies, psyches and spirits of children were injured, and 'responsible' adults knew it was happening and didn't stop it.

NCAA's death penalty would have banned Penn State from playing football for a year. It has only been used once, against SMU for repeatedly paying players as an inducement to play football. I may be wrong, but I think this is far more serious.

Had Sandusky acted totally alone away from campus, I could see the argument that his conviction and sentencing would be enough. Had Paterno alone known about it and refused to take action I could see the argument that his ruined reputation is just, and it should end there. But university officials, including the president were a part of the cover-up which speaks to a culture at Penn State that put the success of the football team above the mission to shape and mold young lives.

There is hardly a football team, amateur of professional that doesn't teach integrity, values and character. Any of us who have played team sports has heard the speeches, indeed the sermons, from coaches throughout the time we played. We realize as well that these are lofty goals of which we have all fallen short. All of us. But this is something different. And the only thing worse than Paterno and company turning a blind eye to the seriousness of this, is the rest of us turning a blind eye to it.

Yet that is what's happening.

Some of us are able to tease the issues of personal responsibility out from that of institutional responsibility and culture.

The idea that there will be 'collateral damage' i.e. students who weren't guilty who suffer because of the sins of a few; or that this won't do anything to ease the pain of the victims; or concerns for the football team are seriously flawed thinking.

With any punishment there is 'collateral damage'. The NCAA deftly avoided this by allowing students to transfer without losing eligibility or even maintaining scholarships at the school, whether they continue to play football or not. Players are taken care of. In major universities the football program foots the bill for other non-revenue generating sports programs. Again, the NCAA covered this by demanding that the $60 million cannot come at the expense of other sports programs.

Nonetheless, it is not right that there will be a 2012 football season for Penn State.

This is not about making the victims feel better. There are young men and boys who will need long term therapy to deal with the scars they've hidden for far too long. If justice and accountability means that Penn State has to struggle to rebuild a program that they ruined, that's too bad. Football is a game. It can be a business. It can be a lucrative business. But it should not the vehicle for the  exploitation or victimization of children and it should not blind people - or fans - to the very values it extols. The loss of a season for exploitation, victimization and despoiled values should be the loss of one season - at least.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

A Prayer for the Citizens of Aurora, Colorado

I usually tell friends, 'If you want to drive yourself crazy, try to make sense out of something that just doesn't make sense'. 

That's the way I feel about the shootings which happened in Aurora, Colorado early Friday morning at the midnight showing of the movie, 'The Dark Knight Rises'

Speculations about domestic or foreign terrorism would have almost been comforting, because it would have taken the sting out of the randomness of a madman simply spraying a movie theater with a hail of gunfire. But unfortunately it appears that once more, there really is no political ideology or cultural dysfunction to blame. Once again, it appears to be a lone unhinged young man whose life had spiraled out of control and who inflicted his internal pain on a theater full of strangers. 

However, senseless the tragedy may have been it doesn't make the lives of those who died or those who were injured insignificant. In times those individuals and those families will discover what this means to them. And they will put the cautionary tale of the shooters life in a positive context. But right now, the hearts of this community and the country are bruised and sore with the sheer weight of another violent act. 

My prayer for them this morning is that they all find healing. I pray that their lives are infused with a greater sense of purpose and that, as tragic and traumatic as this incident is, I pray that they do not lose heart and that, to paraphrase the words of Philippians 4:9, the God of Peace shall be with them. 

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Friday, July 20, 2012

Abandoning the Poor

There is this belief, that if we continue to cut benefits to our low-income neighbors that we will be able to arrive at balanced budgets and fiscal health...

Of course that leaves with two problems: 1) then what happens to our low-income neighbors (they don't dissolve once we cut/eliminate benefits) and 2) it doesn't work as shown by this New York Times article...

The Rush to Abandon the Poor

"The state with the country’s worst health care record just happens to have a governor who has been the loudest voice against national efforts to improve it."
"A quarter of the residents of Texas, 6.3 million people, are uninsured, by farthe highest percentage in the country. (That number includes more than a million children.) Texas ranks last in prenatal care and finished last on a new federal assessment of overall health quality that examined factors like disease prevention, deaths from illnesses, and cancer treatment."
"Yet Gov. Rick Perry — strangely puffed up as he was so often in his presidential bid — recently told the Obama administration that he would proudly refuse a huge infusion of Medicaid money that would significantly reduce those shameful statistics and cover 1.7 million more people. The same indifference to suffering that pushed Texas to the bottom is now threatening to keep it there."
"At least five other Republican governors have made a similar choice, announcing that they will not expand their Medicaid program for the poor even though the federal government would pay for almost all of it for several years under President Obama’s health care reform law."
"Their refusal illuminates a growing divide over the nature of a state government’s role. Around the country, a new study shows, states continue to face a fiscal crisis because of rising costs and Republican-driven cuts in federal aid."
"While some governors and lawmakers are searching for new revenue sources, others are using the downturn as an excuse to end a long tradition of states being the final backstop for society’s neediest."
"Over the last year, for example, eight states have cut or eliminated cash welfare payments to their poorest residents. It happened last week in Pennsylvania, where 61,000 residents — almost all of whom are disabled and poor — were told that they would abruptly lose their $200 monthly general assistance payments, all to save $150 million a year. Our hands are tied by a tightening budget, welfare officials told astonished recipients, though Gov. Tom Corbett’s hands didn’t seem restrained when he handed out $300 million in business tax cuts earlier this month."
"Gov. John Kasich of Ohio has cut hundreds of millions from education, but when the state found itself with a $235 million surplus a few weeks ago, he announced that it would all go into a rainy-day fund, doing nothing to deal with rising classroom sizes. In Maine, Gov. Paul LePage — who compared the health care reform law to the Holocaust — signed a budget bill in May that will reduce or eliminate existing Medicaid coverage for 21,000 people."
"Mr. Perry, too, opposes the existing Medicaid program, and, in a recent letter to Washington, said that expanding it represented “brazen intrusions into the sovereignty of our state” and would “threaten even Texas with financial ruin.” The truth is that Washington will pay all the cost of the expansion for three years (then scale back to 90 percent). Mr. Perry’s bold resistance may play well politically in his state, but it’s nothing more than a stomach punch to the millions of uninsured in Texas who will have to stay that way."
"Many mainstream Republican governors are taking a different approach. In a letter to the president last week, Gov. Bob McDonnell of Virginia, the chairman of the Republican Governors Association, said states should think carefully before they reject Washington’s money. Though he remained quite critical of health reform and Medicaid, he also noted that refusing the expansion would create “a significant gap in coverage” for low-income people."
"For now, at least, Virginia recognizes an obligation to its weakest citizens. It’s time for Texas, Florida, South Carolina, Wisconsin, Iowa and Louisiana to do the same."

Thursday, July 19, 2012

My Analysis of Vice-President Joe Biden's NAACP Speech

I never had politicians campaign at my church on Sunday mornings. As a member congregation of Dallas Area Interfaith, we would participate and sometimes host, 'Accountability Sessions' during which incumbents and challengers were invited to voice their support of - or their unwillingness to support - the organizations agenda of issues. 

Of course we knew that it was easy to come before 200-1500 people and endorse their agenda. We looked for other things as well. High on the list: respect for the organization and a willingness to work with us. 

That's one of the things I thought about when I saw the video of Joe Biden's speech before the NAACP convention. There was respect for the organization and their was a willingness to work with them. 

Oh, of course there was 'pandering'. All politicians pander. But savvy organizations know that and sift beyond all of that and get discern to what degree there is a relationship there. 

If Mitt Romney came as a salesman, knowing that he that no one in this crowd would buy what he was selling, Vice-President Biden came as the favorite uncle at a family reunion. You know the type: the quirky one. The one who can be a little embarrassing at time, because you never quite know what he's going to say. But he's also the one who makes everybody laugh and if you listen to him, you always know that there is something in there that's helpful and he's also, almost always going to do something that makes you proud you know him. 

Biden came there familiar. He knew people in the audience. He called some by name. He didn't lecture them and didn't approach them as if he knew something they didn't. He respected them. 

Here is another stark contrast between Biden and Romney's appearance. There are indeed social issues about which black people are deeply concerned. But that's not the full range of their interest. Black people are capitalists. Especially those who are members of the NAACP. The oldest civil rights organization actually has a reputation as being the economically and socially elite civil rights organization. Not to say that this is a pejorative. On the contrary, it's to say that a preponderance of NAACP members are not 'grassroots activists' by strict definition. There are many small business owners and entrepreneurs there - owners or restaurants, funeral homes, insurance companies, marketing firms, IT businesses. There are also attorneys and physicians. There are banking executives and clothing store owners. Mitt Romney missed the opportunity to bring this economic development message to the convention. 

By the same token, the history of the NAACP is one of fighting for social issues that has helped expand the notion of democracy by tearing down barriers to equality. Which means that institutionally they also have a 'grassroots' agenda. Which is in part what Biden appealed to. In short, Romney, had he really respected the NAACP, could have been even more of himself  - the 'Bain Capital guy we've heard so much about - and not gotten booed out of the room, just as Biden was totally himself and spoke about the issues which stereotypically appeal to civil rights organizations. 

But that was the real difference between the two appearances. It wasn't just party affiliation, nor was it presentation or style. It was familiarity and respect. Romney bought a black man to show that he knows black people. Biden knew black people at the convention. The Vice-President was himself; Romney should have been more of himself. Romney tried to show he could relate; Vice-President Biden was simply relational. 

At the end of the day, it was a difference between a man for whom race is problematic and one who isn't intimidated by the problems of black people. Romney could have crafted a message that showed how his economic ideology is a viable solution for a different constituency. He's clearly a smart man, surrounded by smart men and women. He came across as someone who has been advised about blacks and the NAACP and how to conduct himself around them. Biden simply showed up and 'preached to the choir'. 

The contrast shows the reason why the GOP hasn't gotten more than 5% of the black vote in almost half a century. It's also why it will be the same this year. 

No matter who wins the election in November...

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

My Analysis of Mitt Romney's NAACP Speech

So last week, both presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney and Vice-President Joe Biden both appeared before the NAACP. By now, in the milieu that is the 24 hour news cycle both messages are lost in antiquity. I am therefore in the position of providing a history lesson on something that is (forgive the oxymoron) 'old news'.

Except I don't believe it is...

Let me say again. There are times when I like to allow things to percolate before I make comment. I find reflection helpful and, besides, I have a day job!

But at any rate, here is what I think.

Mitt Romney's speech was an interesting optic. Of course the oldest civil rights organization in the country routinely invites presidential candidates and presidents themselves to appear at their annual convention. Bush in his last years in office refused to attend. I would tell people that I didn't blame him. He knows it is an unsympathetic, if not downright unfriendly audience so why would subject himself to that?

That's one reason why Romney's appearance was interesting. Unless I've missed something, the Romney campaign has made 0 overtures to the black community. There are no senior level campaign officials on his staff, who are black and he has few black surrogates. And his message does not not include anything that specifically addresses black poverty, black unemployment, black home ownership, or education in the black community, or the mass incarceration. So...what was he going to say?

He said what he's said everywhere else.

Now that's not totally a bad thing. I mean, the most dangerous thing for any public speaker is to be something he or she is not. And black audiences are notorious for being generously accepting of those who show them respect by being themselves. Trust me, I know.

But Mitt Romney's speech was problematic in two ways. First, Romney came off as someone who came with something to sell - knowing his audience wasn't going to buy. So it was a proforma approach. He wasn't particularly passionate. Nor was he particularly persuasive. If you were disposed to believe some of what he said, you mildly supportive. If you disliked what he said, you didn't feel any more inclined to reconsider your reason for disagreement than you were before you walked into the room.

Secondly, he shows why his argument for business experience is not a good basis for running for President. In business you have a particular market demographic. Those who you know can afford your product or for whom there is a particular appeal. This is why Dom Perignon is not advertised in low income neighborhoods or Thunderbird advertised in Beverly Hills! In general this is not his crowd. But he's running for President and that means he cannot appear to be dismissive of the NAACP, no matter what he thinks of them. This is why he couldn't see how patronizing he was by using the GOP meme "Obama Care" when talking about 'the Affordable Care Act' to a black audience for whom a black President represents a significant consequence of 100 years of labor. He also didn't think it out of order to imply that he was better for black people than the black President their storied mission made possible. Trust me, older black people in the audience had a PTSD moment, hearing segregationist whites boasting how well they 'know' their blacks! In fact, to prove that he knew black people he brought a black man with him and touted how he was a part of his 'kitchen cabinet'. That was unfortunate in a couple of ways: one, speaking of a black man being in the 'kitchen' and two, the implication that this man wasn't good enough to be in the official cabinet!

It's not that Romney actually meant anything patronizing, or racist - it's that he didn't THINK!

But if you our a run of the mill salesman or a novice, and you're not speaking to your target audience and you don't expect them to buy, what difference does that make? You're making a presentation, not a real sales pitch.

Oh but you are...

If you understand that America is not a corporation, then you know that political office is about governing for everybody. It is understanding everyone's interests. And while you may not share their ideology, you must respect them. Romney was not doing the NAACP a favor by stopping by, it is what he owes them as Americans if he is running for the highest office in the land. Mitt Romney is not selling 'widgets' to the American people he's selling himself.

His speech at the NAACP convention only proves that he doesn't understand that...

What I thought of Vice-President Biden's speech, tomorrow...

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Christmas in July

Tomorrow I'll share my thoughts one what I think about the two speeches given by Mitt Romney and Vice-President Joseph Biden, but today I'd like to share something with you pretty special.

Our electoral contests are really a conversation about what type of country we want to be. There are those who believe in an almost totally unregulated free market. The belief being that if we allow business to solve our economic woes, we will be a much better, i.e. a more 'prosperous' country. The implication being that money - who makes it, who keeps it, how it is spent - is the primary determiner of our security and well being.

That's not totally untrue. Consumerism drives small business, which determines employment levels, which determines tax revenue, which determines infrastructure and quality of life - education, recreation, health, housing, etc. And that's not a bad thing. In fact its very good.

However, it seems that there was a time when that was held in greater balance. It seems as if there was a time when, although we knew the importance a vital and viable economy, there was something about our national life that cherished values that weren't determined by money. We prized (or at least espoused) community, the idea that all of our systems - economic, political, religious - were meant to serve man, not vice-versa.

We believed in a 'commonwealth' a noble notion that there was a common good which valued, protected and promoted equality of opportunity, with the understanding that if that opportunity was available to all, that all of us would benefit. We valued sacrifice. The concept that there are times when the denial of self and personal ambition to make sure that the community was healthy and had access to 'the American Dream' would in some way, make all of us beneficiaries.

What happened to that?!

Ironically we celebrate those values every year when millions of us stop down to watch the film 'It's a Wonderful Life'! We don't celebrate 'Mr. Potter', the ultimate 'free market capitalist'. We don't celebrate his condemnation of the 'rabble' in his town.

We celebrate George Bailey, who sacrificed his dreams, his ambitions and his hopes for his family, for his father's business and for the struggling in the town of Bedford Falls.

We celebrate his balance between a belief in the nobility of business ownership with his belief that 'profit' was not the sole reason to be in business.

We celebrate his commitment to family. We celebrate George's generosity. We celebrate his discovery of the value of his own life, found in how he values others. And his discovery that no man is truly poor if he has friends.

In celebrating George Bailey, we condemn Mr. Potter, his greed, his profit at all costs, his lack of empathy for the struggling and his mean-spirited cynicism.

In our house, there is a long tradition of watching this movie during the holidays. How about you?

So why do we celebrate this at Christmas, but in our commerce and our politics, we uphold the interests of the Potters of this world?

Before you answer this question, take some time to watch the movie again. Yep, I've embedded the whole thing! And ask yourself, 'If these values are good enough for Christmas, why are we fashioning a world that embraces everything else?

It's almost a cliche, but maybe we ought stop and remind ourselves what we really prize and order our world around that. Maybe we should really strive to keep Christmas all year long...

Monday, July 16, 2012

God Give Us Men

God give us men! A time like this demands

Strong minds; great hearts, true faith, and ready hands.

Men whom the lust of office does not kill:

Men whom the spoils of office cannot buy;

Men who possess opinions and a will;

Men who have honour; men who will not lie;

Men who can stand before a demagogue,

And damn his treacherous flatteries without winking;

Tall men, sun-crowned, who live above the fog,

In public duty and in private thinking,

For while the rabble, with their thumb-worn creeds

Their large professions, and their little deeds,

Mingle in selfish strife - O! Freedom weeps

Wrong rules the land, and waiting Justice sleeps.
- Maltbie Davenport Babcock

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Tale of Two Church Statesmen Mark the Passage of Time

Usually celebrity deaths mark the passage of time in ways that make you realize you're not a kid anymore. You know it before, but then you REALLY know it!

Take, for instance, the death of Andy Griffith. He was someone you grew up with. You watched his show in its original broadcast, but you also watched in reruns. It was a part of your youth and passage into adulthood. You started watching as a child, identifying with Opie and finished watching as an adult identifying with Andy!

When the same markers are not celebrities you really don't know and become people of standing that you really do know, the losses are a little harder. They are personalities you know you will miss, but they are also stark and uncomfortable reminders of your mortality. They can also represent the passage of a mantel that reinforces the seriousness of your life and calling.

Dr. C.C. Robertson
Such is the category in which the death of two local men fall...

Dr. C.C. Robertson, pastor of Dallas' Bexar Street Baptist Church, also served as President of Dallas' Baptist Ministers Union, Moderator of the Fellowship District Association and President of the National Missionary Baptist Convention, died last week and was buried on yesterday.

'C.C.' as we affectionately called him, succeeded his father at Bexar Street and served that church, as well as the Community Baptist Church before it, for well over 50 years.

There was no more affable man in the ministry in my lifetime than Dr. Robertson. I've known him since I was a child and his father was a great friend and colleague of my grandfather. Robertson's signature line when he was greeted was, 'I ain't mad at nobody!'. He was a beloved pastor and respected leader. He was one of those persons whom we all enjoyed being around and just standing in the pulpit either with him or watching him was a reminder of the storms he had weathered and how true leadership always comes at a heavy price, yet, if we are faithful those trials give us the qualities and character necessary to become the needed blessing at the time we are chosen.

Dr. R.E. Price
As we all anticipated the homegoing services of Dr. Robertson, word spread throughout the city of the death overnight of Dr. Robert E. Price. Price was the pastor of the New Mt. Zion Baptist Church also in Dallas. Pastor Price led a thriving church for more than 40 years and was a preeminent leader in church circles and civic life. He had a beautiful smile and a wonderful demeanor that simply drew you in.

When CitySquare began its Destination Home, permanent supportive housing program, Dr. Price was one of the first pastors I approached to help us make these formerly homeless residents acclimate themselves to their new surroundings. He readily committed and a few weeks later I saw how generously he committed. He led the church to put together welcome baskets for every resident. In fact they had far more welcome baskets than we could use at the time!

He also was generous with his time. On more than a couple of occasions, he came to the apartments to learn about the program, meet the staff and residents and extend himself to do whatever he could.

My parents, who were members of my church, became members of New Mt. Zion not very long after I left New Mt. Moriah to join the staff at CitySquare. I will forever be grateful for the spiritual nurture, care and concern he showed them. Last year, when my step-father passed, Price, who like Robertson was an old and dear friend of our family, spent cherished time with us all, recalling stories, lifting our spirits all when it was obvious that he was growing weary. I cherish that memory of him.
I last heard him preach when I and my granddaughter visited New Mt. Zion on Mother's Day, to worship with my mother.

Both of these wonderful men, lived lives that will probably not make the news. But they lived lives of faithful engagement in Kingdom ministry that has blessed countless lives. They were both in their 80's, so death is no surprise. But it marks the passage of time in ways that remind me of how swiftly time passes. It reminds me that I and my contemporaries in ministry have work to do. And it reminds me that the world needs people who are statesmen much more than it needs celebrities.

I'm not a kid anymore. That's a tough admission. But if the lives of these men are any indication, the best is yet to come...

Saturday, July 14, 2012

For Those Who Would Change the Wind

George Carlin

Comedian, Satirist

"Conservatives say if you don't give the rich more money, they'll lose their incentive to invest. Then they say as for the poor, they've lost all incentive because we've given them too much money."

Friday, July 13, 2012

Vice-President Joe Biden's Speech Before the NAACP

Here is the speech given by Vice-President Joe Biden. I think we should also listen to what he had to say as well. I'll have some analysis later...

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Mitt Romney at the NAACP Annual Convention

There will be plenty of clips shown of Mitt Romney's speech before the NAACP Convention. I thought it was worth posting to the entire presentation...

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

High Quality Education: The Pathway Out of Poverty

Earlier this year, I had the privilege of participating in a panel discussion regarding 'high quality education' at Southern Methodist University. This is of particular significance to us at CitySquare, because we recognize the difference between serving people and working with people to get out of poverty. Getting people out of poverty requires access to high quality education and living wage jobs - each related to the other.

The video below are my opening remarks...

Also in attendance was Dallas' new superintendent of schools, Dr. Mike Miles...

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

HBO's 'Hard Times: Lost in Long Island' is Well Worth Watching

HBO's 'Hard Times: Lost in Long Island', is moving television...

The new documentary by Marc Levin, follows four families from Long Island, New York, as they handle long term unemployment after the Great Recession. It is certainly haunting, because just about all of know someone unemployed and/or face the prospect of joblessness. At the same time, some of the most heartless and thoughtless (both emotionally and intellectually) responses to the unemployed are challenged here. Those whose analyze of poverty caused by the unemployment, and who criticize their circumstances as the consequence of irresponsibly 'having more children than they can afford', clearly don't think about people who face these tragic circumstances because of special needs children needing long term care and the death of an unemployed spouse (a situation faced by one of the families in the film). Nor do those who opine about this misfortune who brand the poor as lazy, don't take into account those who look for work everyday and are confronted with businesses who tell the unemployed they 'need not apply' (another phenomenon depicted in the documentary). 

Often those of us who deal with the grieving talk to them about finding 'a new normal'. 'Hard Times...' make it clear that crisis of long term unemployment will demand our country seek a 'a new normal' for our economy. While it's clear that such an imaginative exercise is beyond the capacity of some politicians and a number of our fellow citizens, its the direction in which we must go. This is a matter of crisis being seen as an opportunity - and a job for serious people determined to make our country work. 

Here is the trailer for "Hard Times...' It is showing on HBO this summer. Check your listing for show times. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Who has a REAL Job?

I heard it again today and I think we will probably all hear it over the course of the next four months...

The conversation on one of the Sunday  morning political shows, lamenting the stalled unemployment figures and the complaint that the Obama stimulus hasn't worked.  One pundit stated that 'government jobs' don't have a 'multiplier effect'. In short that public sector employment doesn't equate to 'real jobs'.

Whenever I hear that, I always thing, 'Clearly they don't know any people with government jobs'. Teachers are paid by the government. So are firefighters and policemen. The people who collect our trash and who repair infrastructure, the ones who clean government offices and the security guards and state police, are all 'government workers'.

No multiplier effect?!

My brother has been a firefighter and paramedic for more than 30 years. I've seen what he does with his paycheck. He has a house with a mortgage. He and his wife both drive cars. Those cars require gas and maintenance. They have two motorcycles (much to the chagrin of our mother). Those motorcycles, along with the cars, not only require gas and maintenance, but insurance, along with insurance on the house. They buy clothes and food. Now most of what he pays out goes into the private sector (the government doesn't operate grocery stores, or gas stations or clothing stores). My brother also pays taxes. I also know of co-workers of his, who have small businesses on the side, one even owned a small apartment complex.

You get the picture? Government employees do the same thing with their paycheck that private sector employees do with theirs.

Of course, we like to occasionally look at government employees who are well paid. However, at the end of the day, they're not that well paid. That's why many of them leave government employment for private sector employment!

I also know what happens to government employees who have lost jobs. They file unemployment! So, how much sense does it make to address the issue of the deficit by laying off public sector employees?!

There are only two ways the idea that public sector jobs are not 'real jobs' that have no 'multiplier effect'.

First you have to consider the work being done by these employees as expendable. That's easy, as long as you don't need a policeman or a firefighter, for existence, or if you don't mind your parks overgrown with high grass and weeds. You have to have the mindset that only jobs created by the private sector really matter. I'm hard pressed to see how that makes sense. I am firmly convinced that we will live to regret cuts in education. We are headed toward a future of a minority of employers educated in private schools and an under-educated labor workforce ill prepared to meet the demands of a growing sophisticated market.

The other way the disparaging of public sector jobs makes sense is if you see business ownership as the real economic driver. By which you no longer mean those who are the employee class, but the profits of the ownership class. In other words the only way the economy can recover is if owners make more profits. At that point, those who make the most profit save the economy through consumption. The problem is, that's not logical, nor is it true. The largest profit makers don't consume at the same level as their employees. And those who own business only hire in response to rising consumption and then, only to the point to increase profit.

This is why 28 months of private sector employment, when met with more than 12 months of public sector employment decline leaves the employment picture stalled.

It's clear that our country is recovering. It is clear that it's not recovering as quickly as we want. What's not clear is how, when it comes to jobs, so many smart people have such an illogical analysis on why. Or it could be that there is a very logical answer: we are now a country in which workers are no longer valued.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Truth About Love

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” 

C.S. Lewis - 'The Four Loves'

Friday, July 6, 2012

Where ARE all the Democratic Billionaires?!

With the overheated rhetoric and hyperbolic claims and counter claims, this column by New York Times columnist Gail Collins just kind of made sense.

Hope you enjoy this excerpt...

"Everywhere I go, concerned citizens ask about the November elections and what they can do to make sure that whatever it is that they’re terrified is going to happen, doesn’t. Therefore, as a public service, I am prepared to answer questions:

"I am terrified that President Obama is going to lose! What can I do to make sure this doesn’t happen?

If you’re living in a swing state, all you have to do is wave your hand and somebody will leap out of the bushes, beg you to put up a sign on your lawn, and ask you to become a volunteer. If you pick the sign option, be prepared for the possibility that somebody will steal it. We’re having that kind of election year. If you choose to volunteer, your assignment will probably be less exciting than you had hoped, but I have definitely heard reports about people who met their future spouse while licking envelopes in the back room of a near-empty storefront in a half-abandoned shopping mall."

"I am terrified that President Obama is going to win! What can I do to make sure this doesn’t happen?

"Oh, for heaven’s sake! Just look at the first answer. I’m not going to say everything twice to prove my evenhanded impartiality. This is the opinion section."

"How come the Democrats are so short on billionaires? Whenever you hear about some guy tossing $20 million into a “super PAC,” it always seems to be a Republican.

"I asked a top Obama operative that very question the other day. He sighed and said: “Our billionaires are principled. They all want to spend their money curing malaria.”"

"Do you think that’s it?

"To be fair, Republican rich people are also interested in curing terrible ailments. (Donald Trump once told me that he had been looking for a cause along that line but decided that all the best diseases were taken.) And the answer to the Democratic billionaire shortage is probably closer to what Alec MacGillis of The New Republic diagnosed as an “existential” problem, a rich-person contempt for the whole sordid mess that campaign fund-raising has become. It would so be the Democrats’ luck to get stuck with billionaires cursed with existential angst."

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

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

CitySquare's Work with the Homeless & Payday Lending Regulation Profiled

Two big issues that we've been working on were in the news the past couple of days...

Housing for the homeless is a central part of our work at CitySquare. We currently house close to 300 formerly homeless men, women and young people who have aged out of foster care in our housing programs. They are at our downtown headquarters in downtown Dallas in our signature CityWalk@Akard, Destination Home permanent supportive housing program as well as apartments that we own in east Dallas for our youth in TRAC (Transition Resource Action Center).

But we are relentlessly trying to get more of the city's citizens who live on the streets of downtown off of those streets and into housing.

Our Homeless Outreach Team (HOT) including a great team mate of ours Jonathan Grace, goes out daily (and nights) to talk with men and women whose physical and mental health has been damaged by life on the street. Some struggle with addiction and other pathologies directly related to homelessness.

But we believe we they deserve a home, and through a strategy called 'housing first'. The Dallas Morning News spotlighted that work in Sunday's edition.

"Grant Wells often wakes up on the back porch of his social worker’s house in East Dallas, having slept off a half-liter of vodka."

"He is among the hardest of the hard-core homeless, an alcoholic who has been on the streets 20 years. And soon, he’ll move into his own, publicly subsidized apartment, without any prior obligation to get counseling or quit drinking."

"“We want to get him a home that’s near the bar,” said the social worker, Jonathan Grace, who has been on the case eight months. “It sounds strange, but that’s his comfort zone and those people there are his support system.”"

"Wells is being placed through a method called “housing first,” in which people are moved directly from the streets into homes..."

"...Grace’s employer, the nonprofit group CitySquare, took on Wells’ case after watching him fish through trash bins in Deep Ellum for meals."

""Wells hasn’t read the research on housing first. He’s unaware of the method, other than it’ll help him settle into a home. Until then, he often finds a bed on Grace’s porch, usually barefoot after losing his shoes.""

"Grace doesn’t seem to mind. He drags Wells inside to clean him up for his next appointment at the Veterans Affairs office, washing his bruised and battered feet."

"“It’s the closest I’ll come to washing Christ’s feet,” Grace said. “It’s this disgusting, humbling thing. But I realize taking care of Grant is not a chore. It’s a blessing."

"“There shouldn’t be any degradation,” Grace said. “They are our neighbors and our friends.”"
Wells could be just days away from moving into his new apartment through the Housing First Program with Veterans Affairs of North Texas. After that, according to the plan, he’ll get treatment to wean him from vodka."

And then we continue our work to get stronger regulation for the payday lending industry. It's the subject of my column this month. Last year we were instrumental in getting state legislation and city ordinances passed to curb the detrimental impact of these businesses on people in economically fragile conditions...

"Last year, at the urging of the residents of Dallas, the City Council passed what has been touted as the toughest ordinance to regulate payday lending in the country, which strengthened two laws approved by the 81st Texas Legislature."

"The measure, led by council member Jerry Allen, provides greater protection to Dallas residents exploited by the practices of far too many members of this industry."

"City of Dallas ordinance 28287 limits the amount of payday loans to 20 percent of a borrower’s income, and auto-title loans to 3 percent of a borrower’s income or 70 percent of the value of the vehicle, whichever is less. It also limits the number of loan rollovers to three or four payment installments. Each rollover must repay 25 percent of the loan principle."

"As expected, the Consumer Service Alliance of Texas sued the city, but within weeks the exact ordinances were passed by the city of Austin, which is also being sued. Now, the City Council of San Antonio, led by council member Diego Bernal, is poised to follow."

"“A lot of folks in town are working-class and these businesses prey upon their desperation,” Bernal says, and the industry knowingly shoves people into an “abyss of poverty and debt.”"

"Both the legislation and ordinance went into effect in January 2012. So what’s the record of compliance among payday and auto-title loan merchants in Dallas?"

"This spring, a study undertaken by the public interest center Texas Appleseed, working with the Anti-Poverty Coalition of Greater Dallas, whose members posed as potential borrowers, surveyed 37 of the 241 short-term lenders in our city. The average charges for payday and auto-title loans among the 37 range from 24 to 66 times the Texas constitutional usury cap of 10 percent interest."

"The survey revealed major compliance issues. For instance, 41 percent of the surveyed lenders provided no information regarding the limited-rollover requirements. In fact, most of those in that 41 percent said loans could be rolled over indefinitely."

Come join us in the fight against poverty at CitySquare!