Sunday, November 23, 2014

Moses Rises in Texas

Moses Rises in Texas

I read an NPR news story about the inclusion of Moses in the state’s social studies standards for textbooks.  Here’s part of the article.  My letter to Texas Board of Education member Ken Mercer follows.

The standards are called the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills and were created in 2010. They state that high school students in U.S. government are expected to "identify the individuals, whose principles of laws and government institutions informed the American founding documents, including those of Moses, William Blackstone, John Locke, and Charles de Montesquieu."

The majority Republican, 15-member Texas Board of Education defended the standards during meetings this week.

"Moses was not a Founding Father. However, I believe he did influence our Founding Fathers," says Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio.

Mr. Mercer,

In reading about the adoption of social studies textbooks in Texas, I came across the name of Moses as one who influenced our Founding Fathers.  Although it has been some time since I studied the writings of these esteemed gentlemen, I can’t recall any mention of Moses affecting their thinking.  I then came across your quote:

"Moses was not a Founding Father. However, I believe he did influence our Founding Fathers," says Ken Mercer, R-San Antonio.

Do you mean to suggest that the Texas Board of Education will include in its educational standards certain influences and individuals based solely on a belief that those influences and individuals played a significant role in the forming of our early history, including the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence?

All I can say is the rest of the country should begin praying for the children of the Lone Star State.

John Clark

North Carolina

Friday, November 21, 2014

Republicans 'No' at Every Zig and Zag

The U.S. House of Representatives has filed a suit challenging the unilateral actions of the Obama administration in the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (Obama Care). As the NY Times reported today (November 21, 2014):

The suit accuses the Obama administration of unlawfully postponing a requirement that larger employers offer health coverage to their full-time employees or pay penalties. (Larger companies are defined as those with 50 or more employees.)

After too many times to count of voting to repeal the entire Obama Care law, the House leadership brings a lawsuit saying the President is not implementing the law as it is written.  These actions, contradictory on their face, only make sense when the goal of obstruction of Obama’s efforts is acknowledged as the sole raison d’etre of the ‘house of the people.’

Thankfully, although a bit late, Obama is taking unilateral action on important issues of our nation.  The speech this week laying out his steps to address the pressing human crisis of our failed immigration system is another example.  With majorities in both houses beginning in January, although slim in the Senate, Republicans no doubt will be placing boulders in the middle of the road of improvements for our country.  Already drags on investing in our infrastructure and renewable energy created by the Republicans are hurting this country, especially when action on these critical issues would create work for thousands of Americans.

Although not surprising, the result remains a tragedy.  Hopefully, Obama will act unilaterally when he can to at least try to keep the U.S. within the rational trends of the 21st century.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Report of the Cultural Life Task Force:  A Missed Opportunity

By John H. Clark

The Cultural Life Task Force (CLTF) organized by the Arts and Science Council (ASC) a year ago to study the cultural sector and recommend ways to financially sustain the organizations that produce art, exhibit science and showcase history recently issued its recommendations.  The study was needed and had the potential to set Charlotte-Mecklenburg, and eventually the surrounding region, on a positive course.  That course would increase the number of audiences and donors and connect them directly with the music, dance, theater, art, science and history about which they could become passionate.

The unfortunate thrust of the Task Force recommendations is to keep the Arts and Science Council at the center of power and influence in our cultural sector.  The people at the ASC, its board and staff, mean well and truly care about the culture of our region.  It is no surprise, however, those individuals in and close to the ASC are not going to recommend a significantly diminished role for the organization. But they should have.

Here’s why.  A thriving cultural sector is one in which thousands of individuals and families are engaged directly with art, science and history.  Not only attending performances and exhibits but being moved to give money to those producing groups to support their activities.  A key result is a sense of investment and pride by those donors in the groups they support.

Workplace giving, which the ASC and the Task Force want to retain, does not achieve the passionate connection direct philanthropy creates between donor and cause.  First of all, donations from the employees go to the ASC.  Only very recently has some choice been introduced. Secondly, an employee may prefer to give to an organization that does not receive funds through the ASC, yet must give to the campaign. Thirdly, many employees in workplace giving feel pressured to give which creates only resentment. Workplace giving is efficient in collecting dollars, but it begs the question of what are those dollars for?

Currently, those funds support the ASC:  a third-party broker which produces no art, exhibits no science and showcases no history.  The ASC sucks up millions of dollars from the community, determines which organizations receive some of that money and consequently wields too much power over the future development of those groups.

By giving major annual grants to the selected cultural organizations that often made up 20-30% of their budgets, the ASC helped create a dependency of these cultural organizations on the ASC. For example, the Charlotte Symphony—one of the most vital organizations in our cultural life—was receiving about $2 million from the ASC before the recession of 2008. The CSO board and staff then had to be concerned with raising only 75% of its total operating expenses.

The recession had a devastating impact on this ASC-centered model.  For example the ASC grant to the Charlotte Symphony dropped from $2 million in 2008 to just over $800,000 last year.  Employees in the companies of the annual ASC work-place campaign felt no connection to this third-party.  Many donors who gave directly to the cultural organizations did step forward, because they had the passion for the arts, science and history. Today there is still a large gap between pre-recession and post-recession support for our cultural organizations.

For the long-term, the ASC needs to move from center stage and begin to phase out workplace giving as it helps the organizations become truly independent and self-sustaining. Clearly, the current structure, which has been in place for a half century, cannot turn around on a dime.  A transition period of a decade should be established to move to an approach in which the organizations which are directly engaged in art, science and history are the key players.  The ASC can play a catalyst role and some of the recommendations in the Task Force report are most appropriate for that purpose.

Efforts should be made to advocate for a cultural life in which those individuals and groups which make art in our communities and neighborhoods are connected to those individuals and families who experience it, come to love it and willingly and even joyously support it.