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Making the Grade

The Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial in Washington, D.C., was dedicated this summer, and while there has been some debate over its design, the powerful impact of King’s life and the civil rights movement in which he participated is indisputable. One hopes that the memorial will prompt young visitors to learn more about the man and the movement, especially in light of a new study that found many students are not getting enough civil rights history in school. The study, conducted by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which graded each state’s curriculum requirements, shows that 35 states do not require or barely require schools to teach students about the movement.

Teachers must cover a great deal of historical ground and often have little time for lessons on post-World War II history, but efforts must be made to ensure that students understand not only the events of the civil rights movement but the emotions, the struggles and the suffering that came with it. Alabama, Florida and New York, which received A grades from the study, present a wide-ranging curriculum to their students, covering 15 years’ worth of events. Other states and schools must follow suit. Students must be presented not only with familiar names like King and Rosa Parks but with lessons on Brown v. Board of Education; Medgar Evers, the activist and N.A.A.C.P. field secretary who was murdered; and Mary McLeod Bethune, a determined educator who founded a school for women of color. Students must also be made aware that, unfortunately, the actions of King and others did not bring a definitive end to racism. The latest statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation show that there were 7,789 hate crime offenses in the United States in 2009. Clearly, the country still has a long way to go.


Promise of the Sea

The Salton Sea in southeastern California is the state’s largest lake, but because it is shallow and its water is saltier than the ocean, the lake has never been developed as a major water park, like Lake Tahoe. Diversion of fresh water from the rivers that feed the lake for use in crop irrigation has left the lake water even saltier; few fish can survive. This huge, muddy pit is a paradise in summer for worms and hence for birds, but few others have seen it as a place of promise.

Until now. Simbol Materials, the builder of a geothermal plant near the lake, has announced its development of a new, quick, inexpensive and ecologically neutral process for filtering the briny lake water to extract lithium, manganese and zinc—three valuable elements. All of a sudden, this mud pays. Because the United States currently imports the first two elements, a domestic market already exists for them. Lithium has the greatest potential, since it is used in the manufacture of lithium-ion batteries, the kind required for electric and hybrid cars like the Chevy Volt, the Nissan Leaf and newer models of the Toyota Prius. If the lithium can be extracted at the rate and cost Simbol hopes for, the United States could become an exporter of the mineral and compete on the world market.

Lithium from the Salton Sea could do more than enrich California. Extracting it domestically could lower the cost of batteries for use in homemade products, which could further the manufacture of electric and hybrid cars—the very cars that can reduce the nation’s oil dependency.

Fiscal Follies

As if more evidence were required, some recent reports related to prominent Catholic not-for-profit charities have made it obvious that fiscal transparency and effective independent oversight remain critical needs at some Catholic organizations. In recent weeks questions have been raised regarding poor management of the multimillion dollar budget of Priests for Life, and its founder, the Rev. Frank Pavone, has been suspended from ministering outside his home diocese of Amarillo, Tex.

The American Life League has been criticized for maintaining a partly salaried board of directors who have far too cozy a relationship with its charismatic leader, Judie Brown. More troubling, it has repeatedly awarded substantial contracts to a company owned by Ms. Brown’s husband. Meanwhile at the Vatican, Jesus Colina, the founder and editorial director of the Catholic news agency Zenit, resigned in September, apparently weary of his struggle to separate not only Zenit’s identity but its bank accounts from the Legionaries of Christ, an order with well-known fiscal management and transparency issues.

The church has endured about as many scandals as it can tolerate. Times are hard, budgets are tight and laypeople have thousands of worthy charities competing for their attention. A charity’s professionalism and fiscal prudence, though they can never be taken for granted, should be something donors can rely on. We are no longer living in a time when donors will be satisfied that “Father” or a charismatic lay person knows best about how to spend their money. Catholic agencies should not merely be following best practices; they should be setting industry standards.

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Mike Evans
7 years ago
It seems everytime some strong leader grows a major charity, it ultimately becomes an empire of ego, immune from normal transparency and refusing to submit to independent outside audits or even oversight. Too often the funds collected in the name of charity are diverted to their own enrichment and sometimes selfish lifestyles. Too often there is no independent board of directors with fiscal and fiduciary smarts. If you encounter someone who simply says, 'trust me' run the other way.

The Salton Sea is an accident from its earliest formation and has become nearly a superfund site. Mining it now for battery acids doesn't seem much like environmental progress.

And I still don't understand the carving of a memorial to Martin Luther King, Jr. in WHITE marble. It seems self-cancelling.
C Walter Mattingly
7 years ago
That's a good point. Any organization that goes excessively unchecked can resemble the federal government when its leadership seems egotistical and immune to normal transparency and refuses to submit to oversight, public scrutiny, or the checks and balances built into the system by our founding fathers. That's why it's important to check the efficiency ratings of such as the United Way and Catholic Charities to determine how effectively they have delivered their resources to the needs they purport to serve (both have 4 out of 4 possible star ratings by a major ratings agency as well as generally sound reputations).  
Leonard Villa
7 years ago
There have been no issues raised re Fr. Pavone like you noted for Judy Brown and the Legionaries. Fr. Pavone's organization's audits have been a matter of public record and his bishop made it a point of saying there was no allegation of fiscal or other misfeasance. Moreover why do you persist in using the erroneous word"suspension" when the there was no suspension of any kind and when this was an unfortunate and uncanonical use of the term by Fr. Pavone's bishop? Fr. Pavone at this point simply has no permission to work outside the diocese. That is NOT a suspension.


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