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.
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.