Nehemiah Manufacturing: Not Just A Social Entrepreneurship, But Business As Mission

I love teaching business. In fact, as I have said many times business has an incredible ability to create positive social change. Let me give you some examples. Back in the old days, ok boomer, before electronic deposit, managers were required to distribute paychecks. This usually happened on Thursdays. This event was one time employees were happy to see their boss. As a manager, I loved to hand out the checks, shake my employee’s hand, and tell them they had done a great job. I also told them they could come back the next day. That last part was a joke. Business has created economic opportunity all over the world, improving people’s lives. And in the case of my subject today, offers people a second chance.

Several years ago, I was a part of team that wrote a new major for the school I taught at. Students who studied this subject would receive a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Entrepreneurship. They would study humanities, business, entrepreneurship, and religion. The goal was to not only give them business skills, but to teach students to be entrepreneurial. We also wanted to give them a why. The slogan was to whom much is given much is required. I believe that when you are blessed, you are required to give back. Business can and does do this.

Today I read about a business located in Cincinnati, Ohio. 80% of its employees have criminal backgrounds who were looking for a way to turn their lives around. Nehemiah Manufacturing “invests in our employees in order to retain them.” Dan Meyer and Richard Palmer founded Nehemiah in 2009. The mission is “to build brands, create jobs, and change lives.” Both men have significant business experience, and have a goal to “design, manufacture, market, and sell brands in a variety of product categories.”

When it comes to creating of jobs, they are focused “on creating job opportunities for individuals in the inner-city of Cincinnati.” These jobs have helped to change people’s lives. People that may not have had a second chance if not for Nehemiah Manufacturing. Nehemiah is a certified B corporation, which has some ownership implications helping management to focus on doing good.

The Wall Street Journal describes Meyer and Palmer as men who previously had been successful in business but were now focused on bringing manufacturing back to the city. The reason, “their Christian beliefs were a motivator; the pair named the company Nehemiah after an Old Testament prophet who helped rebuild Jerusalem.” However, according to the article, the road to success has not been easy.

Dan Meyer said, “We didn’t understand all of the challenges. Employees showed up one day, only to disappear the next.” I had heard about this phenomenon before. I used to take students to South Dakota to work on the PineRidge Reservation. We would serve a small church there, and then go to White Clay, Nebraska and serve lunches to street people there. Often, we would drive to Martin, South Dakota and buy supplies to feed the students and the others. One time I got to talking to the person who owned the small supermarket that we shopped at. I asked him if he hired Native American workers and he said he did, but he had to learn how to be flexible. Often after hiring someone they would disappear for days and then return. The reason they would give was usually family related. The owner had to convince his employee that not only was family important but so was their job. It took time to figure out how to come to a compromise.

Working with people who had been incarcerated Meyer and Palmer “thought that providing a job would fix everything.” The problems that many of their employees faced needed to be dealt with. “If you are homeless, couch surfing, how productive can you be?” They adjusted their business model to include a social-service team and a lawyer, and now 80% of their employees (180 in total) are previously incarcerated people.

Karrie Norgren, a recovering heroin addict; Gina Johnson, had a “seventh-grade education and was in and out of prison for drug-related crimes; Rayshun Holt, spent 20 years in prison, but is now a second-shift supervisor; and Michael Taylor, who struggled with alcohol addiction, is the company’s operations manager. These are the stories that represent many of the people who have been given a second chance. As I read their stories, and the business strategy of Nehemiah’s leaders, I am convinced that there is no such thing as a business decision. All decisions we make in business impact people, either positively or negatively.

In Hill and Rae’s book “The Virtues of Capitalism: A Moral Case for Free Markets,” we see an argument for the business model that Meyer and Palmer have chosen. An economic system that encourages creativity, initiative, cooperation, civility, and responsibility allows not only for economic profit but the ability to do good with that profit. In our capitalist system workers are allowed to “sell their labor and talents for the best price they can get.” To be able to do this, workers need to ensure their skills are up to date. This means taking responsibility for their level of skill. This could mean going back to school, or taking training classes to be prepared.

However, as I stated earlier to whom much is given much is required. This is what the Bible emphasizes. I have concluded that as much as I like Tony Campolo and Jim Wallis, their anti-capitalist position is incorrect. As Hill and Rae notes, “the Bible focuses on the ends of the economic system more than the means for accomplishing those ends.” That seems like situational ethics a bit, so what do they mean? First, an economic system “should maximize the opportunities for human beings to exercise creativity, initiative, and innovation.” I agree, and this is what Nehemiah Manufacturing is doing. Second. The economic system should “provide a means for human beings to support themselves and their dependents.” Capitalism does provide the best means for this, but business needs to look at it wage structure and ensure this can be attained. I don’t think entry level jobs should pay a living wage, but they should pay a fair wage.

The third given for an economic system, “is that it must take care of those who cannot take care of themselves. It must provide a safety net for the poor.” I am adamantly against Socialism as an economic system. However, I am for a strong social system that ensure people have to ability to lift themselves out of difficult situations. This is what Nehemiah Manufacturing has provided. Socialism creates government dependency, while capitalism provides the opportunities for people to take care of themselves and others. As Hill and Rae state, “capitalism provides the resources that are necessary for either private charity, or public assistance through taxes, to help support the poor. Both charity and government assistance assume productive wealth creation.” However, those that have wealth and the means of production need to choose to use those resources to help others. Hill and Rae also say, “but more importantly, capitalism provides the opportunities for the poor to help themselves out of poverty and uphold their dignity at the same time, since they are participants in the system and not simply recipients of charity.”

Gina Johnson, 56 years-old, works for Nehemiah Manufacturing. The company helped her “find housing, clean up her credit record, and set a budget.” She has taken this opportunity seriously and has begun “rebuilding her relationship with her children,” who in turn are helping her earn her GED. Michael Taylor, Nehemiah Manufacturing’s operations manager, “has struggled with drug and alcohol addiction and was jailed for burglary.” Now he, and the other employees support each other to ensure their success.

I really think this company reflects what business as mission is all about. It is profitable, intentional about its action about the kingdom of God, focused on holistic transformation, and concerned about the poor. The owners of Nehemiah call themselves a social entrepreneurship, and I think it is. However, I think it is so much more, it truly is Business as Mission which to me has greater purpose.

And that is my thought for the day!

Snowflakes And The Workplace

I have to say, some days are better than others for reading materials. One editorialist this morning said that the most dangerous place to be is between Chuck Schumer and a T.V. camera. I thought that was hilarious. The only problem with this assumption, is its true for all politicians. I’ve had friends with political ambitions and they couldn’t wait to get in front of people. I decided I didn’t want to spend too much time on that subject. Now, I’d like to give the reason for the title of today’s offering

I’ve chosen the title for this blog, that will probably be offensive to some of my readers, because of what individuals who are working for a large company, one that I retired from, have said about younger workers that they are dealing with. They have described them as lazy and lacking resilience. This may be too generalized, but I do think there is a problem with this younger generation. They don’t want to work. So, when I read an editorial this morning about how younger workers feel lonely at the office, I came to the conclusion that what we teach the younger people in higher education just may not be conducive to their ability to perform in a job. Its ok, you can say “ok boomer.”

According to Rachel Feintzeig, “more than 80% of employed members of Generation Z – many of whom are just entering the workforce – and 69% of employed millennials are lonely.” This loneliness includes feeling alienated from co-workers, emotional distance from colleagues, and a sense of emptiness while “hiding their true selves.” According to Feintzeig Gen-Z includes workers who are 18 to 22 and millennials who are 23 to 37 years old. Another interesting tidbit is both Gen-Z and millennials have a close friend at work, “yet they find their jobs less meaningful and feel more friction between their values and those of their companies.”

Feintzeig focuses on communication styles as the main cause for young people’s sense of loneliness. These workers “tend to shun phone calls and in-person conversations – the kinds of interactions that lead to real connections.” These folks spend a lot of time on social media, which could be a huge part of this issue. Another possible cause is remote assignments. “Telecommuting has become a hot benefit,” which surveyors have found to impact workers more negatively when it comes to relationships. These workers have found their jobs to be less meaningful. It seems the reasons this article give are good, but I think there is more. I think these young people are being set up by higher education. They are told in college they must question and resist authority, that everyone has a voice, and capitalism is evil. I think when they get in the real world, they see that most people don’t think this way. It sets up a dissonance for them.

One thing I like about teaching business in higher education is I can tell young people what to expect when they get in the workplace. I remember a few years ago I had a young student who was very talented. He led our ENACTUS team to its best performance when competing against other colleges and universities. We finished in the top twenty in the nation. Not bad for a very small college.

I used to tell him that companies are not waiting for him to show up. In fact, I would tell him, that when you become a manager and manage a bunch of old farts, they are going to tear you up. I told him he will need to figure out how to earn their respect, because they won’t give it just because you are a young hotshot. We had breakfast several years after his graduation and he told me I was right. I think I helped prepare him for his future career.

I remember being that young person thinking I knew everything. Now I am an old person that has been around the sun a few times. I remember a boss telling me during a training class that the instructor of that class had probably forgotten more that I knew about the training subject. Yep, he put me in my place. But I never felt isolated or lonely during my career. I was always moving forward, and never thought the company owed me anything other than what we agreed to regarding pay and benefits. Colleges and Universities today, in my opinion, are setting students up for a fall when they get in the workplace.

Colleges and universities for the most part all go to the same well for students. They try to make prospective students feel welcomed and special. This continues all through the student’s educational tenure. So, when the student graduates and they head out into the real world, they can be somewhat dismayed when they learn that no one is waiting for little Susie or Johnnie to show up in the workplace. When I went through orientation at Boeing, April 5, 1977 (I was 26 years old), the human resource people told me there were 1,000 people that wanted my job. Therefore, if I did not like anything about working there, don’t let the door hit me in the butt on the way out. This is the workplace these young adventurers are entering.

I remember one of the things I learned when working my first real job was the workplace is not a democracy. In other words, my bosses didn’t like being challenged and forget about resisting authority in the workplace they call that insubordination, which is an offense that gets you fired. In politics all of us may have a voice, but in the workplace that is not the case.  When little Johnnie, or little Susie, makes a demand that they should have a say in how the department is run, they will be told in no uncertain terms to get back to work. There are policies and procedures created by the company, and little Nancy just needs to accept it.

In the workplace people like to make money. This is a part of the capitalist system. People in the workplace don’t care what your Humanities professor said about the evils of capitalism. They want to work, make money, have good healthcare, so they can take care of their families. It is that simple. They don’t want anything to do with Karl Marx, or what Professor Engels says about socialism. So, no matter what utopia you hear about in college, it is different in the real world. The sooner you realize this and give up on some of the things you were told, the sooner you will feel a part of the community of workers which you find yourself. I know there is some student support organization right now that is calling me the devil for writing this, but the fact is young people need to hear the truth. The world is not waiting for you; nso, you can’t do everything you set your mind too; and social media is not reality. Stop being a snowflake, and start being a part of the team. Learn how to work with others, take direction, and work hard to make some money so you can move out of your parent’s basement.

And that is my thought for the day!

 

 

Oh No, Not Boeing Again!

As a part time professor, and as a retired full-time professor for that matter, I like(d) to use real world examples. For those of you who don’t know, I profess in the discipline of business. I love teaching students this subject because business has the power to create positive social change. As I have stated several times in this blog, there is nothing better than hearing, “everybody works today.” When people work, and are paid a living wage, they stay off government dependency. I digress.

I chose the title for today’s blog because I use(d) Boeing examples quite a bit in my lectures. I tell stories about my previous managers, some funny and some to make a point. I use Boeing to demonstrate both positive and negative actions that occur when one is involved in manufacturing. Several years ago, during chapel, the speaker asked the students what was one of the favorite words used by their professors. One of the students said, Boeing! Obviously, I may, have and still do, use the word too often.

As much as I would like to write about the fact that “the share of American workers in labor unions fell to a fresh record low last year,” representing a reduction of 170,000 workers despite an increase “in the rank of unionized state-government employees.” And I do think that a 10.3% share of the workforce is newsworthy, I am not inclined to spend too much time on the subject. Or, I could write about Elizabeth Warren’s Banana Republic announcement. If Warren is elected she will “launch an investigation into her predecessor and anyone who worked for him.” In other words, she wants to criminalize political differences. You talk about undermining the constitution. But, I think I have written enough about politics for a while.

Like my students have told me, oh no not Boeing again, I think that the situation at Boeing, and the FAA, needs some attention. Especially, with the first test flight today for the new 777X. David Calhoun, the new CEO, has his work cut out for him. Boeing has had problems with its space program, the 737 Max program, its suppliers, and employees. It needs to get back to running its business well. Don’t get me wrong, the United States government would never let Boeing fail. If there is a company too big to fail, it would be Boeing. If there is a company strategically important to the United States, it would be Boeing. So, come on Boeing get it together.

Calhoun stated on Wednesday that the Max “will fly safely.” That is good to know. The Wall Street Journal also reported that Boeing has set aside $9 Billion, which could grow to $16 Billion, to deal with customer compensation. This tells me that Boeing is taking this event seriously. 346 people died, 2,800 people are being laid off by a supplier in Wichita due to suspended production, and the company announced that Max approval will probably not come until June or 2020, can we say serious?

Boeing has been one of the most respected companies in the United States, but that trust has been damaged. If it is true that Boeing employees “took a cavalier attitude toward safety and mocked regulators,” then the company has a lot of work to do to repair its culture. I know there are comments from emails floating around like a management pilot saying, “I still haven’t been forgiven by God for the coverup I did last year.” But the people I worked with at Boeing Portland would never short cut, or lie, about the product they shipped to Seattle. My experience does not reflect what these emails are saying. But maybe it is true what Calhoun said that these emails “were part of a micro-culture within Boeing.” A micro-culture that needs repair.

The loss of trust has had a tangible effect on the company. “Boeing has lost more than $63 Billion in market value since the crash that led to the grounding of the Max last March.” Its stock price has dropped 25%. As I look at the current price of Boeing stock it is now up 6% to $315.01. That tells me the market has responded positively to Calhoun’s announcement yesterday. But that doesn’t change the fact that Boeing, and Calhoun, have a lot of work to do. What about the FAA?

Recently, there have been several issues raised with how the FAA has been conducting business. Even today, Andy Pasztor and Alison Sider pointed out in the WSJ that the FAA lowered the bar to allow Southwest Airlines to fly to Hawaii. “U.S. air safety regulators likely acted improperly in the way they authorized Southwest Airlines to begin flights between California and Hawaii last year.” Just like the Boeing case the FAA has been accused of giving “the carrier preferential treatment by rushing the approval process and cutting corners in other ways.” Just like Boeing employee emails, there is an FAA employee who has been given whistleblower status related to the Southwest situation. This whistleblower has stated that “FAA managers engaged in gross mismanagement and an abuse of authority for the benefit of the airline.” This is an ongoing investigation, and if true, it gives an indication of process problems at the FAA. As a government regulatory agency with responsibility for flight safety, this is a huge dereliction of duty.

Two institutions that have lost their way. When they came to the fork in the road of process or profit, they chose the path of profit. As a result, a lot of people got hurt. It is time for both Boeing and the FAA to look at processes and repair what needs fixing. As I think about what Boeing and the FAA need to do, I reflected on something Peter Senge once described as mental models. Senge states, “mental models are deeply engrained assumptions, and generalizations, or even pictures or images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action.” The pictures that once defined these organizations has shifted resulting in severe organizational problems.

Both organizations need to experience what Senge calls metanoia. Metanoia is a Greek word that means “shift of mind.” They need to learn from their mistakes and reclaim the system integrity required to ensure the flying public is safe. Trust between those of us who love to fly and the organizations responsible for the mechanisms by which we enjoy travel requires renewal. Once again systems need to be reinforced that ensure authentic communication, employee learning, and the practice of integral business.

Systems breakdown, and because of this they need constant attention. Open systems theory has three main components. Inputs, transformation, and outputs. Every organization takes something (inputs), information or raw materials, transforms it (through is culture, systems, and people), and creates output, or a result. If we don’t pay attention and watch results giving feedback to the systems to make them better, we will experience exactly what Boeing and the FAA have experienced. I remember years ago that Boeing believed it was a learning organization. I can only assume that people within the FAA experienced some of the same Learning Organization training that we did at Boeing. It is time to dust off those training manuals and relearn what they have obviously forgotten. You know, I’m an optimist. I think both organizations will do that.

And that is my thought for the day!

 

 

Democracy And Post Impeachment Trump

Wow, 2019 what a crazy year. Climate change, impeachment, Trump Derangement Syndrome, and much more. 2019 was not a year for the faint in heart. Maybe 2020 will be different (Not). Take gun control for example. Yesterday in the great state of Virginia 22,000 people marched for gun rights. There was no violence, and there was video of the marchers picking up trash to ensure they did not leave a mess. If the left was marching, and we all know what Antifa is capable of, would it be the same? I don’t know, sheer speculation on my part and probably too much of a generalization.

According to some people in my family and amongst my friends, Trump is the demise of democracy. In fact, we are standing on a precipice just waiting to fall into the abyss. Some of those folks want to expand that to all Republicans. AOC is even saying now that Democrats are centrists and not far enough to the left. Hillary hates Bernie, nobody likes Elizabeth, and people on the right are saying, including me, that if Elizabeth is elected as President our country is doomed.

When it comes to impeachment the House Democrats have delivered its articles of impeachment to the Senate, and today the Senate marches into history. It will be interesting to see how many Americans watch the trial in the Senate, or will it continue as the House event did, losing the Neilson ratings race to Last Man Standing. I would imagine the first day might be interesting, but people will stop watching because they know the ending. People on the left will scream that the Republicans are corrupt, and people on the right will cry that the articles of impeachment were weak to begin with. Oy Vey, will this ever end.

The fact is Democracy is messy, and current events are no different than what occurred in the past. As Gerald Seib stated in the WSJ today, “Democracy was never intended to be the neatest form of government.” I think that may be an understatement. The floundering of Democracy throughout the world is seen in the several examples Seib mentions. Trump and his partisan impeachment. The British government not able to complete Brexit “for three years and through three prime ministers.” Justin Trudeau can’t form a majority government, Angela Merkle leaving, and India appears to be moving away from its democracy to religious sectarianism. William Burns is quoted by Seib as saying, “The condition of democracy around the world is serious, but by no means terminal.”

Democracy is experiencing problems due to populism and anger and the vanishing middle, at least according to Seib. The financial crisis of 2007/2008 did something to all of us. Trust in our government began to erode. “The crisis also eroded the belief that economic globalization was as beneficial to those in the middle and the bottom of the economic ladder as it was for those on the top.” This is a continuing theme in the United States. The left is complaining that Trump’s economic growth is only impacting those at the top. But, to be fair, one cannot deny that populism helped to elect Trump. The polarization has continued to create a huge political divide that is impacting the ability to compromise.

The vanishing middle that Seib discusses is not the economic middle class, but the political middle. “All those forces make it harder to find consensus and compromise that make democracy work.” This is not the first time this has happened in the history of the United States. Throughout our history we have worked through our issues and retained our democracy. Every four or eight years we experience a leadership change. This is done without revolution, and even with Trump in the presidency it will continue to happen that way. In my opinion, Virginia is a great example of how this continues.

So, what happens after the Senate trial? Will our democracy survive? Absolutely! Trump is not the end of democracy. The rules of the game are clear. No more than two terms of service. So, when he is not impeached, and if he is elected again, after four years he is done. The question about whether Trump will be convicted is, in my opinion, rhetorical.

I do not think Trump will be convicted. He, as Clinton before him, will not be removed from office. The so-called solemn event will be exposed for the partisan exercise it was. As William McGurn stated, “Given that we already know how this story ends – even with a few defectors, Democrats are unlikely to come close to the 20 Republican votes they need to convict Mr. Trump.” With that done, where do we go? What comes next? We know that Trump will stand before Congress on February 4th to give the state of the union address. What will Trump say during that evening? I think it will be one of the most watched speeches given by a President.

I did not vote for Bill Clinton during his first term. I did for his second one. The economy that happened during his presidency was one of the best in our history. After Clinton’s impeachment he hit a 73% approval rating. This was even higher than one of my favorite presidents Ronald Reagan. For Trump, I think he will be re-elected. This time I don’t think it will even be close. Clinton gave his state of the union address in January 1999, while he was still in the process of the Senate trial. During his speech in 1999, “Mr. Clinton made no mention of impeachment. Instead, he invoked a humming American economy and asked Congress to put partisanship aside and come together to fix Social Security and address other issues affecting ordinary Americans.” Clinton stated that America was working again. I think Trump will do something similar.

What will occur on February 4th? Will Trump’s impeachment be done? Will he be a president who has been set free from constant investigations, or will it be President Pence? Even now McConnell is calling for fairness, and Schumer is screaming cover-up. What will happen? I am not Nostradamus, or Jeane Dixon (for those of us who are Boomers), but I can wager a guess.

The Senate trial will go quickly. Trump will still be impeached forever, but like Clinton will have an asterisk by his name, he will not be convicted and will continue as president. My liberal friends will go nuts, send me Facebook articles that I should read to straighten me out, and leaders in Iran will up the bounty on Trump from $3 million to $10 million. But Trump will still be President of the United States. During his February 4th speech, he will drive Democrats nuts by giving a great speech.

He will focus on economic growth. He will demonstrate how the tax cuts have helped not only the wealthy, but African-Americans and Hispanic workers who are working at record numbers. According to McGurn, “African-American average wage growth now outpaces growth for white workers.” I am sure Trump will focus on recent trade agreements, and the international agenda of making America strong. The media will not give up on Trump. They will continue to publish articles that are anti-Trump.

So, there you have it. My prediction for 2020. Notice that I am not saying this is what I want to happen. I am just giving my opinion of what I think will happen. So, when you read this and experience Trump Derangement Syndrome, it is not my problem, it is yours.

And that is my thought for the day!

Real Education Reforms Involve Process

I remember when I was in my late teens, my Dad would stand on the front porch of our house and scream at me that I was a communist. I found it funny and would run away from him laughing. I don’t think I was a very good son. Flash forward many years, and I am no longer a teenager, and I am no longer a communist. However, I find myself, figuratively, standing on the front porch screaming at people who are, figuratively, walking by my house. As I sit in my office, I am thinking about what words I would be screaming. Beware comes to mind. Don’t do anything stupid, is something else I see myself screaming. Or, how in the heck did you see any value coming out of that result?

That last sentence came to me as I thought about Cory Booker giving up his campaign for President. I would not have voted for him and will probably not vote for any Democrats in the 2020 election, but there is one thing that he has done in Newark, New Jersey that I greatly respect. That is the implementation of Charter Schools. I believe in educational choice. Wealthy people have the ability to choose where their children are educated. If they don’t like the public offering in their neighborhood, they can pay for their kids to attend a private school. This ensures that their children get the education they need to be productive human beings.

Inner city poor, and rural poor for that matter, cannot afford to send their kids to private schools, so they are stuck with whatever the public option is for them. Most of those schools are underfunded and filled with poor educators (probably a huge generalization). These parents can’t afford a choice. However, the charter school option has helped parents make educational choices for the betterment of their children. I think it is a good option, one that, for the most part, has helped children get the education they deserve.

Cory Booker, aka Spartacus, supported charter schools in Newark. And as Marcus Winters reports, “Anti-school choice lobbyists were never going to forgive him [Booker] for saying at the 2008 Democratic National Convention that they had tarred and feathered him for supporting charters.” Through Booker’s leadership “Newark’s citywide graduation rate rose to 77% in 2018 from just above 50% a decade ago thanks to the charter-school network schools he helped create.” We read of charter-school successes all over the United States, which has irritated a very strong teachers union. Booker and Obama have both supported charter schools in the past, but now all Democratic candidates for president oppose charter school expansion.

In Newark the charter school system is extensive and is seen by many as successful. Charter schools “enroll about 6% of public school students nationwide.” But in Newark, New Orleans, Detroit, Philadelphia, Oakland, Kansas City, Denver, and Boston the percentage is much higher, and “those urban areas are where parent support for charter schools is highest.”

Opposition to this force for good is antagonistic. Denver wants to stop new charters, and “Massachusetts voters in 2016 overwhelmingly defeated a referendum that would have allowed charter schools to expand.” Hmm, do teachers really want the best for their students?

Back in 2010 Mark Zuckerberg decided to donate $100 million to improve public schools in Newark, New Jersey. Since that time people have discussed whether the donation had the impact that was intended. It seems like the results are viewed differently based upon one’s politics. The Manhattan Institute reported that the resulting charter school system has led to large improvement in math and reading scores. However, the current mayor of Newark, Ras Baraka, has been pushing for reversing the expansion of charter schools.

I did a little reading on what happened to the millions of dollars given to Newark to improve its school systems. The first thing I noticed was from Dale Russakoff, a former reported for the Washington Post. He described how school leaders in Newark were corrupt, “treating itself to junkets, traveling to remote vacation islands on school district money.” Hmm, seems so normal.

The $100 million donated by Zuckerberg was matched by several other billionaires. According to the articles I read, the $100 million grew to $200 million. Cory Booker was instrumental in raising this money, and I have no doubt people wanted to make a difference. The money became a part of the Foundation for Newark’s Future. They would have the responsibility to hand out the money to improve education in the city. The board leadership was made up of Booker, and anyone donor who gave more than $5 million. This led to one of the biggest complaints that people from Newark were not on the board. There was an attempt to rectify this, but the “listening sessions wanted to report back what they heard, and what uses they thought Newark residents wanted the money to go toward, they were told the city had already decided on the changes it wanted.” No one really wanted to hear from the parents. Booker told Governor Christie that he “wanted to make Newark the charter school capital of the nation,” but was he successful. To determine this, I wanted to find out where the money went?

The breakdown is as follows. $48.3 million went to a new union agreement. $31 million of that number went to back pay of teachers. $57.6 million went to expanding and operating charter schools. $21 million went to consultants working on “everything from comms to data systems, strategic planning, financial analysis, reorganization of district offices, teacher and principle evaluation frameworks, advice on teachers’ contract negotiations, design of universal enrollment system, and analysis of student performance data.” $12 million went to local charities, and the rest went to smaller projects.

After reviewing where the money went. I thought about the results. What was the impact? According to research done by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, “student progress in both English and math fell in the first few years of reform, reflecting the disruption they caused. But then student progress sped up again; math achievement is back where it was before the reforms, and English growth is higher.”  However, another report states, “Newark’s test scores have gone from 39th to the 78th percentile – from below average to considerably above.” As I noted above, 2018 high school graduation rate was 77%.

I have thought a lot about charter schools. My children went to a public school, and they seem to have done well. However, if I lived in the inner city, I am not so sure I would want my kids to go to a public school. I as a parent would want to have choices. That is why I think some combination of public schools, public charters, private schools and private charters are best for the community. I think education unions can be problematic, but I think teachers need an advocate. All stakeholders in our educational system should remember that they are there for only one reason: to educate our children.

Public schools can be successful, and charter schools can be a meaningful option, as well as needed competition to the public offering. However, there is one lesson from Newark that I think we need to pay attention too. “Regardless of the net impact on the district or test scores, the biggest lesion of the Newark experience is likely about process.” Decisions should not be made without consulting those that are impacted by the decisions. Parents were left out of the loop in Newark, and educational reform needs to include parents. The process of educational reform will take a village, not a bunch of experts who think they know everything.

And that is my thought for the day!

 

Seven Pillars Of Wisdom

I have my traditions. One of my customs is reading the book of Proverbs during the month of January. The book has thirty-one chapters and the month has thirty-one days. I read one proverb a day and then take the time to ponder the words. January 9th, I read Proverbs 9. The chapter starts with, “Wisdom has built her house; she has hewn her seven pillars.” Subsequently, I spent the day thinking about what those seven pillars could be. The rest of the chapter does not describe what the seven pillars are, so I had a dilemma. What do we do when we need to know something? We Google it.

The resulting list was interesting, but the one result that stood out was the book Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence, who is more famously known as Lawrence of Arabia. I had not read this particular book, so I purchased it at Amazon, but I had a gift certificate and got the book for free. I love capitalism. I’ve been reading the book for a couple of days and have found the detail wonderfully exotic. Written prose so illustrating that it paints an incredible picture of life in a middle east so much different than today.

Let me give you an example. In chapter one Lawrence is describing “years of living in the naked desert, under an indifferent heaven.” These words that characterize “his self-centered army” have gripped my heart.  “As time went by our need to fight for the ideal increased to an unquestioning possession, riding with spur and rein over our doubts. Willy-nilly it became our faith. We had sold ourselves into its slavery, manacled ourselves together in its chain-gang, bowed ourselves to serve its holiness with all our good and ill content. The mentality of ordinary human slaves is terrible – they have lost the world – and we had surrendered, not body alone, but soul to the overmastering greed of victory.” Oh my gosh, how incredibly wonderful is that description of a time long gone? I so want to write like that.

In this age of Google, Social Media, and cancel cultures, I fear we are losing a deeper sense of what truth is in our society. We are giving in to Leviathan as he drives us to destruction ignoring foundational truth so important to western culture. Several years ago, I had a conversation with a colleague who stated they were not going to teach literature from dead white males anymore. I was troubled by the comment. Why would a truth written by someone who just happened to be a dead white male, and which happened to be foundational to western society, disqualify it from being studied? Associating truth with a particular demographic was troubling for me. I do think this is problematic in our society, and even more so in the church today.

It was about a year ago I taught a series titled Orthodoxy in the Age of Tolerance at a church in Portland. It was apologetic in nature and discussed religious differences and the need for us to study the creeds of the church. The reason I wanted to teach on this subject was because of the various compromises that have entered church dogma. I think two very dangerous elements are universalism and mindfulness.

According to the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology universalism “is the belief which affirms that in the fulness of time all souls will be released from the penalties of sin and restored to God.” Universal salvation has been associated with Gnostic teachers in the past and is now associated with liberal theology. However, there does seem to be an evangelical element focusing on what they call the larger hope, blessed hope, or victorious gospel. Unitarians and some mainstream denominations, as well as some in the so-called emerging church movement adhere to this heretical concept.

The second heresy is mindfulness. Academic institutions and other so-called Christian entities have used mindfulness to attain some level of cosmic spirituality. I think this is problematic in the church today. “Mindfulness is the psychological process of purposely bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment without judgement.” The process comes from Buddhist traditions, using “Zen and Tibetan meditation techniques.” This is something we need to ignore.

Both of the above concepts that have crept into the church reflect a changing culture filled with religious nones. People want spirituality, but they only want it on their terms. As John 8:31 tells us, truth is associate with a person and his word. “Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, if you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” So, to combat mission drift and creeping heresy there is a need for discipleship.

Discipleship is intentional preparation to sit, walk, and stand for Christ. Sit, is a positional reality. Walk involves the ordering of one’s life. Stand is a choice we make based upon how prepared we are for warfare. Jesus, in John 8, is talking to people who believe in Him. We who believe in Jesus have a new position in eternity. We are seated with Christ in the heavenlies, at least that is what Paul tells us in Ephesians. If we believe in Him, we have a relationship with Him, one that needs to be developed over a lifetime. This is a process of prayer and study. “If you abide in my word,” then we are His disciples. People tell me the best way to tell a counterfeit bill, is to know a real one. The same is with orthodoxy. How we can tell heresy is by spending time in truth. Then we can stand in the coming trying days.

Returning to the seven pillars of wisdom, even though Proverbs 9 does not tell us what the seven pillars are, we can draw some conclusions. First, the choice of the word seven is significant. Seven in the Bible is a number of completeness or perfection. The seven pillars refer to perfect wisdom. Characteristics of this wisdom are, the fear of the Lord, instruction, obedience, trust, put away evil speech and actions, diligence, and counsel. This is not a comprehensive list, but it gives us a sense of what perfect wisdom is. I also think this is a good description of discipleship too.

The world needs to see a church that reflects the light of Jesus, not the false doctrines of Leviathan.

And that is my thought for the day!

Everybody Works Today!

When it comes to reading material, some days are just better than others. I have found that when I have a plethora of source material it is easier to write my thoughts down. Today was one of those days that I could have expressed my opinion about many different subjects. I could have discussed the managerial elite. I found the subject intriguing. I could have written how Boeing’s arrogance is hurting its financial performance and the performance of its suppliers. So many subjects, and so much to express my opinion about.

One subject that will probably make it to my blog at a later date is “America’s Conservative Plurality.” This was a review and outlook article in today’s Wall Street Journal. It appears, at least according to the WSJ, that a comprehensive 2019 survey has determined that “the share of liberals declined, and the share of conservatives increased, for the first time since 2011.” Liberals number about 24% of our population, which represents a 2% drop from 2018. “The share of conservatives ticked up from 35% to 37%.” As the editorial board stated these are small changes, but bears watching.

However, I think I want to focus my attention on one of my favorite topics, income inequality. I think the best way to improve someone’s life is to help them obtain and retain meaningful employment, not sustained government dependence. We are three years into Trump’s presidency, and as people say he owns the economy and other issues facing us in America. The question of whether tax cuts have helped or hurt is something that many are writing about now. I will let the so-called experts debate the tax cuts, but what I would like to discuss is what the numbers point to.

The December employment report has been released. The announcement that 145,000 jobs were created in December was a bit disappointing, but when we combine the employment numbers with other detail from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, I think we can be happy. The unemployment rate has held steady at 3.5%. That is an amazing number. As you know, I am a professor who has had the opportunity to teach many different business subjects. One of those subjects is economics. In the textbook I use, it says that 5 to 7% unemployment is considered full employment. In other words, anyone who wants to work has found work. A sustained 3.5% rate demonstrates just how strong the labor market is right now. This should cause a shift in a demand curve, resulting in an increase of wages for labor. That is exactly what we see occurring.

The editorial board of the WSJ writes, “The comparative data are striking, and mostly ignored by the press. During the first 11 quarters of the Trump presidency, wages for the bottom 10% of earners over the age 25 rose an average 5.9% annually compared to 2.4% during Barack Obama’s second term.” My point is not to make Obama look bad, my point is to demonstrate that when people have a job, and the labor market is strong, people are better off and depend on handouts less. So, the bottom 10% of wage earners are better off, what about the rest?

“Wages for the middle two quartiles increased 3.2%, compared to 2.2% and 2.7% between 2012 and 2016.” Many well-meaning people are rightfully concerned about those that do not have a high school degree. Economically these are the most disadvantaged, and if they are doing better, then maybe we have a good economy. According to the WSJ, “Less educated workers have also seen the strongest gains. Wages have risen at a 6.1% annual clip for workers over 25 without a high school degree and 3.9% for those with some college.” It appears we have a good economy.

There is another measurement that I think is even more important. The labor force participation rate delineates how many people of working age actually have a job. Let’s say our population is ten people. Four people have chosen not to work and stay home and live in their parent’s basement. Six people of work age then are participating in the labor force. We would say the labor force participation rate would be 60%. This number has been tracked for decades. For example, in November 1948 the labor force participation rate was 58.7%. This number held steady until 1965 when it began to climb. In March of 2007 67.3% of people who were of work age actually had a job, which represents a peak number. Since 2007, the participation rate declined to 62.5 in October of 2015. In December 2019, the number has climbed to 63.2. Hopefully it will climb even more.

In economics there is a measurement used to determine how unequal wealth dispersion is for a country. The Gini coefficient “is a measure of statistical dispersion intended to represent the income wealth distribution of a nation’s residents.” If the Gini index is zero, then people are perfectly equal. If the index number is 1, then maximal inequality has been reached. Looking at a country ranking South Africa (.63) is the least equal, while Ukraine (.25) is the most equal. In 2016, the United States was 51st in the world at .415. The WSJ journal notes, “as for inequality, the Gini coefficient that measures the income gap has been declining among folks who earn a paycheck.” I do have to say, I did not see much of a change from 2016 to now.

There are certain things I do know. Extreme poverty through the world has been reduced due to economic advancement. In the US we see the same thing occurring. “Rising wages have lifted millions of Americans out of poverty and off the government dole. The poverty rate for blacks (20.8%) and Hispanics (17.6%) is the lowest on record.” This data reported less people are receiving government assistance, and more people are moving from lower income quartiles to higher ones. You would think that people would be happy about this?

Political polarization is not allowing us to enjoy the economic situation we find ourselves in. Some would claim that increasing minimum wage is the driver for improved wage results. I have written earlier that minimum wage should be tied to cost of living. If that were the case, then the minimum wage would be around $12 per hour. However, minimum wage was never meant to be life-long wage. It is meant for entry level positions. It also assumes that people will want to take the steps necessary for career advancement. Regardless of the minimum wage discussion, political polarization is problematic.

I think Trump Derangement Syndrome is robbing us of rejoicing in the fact that people are better off economically. However, instead of gloating, we need to figure out how to plan for the seven years of famine. Currently, we are experiencing good times, but as we all know what goes up must come down. Instead of arguing about who really helped you to be successful, figure out how to mitigate the coming downturn.

I love the fact that people are doing better. I love the fact that people are making more money, but we need to plan for the future. Instead of polarizing, Democrats and Republicans need to figure out what to do with deficit spending, and the horrible amount of debt we have as a nation. We have been living on credit cards for too long. I do think we need to adjust the tax rate situation. This is not to say the tax cuts were bad, I just think with any plan you always need to adjust. I don’t think we need to raise taxes on corporations, but the super-wealthy have said they can afford to pay more taxes. I think a little compromise would be good here.

Compromise seems to be a lost art. I hope we find that ability soon. Our country needs to recover this lost skill. If it doesn’t we could have some difficult years in the near future.

And that is my thought for the day!