Day: November 10, 2010

Is This New Wave of Educational Philanthropy Really Helping Anything?

For as long as there has been a public education system, there have been wealthy families that have ignored it, opting instead for expensive private schools. But lately, wealthy Americans have stopped turning their noses up at public education and are doing something that is pretty remarkable: They’re investing in it. Microsoft founder Bill Gates blazed the trail in 1994 when he launched the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has recently become more aggressive in its efforts to improve education in America. One of their biggest reform attempts was the “small-schools movement.” This aptly named effort looked to break up the nation’s largest high schools into smaller learning communities that would result in a more connected and engaged student body. (In the interest of full disclosure, I am currently enrolled in a class that is working for the Texas High School Project, a public-private partnership that gets a large portion of its funding from the Gates Foundation. As a result, they have also been the foot soldiers of the Gates-led small schools movement here in Texas.) However, despite the fact that Gates spent about $2 billion from 2000 to 2009, this effort has largely been a failure, even according to Gates himself. Nothing changed in the classroom and big failing schools just turned into smaller, equally failing schools. Another example of this trend in misplaced educational philanthropy is...

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The U.N. Human Rights Council: Politicized or Political?

We are approaching the 5-year anniversary of the creation of the Human Rights Council, a new human rights body within the U.N. intended to correct the shortcomings of its predecessor, the Commission on Human Rights.  This week, an open-ended working group will hold its first session in Geneva to review the work of the Human Rights Council. The second session is in January 2011 and the group will issue a report on its progress in June 2011. In his March 2005 report “In Larger Freedom,” Secretary-General Kofi Annan asked U.N. member states to replace the Commission on Human Rights with a smaller Human Rights Council.  He said the Commission on Human Rights had been undermined by human rights abusers who sought membership to protect themselves from criticism, and as a result “a credibility deficit has developed, which casts a shadow on the reputation of the United Nations systems as a whole.” The Commission on Human Rights was criticized for sheltering human rights abusers and for politicizing human rights issues.  Elected members voted on human rights issues based on national interest and voting blocs, rather than on the inherent merits of addressing those situations.  The creation of the Human Rights Council was intended to correct these problems and to restore credibility to the U.N. Unfortunately, the Human Rights Council has done no better than its predecessor in this respect.  Former...

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A Healthy Life Can Cost an Arm and a Leg

“Mommy, look! That man has one leg, what happened?” I hear this so often when I walk around in shorts. I have a prosthetic leg, or a robot leg as my kids call it, and as if that wasn’t enough to make it stand out, I have a giant burnt orange Longhorn and the word “Texas” written across it in 4-inch high letters.  I usually respond with something witty like “I didn’t eat my vegetables growing up” or “This is why you look both ways before crossing the street.” The other day I found myself speechless. An elderly gentleman who recently lost his right leg to diabetes asked me how much my leg cost and if my insurance covered the whole thing. I lost my leg to a grenade during Operation Iraqi Freedom and the Veteran’s Administration pays for all my prosthetics, so I had no clue.  He explained to me that his health insurance would only cover up to $5,000 and he didn’t have the money to make up the difference, so he was wheelchair bound. I wish I could say that I went home, researched prosthetic limbs and got involved. But like most Americans, because his problem didn’t impact me directly—even though it resonated with me more than most people—it soon faded from my mind. It took the earthquake in Haiti and the images on the news...

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