Black colleges' graduation gap | July 3, Bill Maxwell column
Don't ignore the achievements
This column decries the dismal graduation rates at historically black colleges and universities, and Bill Maxwell is correct when he asserts that "HBCUs must graduate more students on time." However, too often when it comes to African-American educational organizations, Maxwell provides fuel to opponents, because blacks and their institutions are largely invisible until something egregious is highlighted. Unfortunately, the positive examples of black success are rarely celebrated. For example, little fanfare was given Michael Bundy, a graduate of Florida A&M University who finished first in his class at Harvard Dental School in 2008.
The struggles of historically black colleges and universities often mirror the realities and complexities of African-Americans generally. For example, unemployment is much higher for blacks. A 2010 Bureau of Labor Statistics report says that the unemployment rate for whites with at least a bachelor's degree was slightly more than 4 percent, but for blacks in the same category it was nearly 8 percent. According to Khalil Muhammad of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, "That is deeply troubling because it cuts against the perception that people who work hard get what they deserve."
HBCUs have been deemed inferior since their inception, yet they have educated the very middle-class African-American community that positively contributes to the nation today.
Moreover, inaccurate assessments are made because HBCUs are often compared to Ivy League "historically white institutions" or large, better-funded state universities. Is there a correlation between the University of Florida having the largest endowment with over $1 billion and the highest six-year graduation rate in the state?
Marybeth Gasman at the University of Pennsylvania suggests that a fair assessment would place HBCUs side by side with historically white institutions with a similar student populations. Specifically, we should compare "them to institutions in a few of the Southern states with like percentages of Pell grant-eligible students and like SAT scores. Such an evaluation would show that in many cases HBCUs are doing a better job of educating African-American students with fewer resources."
Keith Barry, Ph.D., Tampa
Goodness without God | July 3, Robyn Blumner column
Faith isn't all or nothing
Robyn Blumner's commentary is thoughtful, and I recommend it to my fellow believers in God.
It's too bad that she feels obliged to include in this commentary her bias against "right-wing" people (her term), while at the same time, exempting her fellow "left-wing" believers (and nonbelievers) from accusations of hypocrisy.
If she would widen her world view, Blumner would discover that faith in God is not a measurable, all-or-nothing condition. Even the most ardent believers (such as the late Mother Teresa) express occasional doubts. And even the most committed atheists often reflect on the beauty of nature in terms of something akin to sacred respect.
Nor is altruism a characteristic only of the religious or irreligious. And I must add that altruism does not consist of taking other people's money and handing it to a bureaucrat.
The Danes and Swedes are among the poorest examples Blumner could have chosen, since culturally homogenous people tend to be far more generous to each other than people in culturally diverse countries.
But the real fact of faith in God has nothing to do with being "holier than thou." It has to do with being humble before a supreme power that is forever beyond our ken. It has to do with being always grateful for our blessings, and translating that gratitude into willing servitude to our family, neighbors and nation.
Robert Arvay, Tampa
Zealotry vs. good deeds
Robyn Blumner points out the apparent paradox that moral behavior is lower in nations that profess to be overwhelmingly "religious" vs. some nations including Sweden and Denmark that are largely agnostic or atheistic.
This is really not surprising when one considers that people can perform good deeds and behave honorably without signing on to a religious sect like they do in the United States. After all, if Swedes, Danes and agnostics in the United States adhere to Christian principles of morality to a higher degree than many (maybe most) of the self-proclaimed "devout Christians," then maybe the "true believers" are those agnostics and not the flaming evangelical zealots.
Remember, there is a difference between a Christian nation and a nation of people who call themselves Christians.
Jeff Radley, Lithia
God's true law
Without the revelation of the true God's law, the categories of "good" and "evil" are meaningless because there is no objective, transcendent standard of good. The highest authority for the establishment of "good" is then the individual himself, where there is obviously no universal agreement on standards.
Second, author Phil Zuckerman's extensive study is focused on Denmark and Sweden, where Christianity's influence is still a part of the society. Scripture states that God's law is "written in the hearts of men" (Romans 2:15) and even though that influence has been corrupted by sin, it is still going to have an effect on one's outlook on moral issues.
For all his advances in technology and knowledge, "modern" man (who laughs at the "religious credos") remains the perpetrator of all kinds of acts which God calls sin.
James Beaver, St. Petersburg
For (only the) richer | July 3
Marriage and children
This article makes the same mistake that our society is making about marriage — it only considers the adults and treats children as an afterthought.
We have a very large problem with out-of-wedlock births among the working class — those without a college degree. As this article notes, 44 percent of these children are born to single mothers. These mothers tend to be pushed toward poverty. There seem to be other problems caused by the lack of a live-in father for so many. Boys especially seem to be having trouble at school.
Rewarding top teachers cannot fix a problem caused by insufficient family attention for so many students. Neither can any other type of educational reform. This is why reform movements have failed one after another as the overall illegitimate birth rate has climbed from 5 percent in 1960 to 41 percent today.
We must reconnect marriage and procreation. We must re-emphasize sexual fidelity in marriage. We must once again demand that those who bear children, and those who father children, get married. We must again restrict divorce.
Arthur Volbert, St. Petersburg