FAST will meet tonight for its Nehemiah Action Assembly* where they will stage some political theater for the community and offer the chance for some elected officials to find some voters. There is little doubt that this organization that cloaks itself in religion is little more than a progressive “community organizing” political group. They themselves state that their sole purpose is to ensure that they recruit enough numbers to their cause to force politicians to vote “yes” or “no” on specific issues. While they hide behind the convenient veil that they don’t support any candidate, they certainly openly declare in their public meetings that they will remember their “yes” or “no” answers at the ballot box.
So what political agenda does FAST have? What issues are they pursuing and do they work and are the more likely to cause injustice or promote social justice? Let’s take a look at the current agenda. This year FAST wants the Sheriff’s office to spend money on “Smart Choices” to prevent recidivism, force the city of ST. Petersburg to only higher people from Pinellas County and force the school board to buy a dubious reading program.
Local Hire program: FAST claims that they can address unemployment by insisting that the City of St. Petersburg pass an ordinance that would require the city to hire only people that live in Pinellas County for certain contracts. They changed the requirement from hiring only within “city” boundaries to the entire county after this blog exposed the injustice of this approach last year. This ordinance would not create one new job, but merely “redistribute” the jobs to those in the county. It actually promotes injustice to tell a man or woman from Tampa who may be more qualified and willing to work at a lower price that they may not have the job in St. Pete! What if that man had a family to feed and was trying to keep their kids from turning to crime with a good income? Further, why should the taxpayers be forced to pay higher costs for a locked down market for people who may be less qualified. No, this is a poorly thought out approach that will only cause unintended consequences and may well benefit those who are most connected to FAST more than the community.
Smart Choices: This program used Federal grant money that is now going to give counseling to prisoners looking to re-enter society. The money ran out, as all Federal seed grants do, and the Sheriff is making hard choices about keeping his doors open and providing public safety or keeping a program like this open. The program only enrolled 39 people the first year and there was a high dropout rate. In addition, the results were not as good as intended and FAST has NEVER produced evidence of its success. FAST offers a few anecdotes of people who went through the program who did good, but never acknowledges that these same people had support of their families, churches and communities when leaving prison. FAST continues to refuse to set up a visitation program to prisons to help people know that God fearing people will help them re-enter society. FAST prefers the big government program.
Direct Instruction: FAST wants to force the school board to spend money on yet another set of books, work materials and a reading program called “Direct Instruction”. This is a proprietary, privately owned program that the school must spend money to purchase. FAST wants it as core curriculum at most Pinellas schools with failed reading programs. The program would require every teacher to literally say the exact same words and force every student in the classroom to read from the same script. Gone would be teacher experience and judgment. Here is a sample script:
- All: Teacher and students touch the answer to be learned.
- Teacher: “The answer to this question is, 1492.”
- Teacher: “When I signal I want you to answer, 1492.”
- Teacher: “The answer is 1492.”
- Teacher: “What year did Columbus discover America?”
- Teacher: “Get ready.” Watch the students to make sure all participate.
- Teacher: Signal by pointing or snapping fingers.
- All: “1492.”
- Teacher: “That’s right, Columbus discovered America in 1492.”
- Teacher: Reward. “Good job saying 1492.” Make eye contact with individuals. Smile.
- Teacher: Next answer, or repeat until everyone is participating and firm.
This is not what I would expect when I send my kids to school and it is an insult to expect a teacher to use this program which has highly disputed results. What is most interesting is that the Diocese of ST. Petersburg has not required that the Catholic Schools buy this same program. If this program is so good, why doesn’t every Catholic school in the Diocese use it? Is it because it is an unnecessary expense? Is it because it is only for the “disadvantaged” schools (a code for who knows what)? Finally, why is it that FAST won’t take the 3,000 or so that show up at their assembly and ask them to start tutoring kids. A few hundred of these good people sitting down with a kid from a troubled family would make a huge difference. That is the real kind of action Jesus calls us to do.
FAST pushes programs that have dubious benefit, cost a great deal of money and produce injustice along the way. What FAST is really about is building political power to a community organizing group that refuses to allow democratic participation and won’t even address abortion. It is time for FAST to change or lose money from the parishioners that are forced to contribute to them in the pew against their will.
*Footnote: FAST credits this name “Nehemiah Action Assembly” to a scene from the Book of Nehemiah, in the Bible, where an assembly of the people demanded that their debts be forgiven. They were in debt because the Persian King Artaxerxes had exacted huge taxes on them and the landholders they served. The King sent his “cup bearer”, a very powerful man, to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. It was this man, Nehemiah, who had told the landholders to forgive the debts on the people. While the assembly was a dramatic scene, it is not the reason for the debt forgiveness. It was the power of the second in command to the Persian King. Of course, more importantly, Nehemiah was a Jew who spent most of his time ensuring that the Jewish people returned to the moral life of living under the laws of Moses. This too is never mentioned by FAST. These stories are more example of deceptive tactics by FAST leaders.