Broken Trust: Greed, Mismanagement & Political Manipulation at America's Largest Charitable Trust
By Samuel P. King and Randall W. Roth. University of Hawai'i Press. www.uhpress.hawaii.edu. Honolulu. 2006. Hardcover, 324 pages. $26. Paper, 324 pages. $16.
Reviewed by Andrea Stith
The authors of Broken Trust: Greed, Mismanagement, & Political Manipulation at America's Largest Charitable Trust could have simply told a trite tale of good conquering evil. Instead, they have related a nuanced and informative story that provides the reader with insight into a painful period in Hawaiian history.
The story centers on the ransacking of the Bishop Estate/Kamehameha Schools and the individuals and groups that worked to save it from misfeasance. The brave individuals who stood up to the recalcitrant members of the Bishop Estate Board of Trustees were doing more than ensuring the trust's long-term solvency. They were struggling to protect the heart and soul of the Bishop Trust, secure the future of the Kamehameha Schools and the children they educate, and honor the legacy of the beloved Princess Pauahi, who established the Bishop Estate at the time of her death in 1884.
After Hawaii achieved statehood in 1959, the growing monetary value of the estate made trustee appointments politically valuable. Increasing awareness of indigenous pride heightened the status of the Estate and Kamehameha Schools as venerable Hawaiian institutions. Those differing perceptions of the estate's cultural and monetary value were not always in conflict, but, over time, the intentions of key people can bring to bear contentious circumstances. The years between 1997 and 1999 were tumultuous times for the estate.
Broken Trust authors Samuel P. King and Randall Roth are both highly respected lawyers and members of the Hawaiian community. They tell the story with great care and clarity. In just under 300 pages, they document attempts to hold the Bishop Estate Board of Trustees publicly and legally accountable for its actions. The book's authors are two of the five people who broke the story in a newspaper article of the same name, published in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin in August 1997.
While a story about corruption itself is, alas, hardly exceptional, this tale is uniquely Hawaiian. By beginning the book with a reasoned tribute to the Princess Pauahi and a history of Hawaii, the authors do the important job of establishing the significance of the Bishop Estate and the Kamehameha Schools. Building on this, they tell a nuanced story of greed countered by integrity, intimidation met by resolve, and imperiousness vanquished by activism.
With so many playersincluding trustees, parents, students, teachers, administrators, government officials and businessmenthere are many perspectives to cover and contributions to consider. At times, the details are overwhelming, but fortunately, they stop short of being redundant. Furthermore, while the courageous or nefarious acts of individuals are duly attributed, they are described judiciously as not to over dramatize or oversell their significance.
Unfortunately, "reality" means that the story continues. While the changes that the community demanded were, in essence, achieved, the slate was not entirely wiped clean. In an attempt to achieve "closure" and "healing," people in positions of influence resisted legally pursuing the bulk of the accusations made against the trustees. This attitude is viewed somewhat cynically by the authors, and it is understandable that the lack of accountability of the trustees was distressing to the members of the community. Despite the ambiguity of their victory, the community has reestablished the fundamental tenet that the trustees, regardless of their power, cannot act with absolute impunity.
King and Roth both understand the value of a community asserting itself to protect its own needs. Thus, this book plays an important part of the curative process. Not only is it about exposing the truth, but it draws encouragement from difficult experiences, and helps pave the road forward toward a more secure trust.
Andrea Stith is a program officer at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute located in Chevy Chase, MD. She is also a councilor (on the Executive Board) of the Association for Women in Science.
Public Work on Public Problems
Reclaiming Public Education by Reclaiming Our Democracy
Kettering Foundation Press. To order, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, call 800/600-4060 or fax 937/435-7367. 2006. Paperback, 165 pages. $9.95.
Reviewed by William Porter
Is there a public for public education? David Mathews, president of the Kettering Foundation, sees troubling signs that the answer is no, and he thinks that should worry all of us.
Everyone knows too many public schools aren't as good as they could beand they certainly aren't good enough for the struggling students who need the very best. For some, this situation leads to pessimisma sense that the system is too massive, too bureaucratic, too broken to fix. Others are content as long as their own child is in an excellent school with good teachers and new textbooks and involved parents.
But Mathews, who also served as U.S. Secretary for Health, Education and Welfare under President Ford and was president of the University of Alabama, insists the answer to this question is as much about the quality of public schools as it is about our capacities as a democracy. He sees a direct link between selfrule and collective responsibility for solving problems.
"A great deal of public work has been done for and through education . If Americans lose confidence that they can call on the schools to serve public purposes, where will they turn to make the improvements in American society that they want?" he argues. "Whatever happens to public education will affect America's ongoing experiment in self-rule.
Mathews' new book, Reclaiming Public Education by Reclaiming Our Democracy, is thankfully not another hefty research report proposing a slate of school reformsbe it charter schools, or better teachers, or the latest curriculumto cure what ails the public school system. Rather, the book is a field guide both for re-engaging the public in public schools specifically and for mobilizing Americans for "public work" to act on public problems.
Indeed, Mathews hopes the book can be a tool for "busy, preoccupied folks from anywhere and everywhere in the community." It isn't, he notes, "for civic saints, influential leaders or important stakeholders."
His book begins with a useful, well-documented review of public opinion polling and the estrangement between the ways citizens view problems in the schools and the ways professional educators and policymakers talk about them. The book's latter two-thirds flesh out specific ways of moving forward: Its second section suggests what the public uniquely can do to improve schools and the practices that empower the public to take action, while the third section proposes ways of incorporating those practices into the everyday.
What can grantmakers and donors learn from Mathews' observations and advice? I found three lessons.
First, Mathews suggests a series of practices that help democracy function best and help citizens take collective responsibility for solving collective problemsto grow what already exists and to "import" what doesn't. Any grantmaker concerned with tackling deep social problems should find ideas here. Mathews' advice goes deeper than how best to organize public meetings or how to design a public engagement campaign; his concern is how to sustain practices that meaningfully engage the public over the long haul.
Second, the book ought to challenge grantmakers to think more deeply about their role as leaders and prodders of social change. Foundations exist in a murky part of our democracywhile created and blessed by the citizenry to do good with their resources, foundations ultimately aren't terribly accountable and often operate behind Wizard-of-Oz-like curtains. Mathews doesn't tackle this dilemma directly, but grantmakers can't help but read the book and be challenged to reflect on their role in our democracy.
Finally, the book proposes a constructive way forward for funders and others who worry the problems of public education are too big or too deep for any grantmaking effort to make a difference. At Grantmakers for Education, we know that's not the case: Gifts of any size, if spent wisely and carefully, can make a big impact and change students' lives and school communities.
In fact, to guide funders in their work, we've identified eight principles for effective education grantmaking (see the handbook at www.edfunders.org). One of our principles for increasing impact in education encourages funders to create "engaged partners," by which we mean providing the means for stakeholders to help define the problem, identify viable solutions and participate in the design of the intervention. We also caution grantmakers to resist the temptation to think that they have all the answers.
Mathews' book is the perfect primer for how funders might go about the important work of creating "engaged partners"and, in the process, rescue our public schools and democracy from inaction and apathy.
William Porter is executive director of Grantmakers for Education.