HAYES: Welcome to this time that we have set aside to raise our lingering questions, to react to what we’ve heard, and to enjoy conversation with one another. Some of our speakers have been able to remain with us for this discussion: Charles Ramírez Berg from the Radio, Television, and Film program at The University of Texas at Austin; Steve Harrigan, who participated in the wonderful writer’s panel; Betty Sue Flowers from UT, who was one of our co-keynoters; Jim Blackburn, an environmental lawyer and activist from Houston; John Silber, who along with Betty Sue did a wonderful job in framing our program yesterday; and Peter Zandan from IntelliQuest, who talked about where technology is going to take us over the next ten to fifteen years.
I have asked Betty Sue and John, since they had the first word and then listened to a lot of reflections yesterday, if they would kick off the panel this morning with just some brief thoughts.
FLOWERS: I’m going to throw three things into the mix that I thought might have been left out yesterday—and then I think John is going to address, more specifically, some of the issues that were raised yesterday as a way of getting into what I hope will be some spirited debate.
Of the three things I want to mention, the first is an aspect of Texas myth that is very strong—the appreciation for characters. Someone once said you could say anything about someone if you ended it, “Bless his heart.” When I heard this, I thought of all the stories I’d heard my East Texas relatives tell over the years and how even the villains were treated with a kind of loving appreciation.
The first thing my great-aunts would do with the cousins when we would come visit them in Clarksville, Red River County, is take us on a driving tour through the graveyard. They would talk about the tombstones as if they were people. A couple of years ago, I took my own son through the same graveyard. After I’d described one relative I’d heard lots of stories about and so knew very well as a character, my son asked, “What did he look like?” It was only then that I realized I had never met this guy. And then I looked at his tombstone and saw he’d died in 1922, but he was as alive to me as any of the many others because of the stories I’d heard. So that’s one thing we should keep in mind—the deep appreciation in Texas of stories of characters.
The second thing that I want to throw into the mix, besides praising all things that are spare and original for being in Texas, is a way of relating technology, perhaps, with mythology. Peter talked a lot about this brave new world we’re moving into, and I agree with him. We really are. I see that with my students. But I also see in my students a deep need—a deep hunger for the kind of meaning that stories provide.
I give one example from Friday when a student came to my office quite depressed. This is an honors student who’s working on a thesis with me. I asked her what had happened, thinking that maybe she’d had problems with her boyfriend and so forth. And she said, “I died.” I said, “I’m sorry. Would you elaborate on that since I see you sitting here?” She said, “I died last night.”
It turned out that for three years she had been in one of these—I don’t know whether it’s a MUD or a MOO—Peter, you’re going to have to help me here. What is it where the people go and assume characters? A MUD.
She’d been in a MUD for three years with a number of people from all over the world, and she’d developed a character then that was quite unlike her independent stance in the real world. In the mythological world of the MUD, her boyfriend had been her protector. The night before, someone in the game had just killed her for no reason—like a virtual drive-by shooting. So she was out of the game she’d been in for three years, and she mourned the loss of the character she’d made. Not only that, but her boyfriend felt guilty for having been unsuccessful in protecting her.
Now, that may sound bizarre to some of us, but many of my students have these other personas and lives on the Internet, which are very strong and form part of their daily meaning. So what I conclude from this is that the world is not necessarily becoming less mythological simply because it’s becoming more technological. In many ways, I see mythology being very prevalent in the lives of young people.
And my third and final comment—I was recently doing a television interview with Michael Lewis, the author of The New New Thing. This book is about technology, especially about Jim Clark, the founder of Netscape and Silicon Graphics and Healtheon. Clark founded all these companies on stories. There was almost nothing there when he started selling stock. As Lewis described these extraordinary feats of storytelling, I thought, this guy must be a Texan. Sure enough, he is. He really is. So I would say our ability to tell tall tales about ourselves is not antithetical to the rise of technology. They’re not mutually exclusive.
SILBER: I’m going to try to touch on several issues that have been mentioned by a variety of our participants to see if we can’t set the stage for a fairly lively discussion. I noted one of the last things said yesterday was that it’s never too late to be a Texan. Just to take that concept in perspective, I think it’s true. I think there’s a certain welcoming in Texas. And when I went to Boston, one of the first things I was informed of was that I would never be a Bostonian until my family had lived there for thirteen generations. That sets a kind of contrast in the size of the welcoming mat.
I’m not at all convinced with what Betty Sue said about saying “Bless his heart.” I have a feeling that when they talk about somebody that’s not too good and they say, “Well, bless his heart,” I think what they really mean is, “God have mercy.”
FLOWERS: That could be too.
SILBER: Now, when Professor Ramírez Berg talked about the need to stress multiculturalism, I wish he would consider, what is a multiculture? Multiculturalism by itself, it seems to me, is the absolute antithesis of culture. There’s got to be some way you pull all the strands and motives together to have a single culture. Yugoslavia does not serve as a paradigm. It’s multicultural as hell, and that’s why it’s hell. And I think Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., wrote a very fine book on the desperate need for unity in our culture, and I think that needs to be put in the balance.
President Natalicio spoke about bilingual education and tried to explode the myth that Hispanic parents or Spanish-speaking parents don’t want their children to learn English. She’s absolutely right. There have been any number of polls taken on this in California, Massachusetts, and elsewhere, that show that the parents recognize that the children must learn English in order to survive in American culture. But let us not overlook the fact that this is not the role of a Hispanic politician. The Hispanic politician does his best to push a form of bilingual education that continues competence in the Spanish language and reduces and retards competence in the English language. That’s happening in Chelsea, Massachusetts, where Boston University administers the schools. It’s happening in Texas. And this is a pernicious influence that we need to address, I think, quite clearly. It largely explains the failure of the Spanish-speaking children. They lag behind blacks. They lag behind every other minority group, and it’s very largely because they can’t speak the language. We need intensive programs, it seems to me, in English.
Peter Zandan is one of the most charming mythologists that I have heard in a long time. He is a mythologist. He has proposed a future of a new species that’s something like H. G. Wells, in talking about a future utopia, talking about a new species of humanity, more intelligent. We won’t know by 2010 that they are more intelligent—the machines are more intelligent—but by 2010, we will know that they can become or will become more intelligent.
I would like to observe just a few difficulties with this mythology that need to be taken into account. One, the machines are created and programmed by human beings. We are the creators; they are the creatures. And when you talk about a chess machine, the enormous intelligence in that machine was put there by human beings who finally figured out how to program this complex machine so that it could scan all kinds of options in a fraction of time that it would take a human being. But it’s not because the human being is not intelligent. The human being was intelligent enough to recognize exactly how he had to design that machine in order to make it work, and the machine then behaves robotically, following the program.
Secondly, the machines are not conscious; and third, they have no effect. These are critical qualities that are essential to humanity. And another point that I think is worth mentioning, is that the species that created these machines can pull the plug, and that’s not irrelevant.
Most important, however, is that when we program a machine, just as when we use a calculator or we use a computer, we’d better have very sound judgment and a great deal of knowledge so that we can assess the results, because sometimes the program comes up with the wrong answer. It can be a tragically wrong answer, and human beings have to assess the answers.
We have seen the intrusion of calculators in elementary schools, a disastrous development in education because the children never learn the mathematical functions and so they never have any notion about whether the computer or calculator gets the right answer or not.
When I’m using just an ordinary calculator and doing certain functions, I can tell at a glance if something’s wrong—if I punched it in wrong or if the battery is weak and it’s giving me a wrong answer. You have to have some approximate math and some understanding of what the functions look like.
I delayed the development of computers on the campus of Boston University for 15 years because I said I would not introduce major computers for faculty until faculty demonstrated the capacity to program them. If they didn’t program them, they didn’t know how they got out of the machine what was put into the machine, because somebody else put it in. As a result,
we went through four generations of computers in that length of time and saved millions of dollars.
Now, the thing that bothers me most about the mythology that Zandan has developed is this notion of a kind of virtual reality or a virtual civilization that will take place as these machines begin to take over—or not to take over necessarily, but to be relied upon more. A virtual plane does not fly. A virtual car does not run. A virtual ship does not sail. We have to continue to make things.
We often say the United States is a post-agricultural society. It is not. It produces more agriculture than it ever did in its history; it just does it with fewer people. It is not post-industrial. We still have industry, and we’d better have industry if we want national defense and if we want to be players in a world economy.
We are a service industry now, but not because we have ceased to be industrial or agricultural. And if we move to this virtual notion, then we have to ask, what’s the future like? The virtual university is a colossal fraud at the present time. I do not know a single virtual university that has introduced the human interchange between the student and the faculty member necessary to develop the conversational capacity or to test the genuineness of the work being submitted. Those are hurdles that have not yet been met by the virtual university.
And most of all, I don’t see the possibility of the procreation of virtual children. There’s going to have to be some intercommunication. The isolation of the individual, such as they fantasize on MUD, is a good example, I think, of a current pathology. I think that this is a pathology in which the right answer is that old cliché, “Get a life.” Not a life on that machine, but a real life.
Mr. Rove talked about education, but I don’t think he answered Mr. Dunnam’s question adequately about the contribution of business and the failure of business to stand up to the issue.
Business has an enormous power to influence the Congress. They haven’t used that power to influence education reform. The influence on the Congress is through the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. That is where the dominant influence on the Congress comes from. That’s where the control of the Democratic Party comes from.
In 1989, President Bush and all the governors got together and decided on the goals for 2000. By next January, we’re supposed to be first in science. We’re supposed to be first in mathematics. All the kids are supposed to be civilized and capable of graduating to get a good job, et cetera, et cetera. None of it’s true, because although they designated the ends, they never voted on the means to achieve those ends and there was no business community support to get there.
Sixty million dollars has been given to the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. It is an organization started by Governor Hunt of North Carolina, and Governor Hunt was taken in by professionals. Who are the “professionals”?—I use that word in quotes, for they just think they’re professionals—the NEA, the AFT, and the National Council for the Accrediting of Teacher Education, which accredits the worst schools of education in this country. The best schools of education do not even wish to associate with that organization.
And those are the people who are setting the standards for board-certified teachers. It will be the professionals dumbing-down the expectations of teachers and pushing all of these methodological courses and ignoring the subject-matter competence.
We have parents who are the engine behind social promotion. Schools of education are the largest obstacle to the recruitment of competent people in teaching. The legislatures are opposed to high standards, high-stake testing. That hasn’t happened in Texas yet, but I suspect it will. I suspect the governor will have his hands full resisting it when a large number of students fail to get their diplomas.
Maybe Texas will make it because certainly the governor here has been very realistic and very supportive. But in Massachusetts, the legislature has opposed our high-stakes exams, and the board of education crumbled and voted that one point above failing is all that is required in order to get a certified Commonwealth diploma.
Steve Harrigan talked about the duty of the writer to pay attention and not let reality be obscured by myths. And there’s much to be said for that. Elizabeth Crook picked that up and talked about the importance of debunking myths. But I think we’ve got to be very careful that by debunking myths, we don’t lose the myth, because myths have a very important function. They have a normative function, a function of stimulating aspiration, in the absence of which we’ll be a lot worse, it seems to me, than we are.
Mr. Graham talked about the Texas Rangers and Walter Webb’s book. He ought to take a look at an M.A. thesis that was never published by C. B. Smith. He was a local automobile dealer here in Austin. He wrote a fine book that introduced dimensions that Mr. Webb had overlooked.
But I don’t think Mr. Graham answered adequately the excellent question about why it isn’t the duty of writers or at least the opportunity of writers to adopt myths. Think of the way in which Euripides took over the myths that had been worked over by Aeschylus and so utterly transformed them. For example, he took the Oresteia and flipped it, turned it around, but still kept the power of that myth.
Now, coming to a conclusion, Liz Carpenter asked what’s different about Texas, a very good question and one that you’d expect of her. There is a difference, and I think one of the differences is that Texans still have heroes. I think that’s very important. We must avoid, it seems to me, at all costs, reductionism that trivializes the human spirit and lowers the dimension of human potentiality.
I think we can learn a great deal from The Death of a Salesman. Miller wrote about the life and death of an ordinary salesman, and all of the professors and departments of English around the country at that time were saying, “Well, this is not a tragedy, because Willy Loman is not a hero; he’s just a salesman.” It was Miller’s point that the death of a salesman—the life and death of a salesman—is worthy of the highest art. It’s about us and we should not be ashamed to read it, it seems to me, and to respond emotionally to the recognition.
We find ourselves voicing both sides of the climactic scene between Willy Loman and his son, Biff, where Biff, out of a life of failure, tells his father, “Pop, I’m dime a dozen and so are you!” Willy replies, “I am not dime a dozen! I’m Willy Loman, and you are Biff Loman!”
Then Biff, at a peak of fury, said, “Pop, I’m nothing. I’m nothing, Pop. Can’t you understand that?” And Biff collapses in tears and Willy says, “What are you doing? What are you doing?” He turns to his wife and says, “Why are you crying? Isn’t it remarkable. Biff, he likes me. He cried to me.” Then Willy, who chokes with love, cries out his promise, “That boy—that boy is going to be magnificent!”
Now, we don’t have to choose between Biff and Willy. Both are right. Both are a dime a dozen, and both of them are magnificent. The great fact about human beings is that we are both a dime a dozen and magnificent. If we believe only that we’re magnificent and suppose that we incorporate the myths at their normative peak, we become insufferably arrogant at best or, at worst, Tamberlaines or Hitlers.
On the other hand, if we believe we’re merely dime a dozen, we lose our reason for being and we lose our motivation for excellence and our ability to aspire. We lose our ability to sustain disappointments and losses that go with even the happiest and most fortunate lives.
I would like to close by quoting Saul Bellow on the subject. I want to know why should we—and I don’t think Texans have yet—why should we resign ourselves to insignificance and forfeit our promise—it’s a mythological promise, a mythic promise—of greatness unless, in the words of Augie Marsh, and here I quote Bellow, “You want to say that we’re at the dwarf end of all time and mere children, whose only share in the grandeur is like the boy’s share in fairy tale kings, being of a different time from times better and stronger than ours.”
In Texas, as contrasted with other parts of the United States, it’s unlikely that men and women shall fail because they lose their reason for being or their motivation for excellence and the ability to sustain the disappointments and losses that go with even the happiest and most fortunate lives. I think the Texans set a different standard, and I think it’s very largely as a consequence of its mythic foundation.
HAYES: Thank you, John, and thank you, Betty Sue.
Panelists, a few quick responses and then I’m going to open it up.
RAMÍREZ BERG: Okay. I guess I need to respond to the question about multiculturalism. It seems to me that’s a lightning rod of a word and people react to it in different ways, but the problem is, how do you define multiculturalism? So let me tell you how I define it. I think about ethnicity as not an either/or proposition, that ethnicities can coexist, and I think about multiculturalism as a response to the extremes of assimilation. You think about assimilation as it has been practiced in this country. The way it works is, we are an immigrant nation, and the way you move from that immigrant generation to the mainstream is by a process of more or less enforced cultural amnesia. The more you forget your root culture, ethnicity, nationality, language, and all of that, the more mainstream you can become, to the extent that you need to forget all of that.
And I remember when I was growing up, the adults would tell me, “Speak English.” And what they were telling me was—and this is the Mexican-American adults—what they were telling our generation was: Speak English because that is the language you need to speak so that you won’t suffer the way we suffered. They understood from their experience that because they didn’t speak English or they spoke English with an accent, although they understood everything, they spoke two languages. They were perceived to be of lesser importance, lesser intelligence, those kinds of things. So as I say, the extremes of assimilation.
So I think for me, multiculturalism raises the question, Can’t you be a good American and still celebrate your ancestry? Can’t you be a good American and more or less eat hot dogs and hamburgers and tacos and enchiladas? Can’t you be a good American and enjoy John Philip Sousa and a mariachi variedades? Does it have to be either/or, I guess that is my question. And the way I define multiculturalism is, it’s kind of bringing it back to the center. You don’t have to forget everything that your ancestors struggled for to get you to the point where you are. There is a certain joy in enjoying the past of your ancestors and at the same time being a good American.
And the other thing about multiculturalism is that we can enjoy the pasts of other ancestors and other ethnicities, and so I can enjoy Irish music and folklore and Lithuanian, and et cetera and et cetera. So, multiculturalism depends on what you mean when you’re talking about it. Too often the debates really center around the fact that people are talking about different varieties or different definitions of multiculturalism.
HARRIGAN: Well, I’m not quite as full of opinions as Dr. Silber. I wish I were. There’s a lot of provocative stuff he’s put out on the table, along with Betty Sue.
But I’d like to respond to two points. One, I don’t know what a MUD is; some sort of fantasy game involving computers and role-playing, I assume. Whatever it is, I’m not quite as afraid of it as I feel like we’re supposed to be, because it seems like the next generation of imaginative life. I don’t really see a qualitative difference between imagining myself to be a character in a computer game and reading a book and imagining myself to be that character, and so when we’re warned to “get a life”—I remember people telling me “get a life” when I had my head buried in a book. So I’m not quite as afraid of that as others might be, and I’m kind of intrigued by it and anticipating it and excited about it in many ways.
The other thing I’d like to bring up is the fact that this whole weekend has been about the Texas myth, and during the course of the weekend I think we’ve chewed on and pondered this myth so much that we have mythologized ourselves. And I guess the question I would like to ask for anybody who wants to grab at it is, Why do we need this myth so bad? Is it a deep cultural insecurity that’s driving this need to believe in all these heroes and to believe in this glorious, nostalgic history? Or are we, in fact, that different from any place else?
I go back and forth on this. I’m not totally convinced that Texas is better than North Dakota, for instance. You know, they’re just places, and a place has a certain character, and maybe we haven’t examined the character of North Dakota in quite the detail we should. I think we need a devil’s advocate somewhere in these proceedings. So if anybody wants to throw tomatoes at me, that’s fine, but if anybody would like to take up the notion of “Is Texas really that great?” I’d be happy to discuss it.
BLACKBURN: I’d like to comment on really a couple of things. One is I’m fascinated by some of the comments that Peter made, and while I’m not as conversant in technology as I suppose I’d like to be and I think I will be in the future, I think the implications of technology—I don’t think we’ve even begun to realize those. I think what Peter said yesterday about sense of place—and it ties back to some of the fantasy games and things like that—I think the deeper we get into a virtual mindset, the more important the natural environment may actually become, so that the contrast between the life within the machine and then true, living creatures—this concept of reverence for life, which I didn’t speak about yesterday—will actually become much more pronounced. And it ties in directly with creation theology and other things, but reverence for life and living things, I think, will become different. And frankly, that’s something—and here, I’d like to debunk the myth a little bit—in Texas we don’t have any reverence for life, not in any real sense.
We were talking to our neighbors up in the Hill Country about, you know, there was a snake that someone had seen and said they were talking to a local boy that lives up in the Hill Country, and he said—this guy was from the Midwest, our neighbor—looked up, and said, “Well, what do I do with that snake?” The boy from the Hill Country says, “Keel it.” We “keel” everything. You know, if it flies, it dies.
And I think that reverence for life and living things may be sort of what comes out of the technology, and I think that might be an interesting sort of juxtaposition.
I think the other thing is that the environmental movement, environmental issues, are very young. In my mind, they started in the United States with Aldo Leopold’s publication of Sand County Almanac. We didn’t even have a science of ecology that was taught in any rigorous sense until Eugene Odum created the book in 1960.
I think the environmental movement has alienated a lot of people with its attitudes and exclusions. And I think one of the things I’m looking to do is to try to find ways that environmental conservationism reaches out and incorporates rather than excludes, and I think that mythology is one of the ways to do it. And the Joseph Campbell work—you know, we have no environmental mythology. I think that’s one of the reasons that creation theology appeals to me so much. It’s trying to sort of graft onto the creation myth and bring it back into the mainstream of environmental thinking.
But I think sort of that combined with the fact that there are mythical lives being lived on the Internet, and I think there’s an attractiveness there. I’m not sure I truly understand it. But those are a couple of thoughts.
ZANDAN: Where to start? Actually, let me start with what I learned from this conference because I’ve worked in the technology industry now for about 20 years and never had a discussion about mythology. Never. It has not crossed the lips of any technologist, and I think that says a lot. But it’s interesting, by being here over the last couple of days and listening to the discussions about myth, I understand myths are something that make us human, and it’s a very important part of our humanness. And no wonder technologists don’t talk about myths, because it’s not what they’re all about. And so, just in understanding the myth, it’s part of being human, and I’ve learned that I will remember that as I move forward in my career.
Nevertheless, computers don’t use myths. They don’t create their own myths. We create some myths about them, and that’s how they think, and I will say the computers do think. They use algorithms to think. They process information. They don’t use the type of information that humans do to make sense of things. So they construct a different reality, and that’s a reality that is actually becoming more real in our economic world.
There are so many computers that are connected. They do communicate with each other and they create their own reality. I know that for all of us, that’s a really hard thing to think through, but when you really start giving computers some sense of being, when things communicate, does that mean that they’re more human? I think so. That’s one of the definitions of being human.
Dr. Silber said one thing about pulling the plug, that we can pull the plug. How many people here think we can pull the plug on computers? Does anyone in here believe we can pull the plug on computers? No. They’re running. In places where they want to pull the plug, like in China, there’s just an incredible underground, and now with satellites, there isn’t even a plug. It’s wireless. So I think that’s real and that’s continuing, and we really can’t stop it.
Also, Dr. Silber made the point that we created the machines, and therefore, they are an extension of us. I would like to pose to him a question. He helped create his 24 grandchildren. Can he get them to do anything? Do you have power over them?
My sense is that we have created machines, and my sense is that those machines will learn how to create themselves. And let me say that again—that computers are getting more and more intelligent. They will determine how best to design themselves and create themselves, and you can see some of that in our day-to-day lives. Computers are designing our cars for us. Right? Humans are not doing that anymore. Yes, we’re programming them, but computers are coming up with designs superior to what humans can do, and I would say that the likelihood of computers creating computers—it’s probably already happening. As a matter of fact, I’m sure it’s happening, but it can happen to a much greater extent so humans won’t control them. The computers will control themselves.
And I strongly suggest, if you have some patience, to go watch the movie Matrix. I don’t know how many of you have seen that, and it is Hollywood so there’s a lot of noise in there, but there is a view of the future that really addresses issues of reality, and the strength of computers and the role that humans might play in the future.
And finally, I actually appreciate the comments by Stephen. I’m intrigued by this new future. I can judge it, and I’m not sure it’s going to be a better place, but I do think we have—still do have—some control over that future. I think in another 20, 30 years we won’t, and so what I’m kind of intrigued with is that there are some wonderful things about technology. I mean, if you think about it, technology is not racist. Computers don’t necessarily know how to discriminate. There’s some real power to that.
At the same time, if everyone doesn’t have access to this technology, we will have a world of haves and have-nots. And so I think, as the century changes—and it’s probably more and more important for us to use the power that we still have in our society—that it’s extremely important for us to make sure that this development of technology happens in a way that coincides with our values.
And one other point, because I do see this in my industry—and this is probably the scariest part, why I think the industry is so powerful—a lot of it is motivated by greed. There is an awful lot of money being made, and that is pushing people to develop technology and not ask the value-driven questions. What about some of the deeper questions? And because of that drive, if we as a society don’t put some sort of control on that, I think it will be driven by greed. I talk about computers changing, and computers can change in a generation, literally in a matter of months. Humans don’t change that quickly. It takes generations for us to change. Human nature is not changing. Greed has been with us and continues to be with us, whereas computers will evolve literally in a period of months.
HAYES: It is a massive effort in self-restraint for the panel not to just keep talking to each other, but it is your time.
CHARLES GALVAN: Thanks, Peter, for the reference to Matrix. My grandchildren got the video from Blockbuster over the Thanksgiving holiday, and I watched about half of it, and I said, “Oh, God, I can’t stand any more of this.” They then convinced me to come back, play it over the next day, and see the finish of it. Now there’s to be a Matrix 2, and your explanation makes me realize I was seeing something that I now understand a lot better than I did at the time.
I’m sorry Karl isn’t here, because his comments and John Silber’s further elaboration on elementary and high-school education, I think, are important. Let me tell you a little bit about Dallas. Dallas was designated as the number one city in the country for business—for “bidness”—and we’re the best. We’re the greatest. But let me tell you about the Dallas Independent School District—tenth largest in the country; operates on a budget of over $1 billion a year; students are ninety percent African-American, Hispanic, and Asian; sixty percent drop out between the ninth and twelfth grades, forfeiting all chance for junior college, senior college, university, professional education, and even forfeiting the opportunity for employment for those who must have a high-school diploma.
We had a former superintendent who we sent off to the federal penitentiary for being on the take. We still are auditing the books, trying to find out where the money went for contracts that were never performed. We’ve just hired her successor from San Francisco and have paid him—or are paying him—the highest salary among superintendents in the country, and he’s already in deep conflict with his trustees over his proposal to employ the Edison Group to come in and manage some of the schools. Our test scores are below the state average, and they’re below the national.
So I enjoyed Karl’s optimism and projections ahead, but in the city that’s the greatest for business, I’m afraid it’s going to get worse before it gets better in terms of elementary and high-school education. This is kind of the dark side of the discussion we are having about education.
SAM DUNNAM: I would like to do maybe a bit more preaching on the importance of reforming our elementary and secondary public education system. Ninety percent of the children in this country are educated in public schools. There is a culture in the education establishment that operates largely on what many of the most informed critics like E. D. Hirsch consider a completely flawed system or approach or educational philosophy. The control of elementary and secondary education by the people who have a financial stake in it, namely the great army of employees, is not complete. There are successes somewhere, but it comes very close to being complete. The way it operates is that we see that principals and superintendents really cannot fire people very easily, so what they do, responding to political pressures, is transfer them. And the worst tend to end up at the places that have the least clout politically, and that is in our minority and a lot of the Hispanic and black communities.
So we are systematically, in the management of our education, by letting the people who manage it manage it, creating a disenfranchisement of a large number of people. We are creating a permanent underclass that will not have any employment opportunities in the bright kind of world that Peter talks about, and I think we have a time bomb here. So the urgency of education reform, certainly by business and by all people who are fortunate and have a stake in this society, I think, is probably one of the most serious and challenging problems that we face, and I think it’s been very much underestimated.
FLOWERS: You asked the question about the relationship between our myth and this dichotomy. There’s a very close relationship, I think, because we’ve put such a stress on the hero myth, and the hero myth has very little place in it for community. Our stress on the individual and success leaves very little room for community. Now, Texas has a lot of community endeavor, which comes out of other mythological systems, but it’s not part of the Texas myth to help children. Yesterday, for example, none of the movies had any role for children in them. Oh yes, I forgot all the bored schoolchildren singing “Texas, Our Texas.”
LAWRENCE GILL: Yesterday Peter and I were talking—because I saw a program recently on television that I found really disturbing and at the same time I didn’t understand it, where two individuals were talking about how, within the next ten to fifteen years, technology is going to be advanced to the point that we can implant chips into humans’ heads and the humans will have total recall of all intelligence—not only total recall of all intelligence, but using their own minds and eyes, can call up a video, without a telephone, and talk to someone anywhere in the world. And I think, if this is possible, what are the implications for education? And going back to the idea of the haves and have-nots, this is dramatic. And I think we intuitively don’t want to face the fact that these chips could be put in our heads, but it is coming, I’m afraid, and I’d be interested in some conversation about that.
BLACKBURN: I think I’ve been called by a similar thing. When I first went to Rice, everybody had a slide rule on their belts. None of us know how to use a slide rule today; it’s not necessary. And, you know, I think the question is actually quite a good one.
In terms of the future, what are we required to know? To my mind, at least, issues of ethics, issues of reason and rational thought become, perhaps, more important than some of the more functional skills that were what my early education was concentrated upon. And I’m no expert in education, but it’s just something that has struck me over the years watching the evolution of technology. And, Dr. Silber, you were talking about the fact that you made all those poor faculty people know how to program before they could do something and in the process perhaps you did save a lot of money, but there’s an implication there that knowing that thought process is extremely important—knowing how the machine worked, knowing how the answers came to you was extremely important. And while on one level I agree with you, on another level I think that it’s extremely important to know how to use this information and how to rationally process through it.
GEORGE WRIGHT: First, I’d like to make a general comment about how much I’ve enjoyed the session and all of the comments and presentations of the panelists, but I would have to say as a person who was a faculty member at UT Austin beginning in 1980 and then an administrator there, I heard so much about John Silber over the years, as Betty Sue mentioned yesterday, that it’s really been a pleasure personally to hear his comments because I’ve heard so many—I don’t know if they’re mythologies about him or exactly what—over the years. I’m always reluctant in a group when people don’t know me to mention my main area of study, which is race relations, because I’m always afraid that people will assume in mentioning certain things that I and people who study my discipline are merely negative individuals, that we tend to emphasize the lack of progress and so forth, brushing off all the other things, and that’s not the case at all. But when Steve Harrigan made a comment a few moments ago, it kind of triggered one of my main thoughts that I didn’t think came out as clearly yesterday, and that is if you look at the African-American experience, so much of what’s happened in Texas—yesterday if you recall the films of the independent spirit and certain other kinds of things showing Texans as being unique in some ways—well, I think in my discipline we would say in many respects that Texas has been very much American, very much Southern in its attitude toward black Americans, and that has implications as we go into the future.
During my early days here in Austin, the Goddess of Liberty was taken down from the State Capitol, and I thought about that incident and how people were talking about it at great length. And it made me think about when that present State Capitol was built many years ago, and the state used convict laborers. On one occasion when I was touring the Capitol, I saw a picture of many of these convict laborers. I’m sure there may have been other groups, but the picture that they decided to hang up was of an all-black group of convict laborers. My reaction was, Why didn’t they at least do the politically correct thing and maybe whiten up some of them to make it look like it had been an integrated group?
But I thought that it in some way symbolized, Here’s our State Capitol, having been built by this type of people. Violence after the Civil War was very real in Texas, the number of lynchings of Afro-Americans extraordinarily high, very Southern in that respect. The white primary system, denying people the right to vote, was played out in this state for some 40 years. The most famous college desegregation case, Sweatt v. Painter, started in 1946. The State of Texas spent, by today’s standards, $40 million when all they had to do is look elsewhere and see that they had—that all the other states had—lost on the same kind of case, yet they spent the equivalent today of $40 million defending that case.
Perhaps one of the worst episodes in all of United States military history happened here, the Brownsville, Texas, episode that was covered up until the 1980s. My point is that while a lot of progress has occurred—and yesterday we even spoke about that at some point, Mexican-Americans will be the largest minority majority—I would argue that black Americans will remain the minority of conscience in Texas and America even though the percentage of their population will go down.
I worry personally about the poverty of the spirit. The gentleman just spoke about the problems in the Dallas School District. Well, too many black Americans, for whatever reasons, too many black Texans don’t believe that changes can occur for them in our society.
I would end with this story. I don’t know how many of you have watched “Saturday Night Live” over the years, but one episode many years ago, I think, captured where a lot of black Americans are. Eddie Murphy whitened his skin and got on a bus, and at first there were all kinds of people on there—normal. Eventually the minorities, black people, got off the bus, and the bus driver looked around and they all of a sudden started to party. They brought out all this food and all these other things. Eddie Murphy was just shocked by this. He went to the bank as a white person to ask for a loan, and the banker looked around to make sure there are no blacks around and then said, “Here, just take the money.” Eddie Murphy said, “Wow. What is this about?” “You don’t have to borrow. We just give you this once a week” Here’s your white allotment, so to speak.
Well, this was supposed to be a horrible spoof, but many black Americans believe that’s the way the world is, that they don’t have a chance. How tragic that these people believe that this is a world they have no opportunities in.
HARRIGAN: Well, in terms of myth, yes, it is a huge can of worms that George and Charles and Diana and also other people have opened. But just to take a little piece of it, I think myth is a form of nostalgia, and in Texas, it’s particularly an Anglo nostalgia. And the thing that we need to remember is that nostalgia is not history. I feel that it’s certainly my duty, as somebody who writes fiction and nonfiction about Texas, to examine the real story, and that’s why I’m a little bit resistant this morning about myth. I mean, we’ve talked at length about how valuable and positive and culture-building myths are, but, you know, we’ve also talked about how destructive they can be, and I think that we have to be very careful to make sure that this myth is either all-inclusive or that there are myths for everyone that make as much sense because it’s really critical that the whole society of Texas is represented in this mythology.
PORTER STOREY: I don’t think myths are nostalgia at all. I see them much more as like an archetype of the unconscious that’s critical for building meaning and for making us human. What I’m disturbed about, though, is that what’s been brought up today is that both our myths about heroes who disregard danger and go to the edge of death and don’t have much place for children in the myth, and also new technology, which quickly throws out the old and brings in the new, or businesses that trim unproductivity so that they can be more productive, yet there’s something about this combination that’s not very life affirming, that doesn’t include ecology or kindness to more vulnerable populations.
And I worry that this sort of leaving out of our Hispanic or black members of our society, being concerned about more vulnerable aspects of our human population or the natural world, how that may be a byproduct of our myths, our hero stories, or our new technology, which finds no use for something that’s outdated.
LLOYD LOCKRIDGE: I think Porter Storey, my friend from Houston, has stated my concern, which I will get to at the end of my little talk here. I’m very concerned about what the future may hold as a result of all this wonderful technology that we’ve developed, but let me give you a little background. This fine conference has given me kind of a sense of myths and sort of where I came from. Both my grandfathers, my parents, and most of my family were born in Texas. The exception was my youngest sister, who had the misfortune of being born in Colorado. The meanest thing we could say to her was, “Chloe, you weren’t even born in Texas.” All my life as a child—and my father’s business took us from Austin to Houston to Omaha to Denver and ultimately to New York—we were sort of recognized as people who were a little different around New York. My father would get up—they’d be playing what they thought was “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad”—and he’d stand up and sing “The Eyes of Texas.” So you see, we’ve got something of a myth in us.
And I have heard the talk about heroes. I think the heroes are very important, and when I’m really disappointed in this country, it’s when some of our political figures don’t seem to be heroes, and I keep trying to think of the presidents who have been heroes. I would like heroes. I think they’re important to us.
I think my concern that Porter has expressed is a little bit like what John Silber, I think, was expressing, and that is that we’re losing something here, or may lose something. I’ve not heard this panel or any of the speakers say what we’re going to be like in 2010, and I’m worried about it. I’m worried about it in Austin. I was born here. It’s always been a very friendly place. We were away for a few years. I’ve only been back this time 40 years, but it’s changed. You’ll hear people in Austin say—they don’t call it road rage; that’s a Houston term—but there’s a lack of courtesy developing here in Austin.
I lived in a small town on the Mexican border and have a great affection for the Hispanic people. I don’t have any trouble with any of them or with the African American people. But in our small towns of Texas there is a sense of community, and none of the speakers have been talking about urbanization, but everybody knows that’s what’s happened. Agriculture may be a great thing in our state still, but there are very few people on the farms. There are fewer people in the small towns. And if you live in a small town, as I have, those people are very close. They look after each other. And I think we’re losing a lot of that.
Now, I don’t know what a MUD is either, and I may never find out, and I don’t know where our conscience comes from, but it comes from our mothers and our fathers, and I think we need something to keep our civilization sort of on course. And that worries me a little, and I wish that some of you up there would reassure me, please.
HAYES: I’d love to hear the panel talk about whether there is an emerging mythology—here are a hundred of the most significant leaders of Texas—that could create the greatness that is part of Texas’s inner self in 2010. As you hear threat of technology, threat of racism, where is the power for something to emerge that will evolve—your word yesterday, Betty Sue—the mythology for as great a future as Texas really wants? I think that’s what I heard Lloyd ask.
HARRIGAN: I don’t know that you can forecast the mythology. I think mythology is something that happens when the future happens.
FLOWERS: I was trying to point to what I think is a very hopeful thing, which is that we can take the ingredients that you so eloquently touched on in your own family history—the ingredients of the Texas myth—and turn them to different ends. That is the power of myth. I don’t think you can create a myth out of whole cloth, but you can take the elements that are here and with a different will and with consciousness and with thought and with intent, you can create a different end for these elements. So I’m very hopeful about the ability to be conscious about the myths that we hold so that we can create something new with these mythological materials.
Steve, you asked why do we need this myth so badly. I think of what we have on the dollar bill, “E pluribus unum”—out of the many, one. It’s not just “unum,” “one,” and it’s not just “many.” But out of the many, one. A myth is a story that creates coherence. It does not erase difference, but it puts the different elements together. We do that at night when we dream. I think storytelling is a biological need. We dream in stories that put together the meaninglessness of different things that have dropped out during the day. So I think that I’m very hopeful about the possibility of a new myth arising from the elements of the old if we consciously intend this.
ZANDAN: I would like to talk about the character of this century. I wonder, as historians evaluate the last 100 years, if they will be very positive about how humans treated each other. My guess is that they will not. This century has been defined by major world wars in which fascist military dictatorships used technological warfare to kill millions of citizens.
Hopefully, this next century will be better than the last. It should not be difficult to improve upon. Although we made great discoveries and advanced our scientific knowledge, we have also opened the door for a whole new biological and technological warfare. Hopefully, the human race will decide to use these advances for enhancement of our lives instead of destruction.
If we put on rose-colored glasses and take a look at Texas, we can say there is a whole new generation of young folks who offer the intellect, creativity, and energy to improve Texas. I am fairly optimistic that this new generation will get more engaged in civic and community life and continue to strengthen our state.
I am hopeful because I see so many young citizens wanting to participate in civic and community affairs. Success to many of them means not only making it in their chosen professions but also giving back to the system that made their success possible.
SILBER: I think it would be a grave mistake to describe the last century as one of fascism and then ignore Marxism. I think vastly more people were killed by Stalin than by Hitler. They deserve equal billing, I believe, in terms of characterizing the last century. But what they did is also something that followed on the heels of the First World War, which was a terrible destruction of culture and human dignity.
But I think what’s happened in intellectual history is actually more important than what’s happened in political history because I think the way we conceive of ourselves and our humanity definitely influences what we do in politics and in business and in all other aspects of life. Freud pointed out that with Copernicus, the importance of humanity was reduced. We were no longer on Earth at the center of the universe, but we were simply one small part of a vast universe. Then along came Darwin and further diminished the significance of the human being simply as a chance offspring of an evolutionary process. And then Freud came along to suggest that the ego is not even master in its own house, but we are influenced by other forces such that he described as the id.
And now we have a new movement to say that human beings really are just becoming rather inferior machines. It is a consistent process of reductionism with regard to the dignity of the human spirit, and we have a very large group of scientists who have no idea of their profound level of superficiality. You have Carl Sagan saying it is science that understands the nature of creation and there’s no need to turn to religion for any of this because it all began with the big bang. I met Carl once at a cocktail party, and I said, “You know, you had an associate cosmologist named Immanuel Kant, who also offered you the antinomies, and he pointed out that every first cause can be reduced to an infinite regress. You’ve got this big bang. What bang? Was there any stuff to bang? Presumably yes, because it was the collapse of the preceding universe into a black hole that then was ready to explode, ad infinitum.”
I said, “The whole question that the scientist is not asking is why is there something and not nothing? There you go right back to the problem of creation—that we have something and we don’t have the slightest notion, and no scientist does, of where it came from. We have an evolutionary process that is clear. It is factually supported, but we don’t understand it. Why is it formative? Why does it develop? All of this is just to talk about what chance does, to obscure this whole religious dimension.”
And when we speak about myths and no concern for children and no concern for the vulnerable, we have to remember that we’ve had more than just one myth. There’s damn little concern for the vulnerable in Homer’s Iliad, but we also have the Christian myth. We also have all of the development in the Old Testament where you had prophets talking about the downtrodden and talking about the need for justice, and that Jewish Bible became the foundation of the Christian Bible and became the foundation of the Muslim religion.
One of the most popular hymns in America and certainly in Texas was “Abide With Me,” which has one line that says, “Help of the helpless, abide with me,” recognizing the ultimate dependency and weakness and vulnerability of every single living human being. But what one has to have at the same time is some notion that this isn’t just something trivial, something unimportant. If life is to have meaning, there’s got to be some upward possibilities, some sense of dignity, some sense of importance.
And is that going to continue? Our whole psychological industry is designed to erode responsibility and to make all people into victims. The president of the United States is a victim. He’s not responsible. We have Waco in Texas that has to be explained. The Texas Rangers were pretty decent folk compared with what happened in Waco, and were there any indictments? There were people killed with no conviction, no indictment, no justification whatsoever. You had Ruby Ridge. Again, no public responsibility. This erosion of the moral dimension of human beings and their responsibility seems to me characteristic.
So what I would answer to Mr. Lockridge is to say, Read that little poem by A. E. Housman, that in the closing line says, “Prepare for ill and not for good.” You can be a congenital optimist, as I am, but intellectually speaking I don’t see the alternative to pessimism. BLACKBURN: The world that I was born into was the world of the nuclear bomb, and I can still remember being a school kid when we would do the exercise of going underneath our desks and putting our hands over the backs of our heads—as if that was actually going to help anybody. But I mean, I’ll take my chances with modern technology and the issues associated with that as opposed to nuclear explosion.
ZANDAN: A myth that is developing in Texas today pulls together many of these issues. The last scene from the movie shown yesterday (Apollo 13) reflects the beginnings of this myth. Interestingly, although we continue to send humans into space, we have also discovered that humans do not survive well in space for long periods of time. We are relying on computer technology more and more to explore this frontier. Texas is in the center of this development and it provides us with the opportunity to do something noble and inspiring.
I believe Dr. Silber misunderstands the process of how computer programs are written. The programming of the chess-playing machine would have been completely impossible without computers. Computers do most of the programming. Humans may design the overall architecture, but you cannot “program” a sophisticated computer today without another computer and/or tools doing most of the work. So we are increasing our dependency on computers. I also imagine many of us would choose to have a “knowledge” chip implanted in our brains. I could have used one last night when I discovered I did not know exactly which building the conference was being held in today. I would have loved to have just called up my internal computer and asked, “Where is St. Edwards?” and have the information readily available at any time. Is there something wrong with that idea? It is inevitable that we will continue to become more dependent on technology to help us to access the information where and when we need it.
ELSPETH ROSTOW: First of all, I’m in the odd position of being about to reassure my lawyer—Lloyd Lockridge is our family attorney—and I want to give him a certain amount of consolation, but let me explain. The first thirty years of my life were spent in Manhattan, the most recent thirty in Texas, in Austin. What I thought Texas was before I came was quite clear. It was a place that went in for brag talk. And as someone who tried to understand why people exaggerate, I assumed that this was because of a deep insecurity that had to be masked by over-assertion of virtue. This element of myth I don’t think has been stressed adequately, because there is an element of truth in my stereotype.
But what I’ve learned since I’ve been here is that as Texas has become much more, not just urbanized—and it is almost totally an urban community at this stage—and has taken on the characteristics of a sophisticated society, it has less need to exaggerate and a greater degree of self-confidence because those who are totally self-confident don’t need to parade their virtues steadily to others.
We heard the concept of Harvard on the Border, other concepts that try but that are based in a sense on the idea that we are not an educational institution the equivalent of Harvard. As one with a Radcliffe degree, I can say that there are elements in my past that I regard favorably, but they do not compare in one sense with the quality of students whom I’ve been teaching here for 30 years.
The false sense of virtue, which may relate to an endowment that comes from the past, has not been a Texas characteristic. We’ve compensated, therefore, by using the heroic—and it’s real—by using the mythic—and it’s important—in order to explain to ourselves that we are as good as everyone else.
I think we are becoming the equivalent of not just a highly sophisticated technological wonder—and that’s obvious—but also, because I am a teacher, and because I’m in the midst of correcting midterm examinations—that’s a moment of pessimism usually for a teacher—but as I’ve been reading these papers, I have a sense that we tend to generalize out of the still inadequacies, and certainly in early education there are many such inadequacies. But in terms of the quality of students whom I now have after 30 years at the University of Texas, I find that it’s extraordinary that I have far more who are competitive with the very best and far fewer who—well, when I first came here, there were moments of desolation, but I have fewer such moments at the present time. Now admittedly, these are non-dropout students. These are people who’ve succeeded, and extrapolating from an elite is a dangerous exercise. But it goes beyond that, because I, well, very early—I think I’ve mentioned this one meeting before—a student of mine went on to get a degree from the Harvard Law School, wrote in a paper, apropos of the administration of Abraham Lincoln, and said that in 1861 the Republican Party still had many high hurdles to straddle. I was never clear which words she did not understand, but the hurdles are still there and—well, I won’t carry that image any further.
But I would say to Lloyd Lockridge that you cannot operate in a classroom, you cannot operate with young people with a sense of pessimism. Like John Silber, I’m inherently, I think, a Calvinist, and my deep pessimism comes from my genes, but having been married to Walt Rostow for 52 years, I’ve been betting against him over those years on all social and political issues, and we bet—now inflation has set in, it goes up to 25 cents a bet—but I’ve lost a good deal of money over the years simply because he understands very deeply that the human potential, given any opportunity, can transcend the most miserable of circumstances.
What we have to do, of course, and what some of us are trying to do, is to develop this sense of community so that the Texas myth can embrace not just children but community. And I think it is happening, and I see it in the degree to which volunteerism is a characteristic of this young generation. They don’t want to go into politics, but they do want to help insofar as they can. Whether it’s Habitat for Humanity, whatever it is, you can get volunteers, and serious ones, who stay the course to a very remarkable degree. I asked someone who had made a study of this—this is a national characteristic now—young people will do almost anything on a volunteer basis, almost anything possibly but vote. We’ll have to see a change in that, I say as someone who believes deeply in politics as I would almost an art form, if properly used, and that puts me in the most minority position of anyone here today.
But in the end, Lloyd, your society, your Texas, I think is becoming—yes, it’s becoming more the pattern of the end-of-the-century state. And in the degree to which its new sophistication and confidence can lead it to exaggerate less, to be confident to a greater degree, all of this, I think, makes the relationship of our topic in this interesting session we’ve had the past few days not only one of importance but one that can leave us with the best that anyone can have: modest residual optimism.
EDWIN DORN: I think the question I have eventually will lead toward Peter Zandan, but let me begin with a little story about my days in Washington. When I took a job a few years ago, I received a little certificate—it’s called a commission—which referred to me as Edwin Dorn of Virginia. That made a great deal of sense because I’d lived in Virginia for the preceding fifteen years. That’s where I paid my taxes and voted. But I then, a year later, took another job, and I made certain that this one read Edwin Dorn of Texas because, while I lived in Virginia, I just felt like I belonged in Texas, where I grew up.
Upon returning here, I guess I began to sense some of the reasons why there was a sense of history. We captured a little bit of it in, if you will, a kind of humorous way on film—these kids singing “Texas, Our Texas.” It’s an experience that I suspect many of us in this room remember going through, some of us painfully. But nevertheless, that and lots of other little lessons going through a Texas history that admittedly excluded lots of folks—in fact, excluded folks like me from the pages—but nevertheless provided some useful lessons. I guess one of the things that intrigues me is the sense in which we can have communities that give one a sense of belonging and communities that give one a sense that you have to fight to belong, to prove that you belong. John Silber captured it rather nicely in his recalling what folks told him about moving in to Boston, and I think we all know that that’s true of a lot of communities. It’s also, to reflect on something Professor Ramírez Berg said, the experience of lots of groups. You have to prove that you belong.
I think Texas has always wrestled with that tension, as have all parts of the United States, with whether or not you need to prove that you belong or whether you are welcomed instantly. My experience in returning to Austin is one of being instantly welcomed into a community. By the way, I sort of had to explain to my wife—who also grew up in Houston but had been away a relatively longer part of her life than I’ve been and had spent most of that time on the East Coast and was accustomed to a rather businesslike way of doing business—that in Texas and particularly in Austin, doing business is rather like visiting an Arab souk . You do not go in to buy a product; you go in to establish a relationship. Drove her crazy that in order to get her clothes out of the dry cleaners you had to talk about the weather and about children and all of that stuff, but eventually she said, “I’ve settled into it.”
I think my question, Peter, leading to you, has to do with the way in which one develops—I think somebody called it a sense of community, but I call it a sense of belonging—in a group of people who, I guess, actually remind me of the character James Dean was playing yesterday in Giant. We now have a group of, if you will, technological wildcatters, of people who, it seems, go anywhere, are very individualistic, are highly mobile, for obvious reasons. They’re not carrying capital; they’re simply carrying their own brain power, their own ambition. How does one—and you’ve worked at this so I’d like you to share with the rest of us—how does one help members of one’s community develop that sense of belonging that will lead to the community spirit that you alluded to earlier? What’s the process?
ZANDAN: Great question, and it does a nice job of tying mythology into this new emerging economy and the folks who are part of it. Much of our technological progress is being driven by a significant amount of creativity. Where does creativity come from? I’d like to go back to what Ms. Rostow discussed—the sense of inadequacy which, in turn creates the tension that is an essential ingredient for creativity. I’m not sure we really know the complete formula for ensuring creativity. However, Texas seems to have what it takes to encourage creativity and produce so much entrepreneurship within its borders. As a matter of fact, Austin’s sense of irreverence has attracted many artists from music, film, literature, and technology. So two key ingredients for creativity appear to be a sense of inadequacy and a willingness and permission to challenge the status quo.
Returning to the question of how do you engage these new players into the community, I believe it is best to examine people’s need for heroism. It is a driving force for entrepreneurship and the composition of myths. Jett Rink in Giant wanted a legacy. He dreamt of living the myth of the glory of business success. Today’s entrepreneurs are also looking for wealth and recognition—to be the heroes of today. It is essential that their heroism be judged not only in business but also in the communities that they live in and depend on for their business success.
The desire to be heroes is one of the key motivators for the leading participants in the new economy. A conference that I helped to found, called the 360 Summit, is attempting to get greater community involvement from new business leaders. We invited 360 CEOs from the technology community to come to a regional conference to discuss business and community. As these leaders get involved in community activities, they receive a tremendous amount of heroism. I believe that most of these leaders enjoy the recognition and the inner satisfaction of knowing they are giving back. Our society still loves heroes, and we offer these leaders a forum to be acknowledged and appreciated for what they have done. I believe this will serve as a role model for greater involvement and ultimately for building future myths for Texans to live by.
EDUARDO RODRIGUEZ: I wanted to speak to the issue of education, but I think that it can be applied to what has just been talked about. With respect to some of the comments that have been made throughout the last day and a half, I would agree with Mr. Silber that, by and large, most Hispanics do not necessarily want a bilingual education to prevent their children from learning English. The Hispanic parents recognize the necessity for their children, in order to succeed, to be versed in English.
But it also reminds me of a story about a young man who graduated number one at one of the high schools in Brownsville a few years ago. He was giving his valedictory speech at the stadium graduation, and halfway through his speech, he began talking in Spanish, thanking his parents for helping him get where he was. They knew no English, and yet he was the number one graduate in a high school of about 1,800 students. So we do want people to challenge the politicians who are out there trying to create and retain power by extending this myth of bilingual education.
The gentlemen from Dallas spoke about education, and I agree with Dr. Ramírez Berg. I was telling him that, coming from Brownsville, we’re almost in the United States. And as far as Texas is concerned, we’re not from South Texas, because South Texas ends in San Antonio. Nobody ever thinks of the Rio Grande Valley as being in South Texas. But with respect to what we can do, we all have an opportunity to participate in the education of our kids. There are presently many programs in many of the schools—I’ll mention one: HOST, Helping One Student to Succeed—whose purpose is to bring people from the outside to go to a school to help a student learn to read on a one-to-one basis.
I know many of you all because of the legal profession, and I wonder how many of us who are now heads of law firms and many of you all who own businesses, how many of you all actually encourage your lawyers, your secretaries, your staff—to take an hour off a week or thirty minutes off a week to go to a local school to help one child learn. It’s incredible what you can do and what effect we can have on one child—it happens in Brownsville—to see what impact an adult can have on a child who’s coming from one of the colonias, whose parents may not speak English.
And that can happen in Dallas. That can happen in Houston and in San Antonio and in all the cities. We need to go back, to realize that now we are at the heads of some of the businesses, to encourage our young lawyers to get involved and do things instead of being concerned so much about how many hours they billed this month. We need to recognize that we have a responsibility, and we should encourage it to fulfill what we learned when we first started, that you have to give to the community, and in doing so, we will all benefit.
And I believe, as Ms. Rostow said, some of the younger people—because we went through a period of time in the Rio Grande Valley when all of the young people were leaving and not coming back. And in the last three or four years, we’ve had a resurgence of kids coming back who have gone out throughout the state, throughout the United States, getting degrees from all of the major universities in the country, returning back. And they’re coming back and they want to volunteer. They want to participate. We need to encourage that, and we have the opportunity.
All of you here have the opportunity and the responsibility to make sure that we continue to do that. And I think if we do, we will see that many of these things that we’ve talked about will be beneficial, and we will succeed in the future, and it won’t be as dark and as dreary as some of us might think it is.
RUFUS CORMIER: First let me also say what a pleasure it has been to be here this weekend. This has certainly been one of the most provocative seminars that I’ve had the pleasure of participating in, and I do thank Ewell Murphy for nominating me and for you all permitting me to be a part of this. I rose to say that I agree very much with the importance of myth. I think that my comment relates to the fact that I think that myth is terribly important, and it should relate, however, to the model of modern reality, that the importance of myth relates to its aspirational value. And I think that what we aspire to needs to match reality. So while I think that the myths we talked about should not be debunked or destroyed, they possibly should be massaged or modified and redirected to some degree.
I believe that there are certain tensions that arise from the inevitable trend toward globalization and something of a bias in those myths that relate to xenophobia, to some extent, over a more global view. There is a certain bias for the rural over the urban. There is a tent of anti-intellectualism in a knowledge-based economy, and to some extent it’s exclusionary in an increasingly diverse and independent—interdependent world. So I think that we should not attempt to debunk or destroy those myths but rather try to promote and venerate some of the virtues that I think Dr. Silber spoke about, such as individual responsibility, the energy, the imagination, that are so associated with those myths, but to direct them more toward the furtherance of common interests in this increasingly interdependent, diverse country, state, and world.
THOMAS BARROW: I’m Tom Barrow from Houston, and I apologize for being up twice, but I can’t resist the temptation. I want to make the point that myths are derived from history of one kind or another, accurate and sometimes inaccurate. We have myths about Texas. We talked about some of them yesterday. I spoke briefly on the oil side of it. We live in this century, as I would call it, in this state, in an oil economy. It’s not going to be that for the next century, but certainly I would argue that it was in the past century.
I was very fortunate in having a father who grew up in the business, so I have a span of about 82 years in the oil industry through vicarious contact with my father and mother, who were both geologists. Tradition that you hear from those stories will be with me forever, but I’d like to address another tradition that is here, that Mr. Blackburn mentioned, that I would argue is not true, and that is that we have no interest in ecology and life. There are many people in this state who have gone to great expense, using their wealth—derived in some cases from land, in some cases from oil, in some cases from real estate—to set up ways of conserving things. And I have one story that I think I should tell, which, frankly, I’ve never told in public before but that I think is important.
In 1968, some of you may remember, there was a tremendous oil spill in California out of which a lot of environmental law came. I went to Washington, met with Russell Train and with the Secretary of the Interior, Secretary Hickle, and we had devised a system and had tested it—we tested it off of Puerto Rico, off of South Africa, and again in the West Indies—and we were confident that it would work. But we had not gotten proper approval from the federal government to use it in the United States. We went through all of our technical evidence, spent well over two hours with them, and we got absolutely nowhere. And as I walked out of the room, Russell Train came over and said, “Dr. Barrow, you do not understand. Politically, we want a disaster.”
HAYES: Ladies and gentlemen, I think it may be that the clock rules in this case. Let me make a couple of closing comments. One, in appreciation to you, I’ve always believed that great parties came from great participants, and I believe the same thing about conferences. And I appreciate your energetic comments and your disagreements and your fears and optimism and certainly your respectful listening to one another. My experience—my wonderful experience with the Philosophical Society—has been that it has always been a learning opportunity, and I’ve always come away with new categories to think about and new information, and certainly by the good graces of these speakers and our other speakers, I think we have received that today. I’ve always come away energized, in part by your camaraderie, and in part by the kind of emotional challenging kinds of insights that have come from our speakers. And again, with my appreciation for all of you, I hope we come away with that today.
My particular passion with this program was that, on top of that or throughout that, we would also bring this milestone we come to soon, to this millennium, a real intentionality around these issues of who we are and who we want to be as a people lived out in this locality that we call Texas. And again, through your energetic participation, so many of you this morning made wonderful comments to complement the views that were expressed from the podium by our speakers.
So I thank you. I hope you go away with some of those good results, and I think our program for this 1999 Texas Philosophical Society is officially adjourned.