Clearly, the same set of facts can be interpreted in different ways, and even described differently.
That is the crux of the constant battle over the content of textbooks that are used in Texas public schools.
The State Board of Education last week approved history and social studies textbooks that will be adopted for the next school year. It ended a contentious process that began with publishers' submissions during the summer.
It's safe to assume, however, that the debate over their content isn't over.
That debate has heated up since conservative Republicans gained majorities in Texas political bodies, including the board of education, and started demanding changes to textbooks that increased the influence of religious and conservative leaders on state and national history, at the expense of more liberal-minded figures.
Such issues support the assertions by Michel Foucault and many others that victors of social struggles tend to revise history to highlight their own contributions and downplay those of their defeated adversaries.
And it's just as likely that the state's previous Democratic Party leaders skewed official texts to their own advantage.
The issue has national importance. With some 5 million students, Texas is a huge market for textbook publishers, and many publishers are more willing to appease this state's officials than those in states that don't buy as many materials. Dozens of them offered hundreds of changes in the past months to try to win this state's contract.
Versions of textbooks that cater to the demands of Texas officials then end up in classrooms throughout the country, whether those states' officials agree with them or not.
It's worth noting that one of the nation's largest textbook publishers, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, last week withdrew a package of materials from state consideration, saying that they preferred to meet national standards rather than those set by our state.
For local officials and educators, the debate offers a reminder that even history, which presumably is based on facts, can be interpreted subjectively. Also, while certain textbooks receive state sanction, state law allows local districts to use materials that aren't on the official list, and Internet resources make such materials more available.
But the best materials are inclusive, rather than exclusive, of various points of view. Any new material can augment the standardized texts, and perhaps add insights into the official materials.
Most importantly, contrasting materials could show students that they shouldn't take anything — even historical events — at face value, and they should see the value of open minds and independent research
Houston Chronicle. Nov. 22, 2014.
Just pass a bill: To make the president's executive order unnecessary, Congress just needs to act.
Now that a few days have passed since President Barack Obama issued his controversial executive order protecting millions of undocumented immigrants from deportation, we feel obligated to note that the union still stands, the Constitution is intact and "illiterates" among us — to borrow an infelicitous term from Rep. Michelle Bachman, R-Minn. — have not rushed to deface the body politic.
We are well aware of the objections to the president's actions — in fact, we have our own reservations about what he felt compelled to do — and yet those differing views will be adjudicated in the courts in the coming months, both courts of law and of public opinion. Meanwhile, it's important, we believe, for the nation to focus on the opportunities that Obama's executive action makes available, opportunities for those immediately affected and for the nation at large.
After 25 years of immigration debate and ongoing immigration-system dysfunction, some 5 million undocumented immigrants who live, work and raise families in this nation now have an opportunity to work legally and to live in dignity without fear of deportation. They are now free to more fully participate in the nation's economy and to contribute even more to the nation's economic well-being. We all benefit when they can take advantage of opportunities to advance in their chosen fields, when they can avail themselves of educational opportunities, when they can start businesses, create jobs, pay taxes.
Despite the loud naysayers among us, this nation of immigrants is well aware that we all prosper when such a large contingent of hard-working, ambitious people can contribute and more fully participate.
The legal immigration portion of Obama's plan hasn't attracted as much attention, but it's important, nonetheless. It allows college students from abroad who are studying science and technology to stay here permanently. That's certainly a boon to this economy, since the United States trains and educates thousands of foreign students in those vital fields but then makes it difficult for them to stay here.
Republican opponents are right when they say that an executive order can't be a substitute for congressional action on immigration. Even the president agrees that our system has broken pieces that only Congress can fix.
"To those members of Congress who question my authority to make our immigration system work better, or question the wisdom of me acting where Congress has failed," he said, "I have one answer: Pass a bill."
We echo that call. On June 27, 2013, the U.S. Senate passed bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform legislation by a 68 to 32 vote. The bill has languished ever since, held hostage by a core group of tea party Republicans in the House who are opposed to any legislation that offers some sort of pathway toward citizenship, no matter how onerous that pathway is. Apparently their preferred solution to the 11 million undocumented immigrants in this country is either a massive round-up and deportation or what presidential candidate Mitt Romney termed "self-deportation." (Obama's executive order, by the way, doesn't offer a path to citizenship.)
Speaker John Boehner has had the votes to pass a House version of the Senate bill, but he's been unwilling to cross the hard core that has kept the House dysfunctional on all manner of issues, not just immigration.
Once Congress passes a bill and the president signs it into law, his executive order becomes unnecessary.
Pass a bill, Speaker Boehner, pass a bill. It's time to stop the hyperbolic fulminations about the president's alleged imperious action, time for the speaker's party to stop threatening shut-down or impeachment and finally get something done.
At least one Senate Republican agrees. "Rather than poke him (Obama) in the eye, I'd rather put legislation on his desk," U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake of Arizona told The Washington Post last week.
We'll see in the coming weeks whether such a radical idea — it's called governing — finds favor with Flake's fuming colleagues.
The Dallas Morning News. Nov. 21, 2014.
Obama's disappointing immigration speech
Exactly as expected, the debate in Washington has ricocheted away from ending Congress' stalemate on immigration reform and now seems singularly focused on how Republicans can thwart President Barack Obama over the executive order he announced last week. Obama's unilateral action backfired even before he outlined measures aimed at protecting millions of unauthorized immigrants from deportation.
Both sides are mishandling what should have been an opportunity for real progress on immigration: the Nov. 4 election result, which will put the GOP in control of both houses of Congress. This newspaper stands with Obama and his predecessor, President George W. Bush, in their efforts to pass a workable comprehensive immigration reform package aimed at addressing border security and the status of an estimated 11.7 million unauthorized immigrants in this country.
The stalemate in Congress must end, but animosity over Obama's executive action virtually guarantees the opposite result. No matter how much we agree with Obama that bold action is necessary to fix the nation's broken immigration system, provoking a bitter constitutional fight is a formula for failure.
The GOP firestorm includes threats to withhold votes on administration appointees, freezing funds and forcing a government shutdown. Impeachment is back on the table. None of this has anything to do with immigration.
Obama's order also risks sending a dangerous message to thousands of would-be immigrants in Mexico and Central America. We know from the border crisis this summer that rumors travel quickly, prompting migration surges based on misinformation. Obama's order could invite yet another surge because of the chance it will be interpreted south of the border as an all-clear signal. Laws enacted by Congress, after vigorous public debate, are the best way to minimize such misunderstandings.
Americans should not allow the shoddy political display in Washington to distract them from the real issues at stake here. Millions of people live in legal limbo in this country. Taxpayers are funding the public education of millions of children, but upon graduation from high school and college, those youths cannot legally work here.
The U.S. economy depends on low-cost immigrant labor to staff restaurants, hotels, farms, slaughterhouses, construction sites and maintenance crews. But employers must go through costly contortions to get around backward, outdated laws that ban them from hiring unauthorized immigrants.
The GOP emphasizes its pro-family stances, yet its approach here favors mass deportations with a blind eye to the devastating effects when migrant families are split apart. While emphasizing the rule of law is important, in most cases, the only law these immigrants are breaking is by being here in the first place — which is exactly what needs reforming.
Yes, Congress absolutely should respond to Obama's provocation — not with threats and retaliation but by doing him one better. As Obama has said, it's not the president's job to rule by edict. The serious defects in our nation's immigration laws are Congress' job to fix.
Galveston County Daily News. Nov. 24, 2014.
These children deserve better
During the debate about what to do with unaccompanied children coming into the country from Central America, the city council in League City became briefly famous.
The council, in a gesture of defiance to the federal government, adopted a resolution prohibiting city departments from cooperating with federal directives or requests to house undocumented immigrants.
You can blame the resolution on hysteria or perhaps just old-fashioned hucksterism. The resolution was not based in fact.
The facts are summed up in a paper published by The James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy at Rice University.
Here's the gist of it:
"In recent months, print and television journalists have presented the American public with a 'crisis' of illegal immigration on the U.S. — Mexico border. Much of this recent discussion has centered on Central American children traveling alone and on allegations that they are responding to motivations created by the Obama administration's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival policy. The word 'crisis,' however, can have alternative meanings. If a 'crisis' of undocumented immigration means a historically large or very rapidly growing flow of undocumented immigrations, the overall national evidence shows today that there is no such crisis. Border Patrol apprehensions of undocumented immigrants attempting to cross the U.S. — Mexico border have in fact plummeted and remain far below levels a decade earlier."
The paper, by William C. Gruben and Tony Payan, is titled "'Illegal' Immigration on the U.S.-Mexico Border: Is It Really a Crisis?" It's available online.
But closer to home, there have been voices saying exactly the same thing all along.
As The Daily News has reported, some children from Central America have been ending up in Galveston for years. The people who are familiar with their cases have been working to dispel myths about these children.
For example, they report that most migrant children are not making the journey alone. The children typically travel with a family member. They separate at the border because the children, if they're caught, have a better chance of being reunited with a family member in the United States if they are alone.
It's just one of the things that's known about these children — at least by people who care for them and who study them, as opposed to those who adopt political resolutions about them.
Another thing that's known about these children is that they are not — as the hysteria suggests — bringing disease across the border.
If you're interested in the myths being told about these children, you can find information at hearourvoicegalveston.org.
The people behind this effort to shed some light on these children ought to be encouraged, especially by those in universities and in faith communities. After all, you'd expect organizations that are devoted to learning and to compassion would speak up for children who obviously aren't getting a fair shake.
El Paso Times. Nov. 22, 2014.
Texas leaders lack data on 'surge' impact
If someone proposed spending almost $90 million to extend a pilot project for health care or education, Texas leaders would probably ask what the results have been so far to justify further expenditures. But that doesn't appear to be the case if the money is being spent on "border security."
Texas' top three elected officials — Gov. Rick Perry, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and House Speaker Joe Straus — announced last week that they would continue "Operation Strong Safety," the state's "border surge" ordered earlier this year when masses of Central American women and children came to Texas' Rio Grande Valley and immediately surrendered to federal border officers.
Texas has spent more than $20 million so far to send National Guard, Department of Public Safety and Texas Parks and Wildlife Department forces to the South Texas border. The proposal outlined last week would commit an additional $86.1 million in state revenue for the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends in August.
The exact purpose of the mission has always been a bit squishy, other than to reinforce a political viewpoint that the U.S.-Mexico border wasn't sufficiently defended by the Obama administration. The choice of language — that this was a "surge" of forces, much like that in Iraq and Afghanistan — created the horribly mistaken impression of the border region as a war zone.
So with several months of the "border surge" now under the state's belt, what have we gotten for spending more than $20 million?
The governor's office won't say, instead directing reporters to the Department of Public Safety. DPS in turn provides a "dashboard" that is a collection of data that provides no information on the effectiveness of the "surge."
The one bit of specific "surge" data tracks drug seizures since June 23, when the state operation began, in the targeted Rio Grande Valley area.
But when asked how those numbers compare with prior years, before the "surge," DPS can't provide data.
So at this point, Texans have no idea what they've gotten for the tens of millions spent on what increasingly looks like a politically motivated mission.
Perry, who almost certainly is running for president, said last week that "Texas has proven beyond any doubt that this border can be secured," even as his administration failed to provide any real data to show it had added anything to border security efforts.
The Legislative Budget Board must give its approval to this plan Dec. 1, but probing questions are unlikely.
The Legislature will be asked for border security funding when it convenes next year. Lawmakers owe it to taxpayers to carefully vet such proposals, and demand evidence of effectiveness.
That, too, is unlikely. And unfortunate for Texas taxpayers.