Three vignettes: How Chautauquans came together with acts of kindness

Ethan, Fynn and Landon Taliercio painted between 50 and 75 rocks this spring, leaving them around the grounds in a project they called “Acts of Kindness.” MARY LEE TALBOT/THE CHAUTAUQUAN DAILY

One of the questions asked of Chautauquans who live here all year (sometimes called Winter Chautauquans or year rounders) is “What do you do the rest of the year?” Children go to school and adults volunteer to tutor students. People go to the library to play games or read, to the post office to see the friendly staff. We go to church and synagogue or other religious activities. There are at least three book clubs, a bowling league, and a play reading group. Chautauqua County in the fall is beautiful, and there are numerous harvest festivals around the area. 

We are not untouched by the events of the world beyond the gates. As many Chautauquans return to the centers of commerce and government, we follow the news of the day as much as others do. 

When New York State “paused” to slow the spread of COVID-19, we paused. But there were many, as elsewhere, who went beyond staying physically distant and quarantined and tried to make life better — and in Chautauqua, youth and young adults stepped up to make life a little better for everyone.

Acts of Kindness
The stones began to appear about the same time that residents of Chautauqua began to shut themselves inside during New York State’s pause to combat the novel coronavirus. Left around the grounds or on people’s doorstep, the stones were painted with messages like “Faith,” “Believe,” and “We are in this together.”

The Taliercio triplets, Ethan, Fynn and Landon, who painted rocks to place across the grounds. MARY LEE TALBOT/THE CHAUTAUQUAN DAILY

These acts of kindness were the idea of the Taliercio triplets — Landon, Fynn and Ethan. When their school closed in Cleveland, they came to Chautauqua to stay with their grandparents, Mike and Marg Metzger. 

The triplets’ parents are doctors. Their regular caregivers were not available so the boys spent the weekdays on the grounds and would go home on weekends. “It was kind of annoying to have to switch houses. We were not used to going back and forth,” said Fynn.

Ethan said, “Grandma suggested we do something to help seniors who were at home and did not have much to do and might be feeling down. We all decided to paint rocks.”

Fynn had seen an article about a rock painting club in Ohio. Landon came up with an emoji for circular rocks. He would draw the faces. 

“We got the rocks at Barcelona Beach,” Landon added. They liked the rocks that washed up on the beach, as they have a smooth surface to paint on.

They painted many “doctor” rocks, with the face of a doctor on them. Their parents would take them to work and give them to colleagues.

The triplets walked around Chautauqua, putting rocks by people’s doors, on Bestor Plaza, in trees. One rock even got to the top of the fountain in Bestor Plaza, although they never figured out who put it there.

The triplets’ parents, who are health care workers, gave doctor emoji rocks to their colleagues in Cleveland. MARY LEE TALBOT/THE CHAUTAUQUAN DAILY

While they have been playing baseball, sailing and exploring the ravine by Boys’ and Girls’ Club, they said they miss Club — especially the Club Carnival.

In all, the boys think that they painted between 50 and 75 rocks. Ethan used the stones as part of his final fourth grade project and called the project “Acts of Kindness.” They also included their cousins, Michael and Reagan, in the project.

“It was a way to make people feel joyous,” Ethan said. “It was like giving them a candle in a dark room.”

Community Service
The day after school finished on June 11, Josie Dawson and Eve Kushmaul, who live in Chautauqua year round, decided to do some community service — cleaning up the dog park near the Turner Community Center.

Josie and Eve had been walking a neighbor’s dog up to the park and noticed that “it was overgrown with plants on the fence,” Eve said. So they decided to fix it up.

“It took a while to make some progress,” she said. “We worked every other day for about two weeks.”

Asked if there was any poison ivy, Josie said that “there was, mostly up in the corner where the dogs like to hang out. We had to wear long sleeves and gloves and long pants to protect ourselves.”

Mostly there were vines wrapped around the fence and thorns on a lot of the plants. The girls found some holes that dogs were digging under the fence and they worked to refill the holes.

Chautauquans Josie Dawson and Eve Kushmaul spent about two weeks cleaning up and making improvements to the dog park near the Turner Community Center. MARY LEE TALBOT/THE CHAUTAUQUAN DAILY

“It makes me proud that dogs can come here more safely. I was disappointed to find a pile of rotting tennis balls and dog poop in one corner,” Josie said.

Another added amenity is a treat bucket. “We would run out of treats, so we got a canister and filled it with dog treats,” Eve said. 

They said that the dog park should be a priority for Chautauqua. “The dogs need a place to go and play,” Josie said. “It needs more work, but it is still a very fun place, and will become better.”

Eve likes to come to the park and sit on the large pipe with some water when she is bored. This summer she has taken a break from violin lessons and is studying piano. Josie decided to “just wing it and go with the flow.”

The girls made another addition to the park — a stone, painted purple with “BLM,” for Black Lives Matter, painted in gold on it. The idea came from both of them. “We thought it would be a good spot because a lot of people come here and we made it big so they will see it,” they said. They used a rickety old wagon to get it to the park. 

Black Lives Matter
Regan Sims is a theater actor, trying to figure out what to do next. “I want to continue the work to be bold and brave and reflect the times I am in, like Nina Simone (did). I want to be bold and rock the world. As an artist and person, she reflected her times,” Sims said.

Sims is part of a mime troupe that does virtual content for kids and is teaching a high school summer camp class on acting via Zoom. She is finding her voice in this time of a pandemic and civil rights protests.

Chautauquan Regan Sims and her sister coordinated a Black Lives Matter protest June 19 on Bestor Plaza. They expected five people to attend; more than 200 turned out, masked and socially distanced, to support the movement. PHOTO COURTESY OF PORTIA ROSE

She led a protest for Black Lives Matter on June 19 in Bestor Plaza. Over 200 people came, masked and physically distant, to lend their support to the movement. 

A life-long Chautauquan, Sims’ family has owned the Rose Cottage for several generations. 

The family moved here permanently in June. 

“It was a joyous protest,” she said. “With COVID-19, we think about staying inside. Life goes on and it can be tragic, but it is also invigorating, New things are happening that I did not know I could be a part of. I am finding my voice. 

Sims talked with her sister, PJ, and they decided they had to do something. Regan was the speaker. PJ did the groundwork of getting the message out.

“There are not a lot of people here who look like us, and that was the reason we needed to do this action,” Sims said. “We have felt on the outside looking in. And we stand out. I have a voice and want to be heard where I stick out.”

PJ came up with the idea of chalk messages on Chautauqua’s streets and sidewalks to get the word out about the gathering. 

On the day of the protest, there were thunderstorms all around the lake, booming in the distance, but the rain held off at Chautauqua. 

Sims had bullet points she wanted to make in her speech, but it turned into a heart-felt, slightly rambling talk as she said what she needed to. She thought five people would show up and the whole thing would last five minutes.

“I was leading from love but there were some points I wanted to make. First, we were meeting to protest the death of George Floyd and others. Second was to say the names of those others killed. And third, was to protest police brutality and the lack of systemic empathy and love,” she said. 

She continued, “It is our job to be out in the streets and the desire of everybody to show up for their neighbor and love their neighbor as themselves. I can’t imagine how mothers feel — parents, sisters, brothers, children.”

Sims said reactions to her, PJ and their brother Joey have been different since the protest. “The conversation has changed. People say, “I know you,’ and start talking to me,” she said. 

“People can talk all day, but what are you doing?”

Her dream for Chautauqua is that it would be more of a reflection of the world. She would like changes to systems “that have oppressed people since the dawning of America.”

“I am not afraid of the work and the tough conversations. I want hearts to be open and to chip away at collective insensitivity,” she said. “I don’t want to be scared anymore. I don’t want to fear. I want to push through the feelings. That is the work.”Her latest project, A Kid’s Play About Racism, streamed on Broadway on Demand, Zoom and Theater for Young Audiences/USA the first weekend in August. The play was adapted by Khalia Davis from Jelani Memory’s book A Kid’s Book About Racism.

From the news section to obituaries, Columbia University’s Ari Goldman calls for religious literacy and empathetic objectivity

ari goldman prayer hands

Columbia University’s Ari Goldman thinks that without religious literacy, a journalist runs the risk of misinforming the public.

“When done right, journalism can educate and inform the public,” Goldman said. “When done wrong, it can spread falsehoods and reinforce stereotypes.”

Goldman recorded his lecture, “From Church Stories to Obituaries, Journalists Need Religious Literacy,” on the lawn of his bungalow in the Catskill Mountains on July 26. 

The lecture was released at 2 p.m. EDT Thursday, Aug. 6, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform as part of the Week Six Interfaith Lecture Series theme “Lessons in the School House.” Audience members submitted questions through the portal or on Twitter with #CHQ2020.

Religion news isn’t for the religion pages anymore,” Goldman said. “A sophisticated reporter knows that religion has a role in many of the great debates in our society, from abortion, to gay marriage, to healthcare, to housing, to education.”

Goldman had a consistent byline in The New York Times before he began teaching his Covering Religions course at Columbia University. He said that journalists often struggle with understanding the diversity within religions, much less the difference between them.

“People know about their own religion — well, sometimes — but people rarely know about others,” Goldman said.

In 2010, British TV host Kay Burley confused Joe Biden’s Ash Wednesday ashes for a bruise on his forehead.

“I’m a bad Catholic,” Burley said after producers informed her while she was still on air.

It’s just one example of why journalists need to understand religions to do full reporting. Goldman’s students have gone on to report on religion for the Chicago Tribune, the Miami Herald, the Atlanta Journal Constitution and other publications. For 12 years, his student Maria-Paz López covered the Vatican for La Vanguardia in Spain and is now the publication’s Berlin correspondent.

Goldman’s students have also gone on to cover other topics, including economics, health care, foreign policy, the White House and education, but he said they do so knowing the importance of religion in all parts of life.

“Religion news isn’t for the religion pages anymore,” Goldman said. “A sophisticated reporter knows that religion has a role in many of the great debates in our society, from abortion, to gay marriage, to healthcare, to housing, to education.”

Goldman referred to Harvard University’s Diana Eck, Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies, who he studied with at Harvard Divinity School. She repeats this phrase often: “If you know one religion, you don’t know any.”

“She is telling us not to make assumptions about one religion based on our own,” Goldman said. 

Catholic Confirmation is not the same as a Jewish Bar Mitzvah. While some religions consider hands joined together as prayerful, Buddhists consider them to represent the meeting of the finite and infinite.

The former cornerstone of journalism, Goldman said, was objectivity — but he teaches empathetic objectivity in his courses. Communion reported objectively is people eating wafers. With empathetic objectivity reporting, the journalist communicates that for the believer, this is a sacred act of taking the body of Christ.

The Scripps Foundation in Cincinnati, Ohio, has funded his class trips to Israel, Palestine, Russia, and Ukraine, where his students cover beat topics that center on different religious groups. His students have covered the last three Popes.

His spring 2020 class had planned to visit Louisiana and Mississippi to cover the diversity of religion in the U.S. South. But Columbia University shut everything down a few days before they were slated to leave on March 13.

The class pivoted to instead cover religious groups coping with the pandemic. His favorite story that came out of the course was a story on virtual water baptisms.

“The news changes, and we have to change, too,” Goldman said.

Goldman noted the increase of obituaries written worldwide with the onset of COVID-19. When deaths in the United States hit 100,000, The New York Times published 1,000 names of those who had died by coronavirus in the United States on the front page and started a new section, “Those We’ve Lost to the Coronavirus,” which is similar to the “Portraits of Grief” obituary section they published after 9/11.

And in China, independent blogs and news sites covered the deaths of workers on the front lines of the virus. Italy published between 10 and 12 pages of obituaries per day, and papers in Brazil and South Africa followed suit.

Along with empathetic objectivity, there was one last lesson Goldman said he imparts on his students.

“Every life is a story worth telling,” Goldman said.

Shalom Chautauqua: Salzes publish history of Hebrew Congregation, Jewish community on grounds


Some people claim that the first Jew to spend the whole summer at Chautauqua was George Gershwin. There were at least two Jews in the very first Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle class in 1882. In 1891, Bishop John Heyl Vincent introduced the first rabbi to speak at Chautauqua, Rabbi Gustav Gottheil, saying that Chautauquans had long been acquainted with dead Hebrews, but would now hear from a living one.

These and other fascinating stories are part of Shalom Chautauqua, the newest book from Arthur and Betty Salz, which tells the story of the Hebrew Congregation and the Jewish presence in Chautauqua.

“We wanted to stress the gradual embrace of the Hebrew Congregation and the general presence of Jews in Chautauqua,” Arthur said. 

They got the title, Shalom Chautauqua, from a speech given by former Chautauqua President Daniel Bratton. 

“He used the phrase 12 times in one speech,” Arthur said. 

Chautauquans had learned about Biblical Hebrews in education classes and lectures in the Amphitheater. There were lectures on Jewish immigration, especially New York City, near the end of the 19th century, and about sweatshops. 

The Hebrew Congregation first met in 1959 after two junior orchestra students, Barbara Wolfson and Betty Shine from Buffalo, wanted to go to services in Jamestown. Their house mother, Mrs. Weber, called Rabbi Julius Kerman of Temple Hesed Abraham to see if it was possible. He said it was too far to come for the very short Friday night service and there were no Saturday services in the summer. 

Mrs. Weber suggested the rabbi come to Chautauqua from Jamestown on Saturday, and obtained permission to use the Hall of Missions. The girls put out flyers and about 35 people came. Chautauqua’s administration did not want the group to use the Hall of Missions, so Kerman turned to his friend, the Rev. Charles Aldrich at Hurlbut Church, for help. 

The church gave permission for the Hebrew Congregation to meet there, and there they have been ever since. 

In 2017, the congregation was four years away from celebrating its 60th anniversary. Betty had the idea for a book. She was serving as the archivist for the congregation and knew there was material going back to 1959.

“The Hebrew Congregation was one of the first religious groups to house its archives with Chautauqua Institution,” she said.

At the time, Arthur had just finished three years as Hebrew Congregation co-president with Len Katz. The Salzes are among the longest-participating members of the congregation, and they knew some history that others did not. They knew some of the people who were among the first members of the congregation, like Arthur’s teacher, Mrs. Goldstein. 

They started interviewing people and then took the idea to the governing board of the congregation. 

“There was no objection and general enthusiasm,” Arthur said. “We can’t stress how much we learned writing this book and the joy of writing it.”

One of the people responsible for bringing many Jews to Chautauqua was Mischa Mischakoff, concertmaster of the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra for many years. He encouraged musicians to come and play for the symphony and to bring their families. 

“But the New York City school teachers were the real Jewish presence on the grounds in the beginning,” Arthur said

The Salzes praised the leadership of Ralph Loew, head of the Department of Religion in the 1970s; former Chautauqua president Bratton; J. Ross Mackenzie and Joan Brown Campbell, former heads of the Department of Religion; and Maureen Rovegno, current director of the department, for creating an open and comfortable atmosphere for all religions at Chautauqua.

The invitation by Gene Robinson, vice president for religion and senior pastor at Chautauqua, to Rabbi Sharon Bros to be a chaplain of the week in 2019 — the first rabbi in Chautauqua’s history to preach from the Amp stage — was another high point.

“Rabbi Spong also opened doors with his knowledge of the Bible,” Betty said. Rabbi Spong? She was speaking about Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong, a staple of the Interfaith Lecture Series in the Hall of Philosophy for many years.

She laughed. “He was like a rabbi opening doors,” she clarified. “My Orthodox Jewish father loved listening to him. My father never would have heard him if it weren’t for Chautauqua. Not many places have grown this way. I think the founders would be thrilled.”

The Abrahamic Initiative, the building of the Everett Jewish Life Center and the opening of the Zigdon Chabad House show the growth and variety of the Jewish presence at Chautauqua.

The book itself is divided into eras, with several chapters in each era detailing the speakers, events and challenges of each era. The book ends with letters from the congregation’s presidents, reflecting on “My Jewish Journey.”

Because of the novel coronavirus, the celebration for the 60th anniversary of the Hebrew Congregation and the book will be held in 2021. It is available through the Chautauqua Bookstore, online or in the store.

Carey Wright, State Superintendent of Education for Mississippi, discusses how the education system in Mississippi grew from being ranked consistently at the bottom in the nation to one of the states with the most momentum


Children will routinely meet the expectations set by adults and nothing further, said Carey Wright, state superintendent of education for Mississippi — and the expectations in Mississippi have been low for decades. 

“Mississippi’s reputation and public education has been linked to its overall reputation,” Wright said, “bringing in mind issues such as segregation, poverty, and some of the lowest-performing indicators in both health and education.”

At 10:45 a.m. EDT Friday, Aug. 7, 2020, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform, Wright delivered a lecture titled “What Has Worked in Reforming Mississippi’s Education System.” She talked about how Mississippi’s education system was routinely ranked as one of the worst in the United States, and how better equipping students and teachers has given the state some of the most momentum in the nation around education.

Wright started her career as a teacher, then an elementary school principal before taking on leadership roles at district and state levels. She has worked in suburban and urban districts, and with students and families across all socio-economic statuses.

“Throughout my career, my guiding principle as an educator has been one, firm belief that all children can learn and succeed,” Wright said.

When Wright arrived in Mississippi in 2013, Quality Counts, an annual analysis of American education systems by Education Week, ranked the state’s education system 50th in the nation, and its high school graduation rate was 75 percent. Currently, Mississippi’s graduation rate is 85 percent, an all-time high for the state, and has improved in K-12 achievement, students’ chances for success, and equity of education.

Wright said that Mississippi is no longer at the bottom and the state has a lot of momentum going into the future. Despite these achievements, Wright said that there are still skeptics within the state.

“I think the story has been told for so long about us always being at the bottom, that they don’t really understand what our schools and our teachers have achieved in the recent years,” Wright said. 

Mississippi adopted a variety of policies to change their education system, such as the Common Core State Standards in 2010. Wright said that one of Mississippi’s previous standards was that kindergarteners were only expected to count to 10; now their new standard is children counting to 100.

“We desperately needed higher academic standards. So we adopted those standards and they gave us the foundation to raise the bar for children in Mississippi,” Wright said. “We have since reviewed, revised our standards, and we have even renamed them.”

These higher standards for students required teachers to be able to teach at a higher level with new methods, and Wright said Mississippi passed legislation to help students and educators, including the Early Learning Collaborative Act the Literacy Based Promotion Act.

In 2013, The Early Learning Collaborative Act gave pre-kindergarten classes public money for the first time in Mississippi history, creating 1,500 programs, which Wright said has since doubled, in the most underserved areas of the state. She also said each year educators press Mississippi legislators to make kindergarten mandatory.

“So many children start behind their peers when they enter school. By age 3, children coming from low-income families have heard 30 million fewer words than their counterparts in affluent families,” Wright said. “That is a significant difference, and this difference has been linked to deficiencies in third-grade reading.”

The Literacy Based Promotion Act focused on reading from pre-K through third grade, requiring that students pass a reading test to be promoted to fourth grade, as well as better training for teachers. 

“When we started this, the Department of Education here in Mississippi didn’t have an Office for Literacy and didn’t have an Office for Early Childhood,” Wright said. “That is something that we have right now.”

Wright said the most important decision a principal makes is who they hire as teachers, because a teacher’s effectiveness is the most important factor for students’ success. She said that children that spend four to five years with highly effective teachers can have the potential to “totally eradicate (poverty’s effect) on student achievement.” This importance of teachers is part of the reason why Wright has focused on the development of educators and shifted the mindset of the Department of Education in Mississippi from trying to make schools and districts comply with their orders, to providing support and resources. 

Once the resources in place and the door to success in education is opened, Wright said students naturally walk though.

“Mississippi students are changing this culture of low expectations,” Wright said. “I am an eternal, eternal optimist. I believe so deeply in the capacity of all children to learn and grow. We all must believe this is possible. We’ve got to believe that the impossible is possible.”

The lecture then shifted to a Q-and-A session with Shannon Rozner, chief of staff and vice president of strategic initiatives for Chautauqua Institution. Rozner asked if Wright always wanted to be an educator. 

Wright said she always had a passion for teaching, and she gained even more motivation when she first taught in Maryland in the 1970s.

“Watching … fifth graders and sixth graders that were reading at a first- and second-grade level, it just broke my heart.” Wright said, “It was from that moment that I thought, ‘Regardless of who comes through that door and regardless of where they are, (we need) to make sure that they leave in a much better place than they arrived.’”

Rozner then asked about generational shifts, especially with students learning virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic and not interacting in person. 

Wright said that part of Mississippi’s digital plan for school is expanding tele-health and tele-therapy, or health care that does not have to be in person. She also said that they are working on ensuring that more people have access to pediatricians and mental-health therapists.

“This is a community. It’s got to come together and we can’t ignore the fact that children are struggling, but so are parents, so are teachers,” Wright said.

In final recital, School of Music piano students to feature ‘groovy’ Kapustin amid classics of Mozart, Chopin


The words “groovy” and “jazzy” are not usually used to describe the classical works of giants like Beethoven, Brahms and Chopin. But Andrew Chen, a student from the Eastman School of Music, said Russian composer Nikolai Kapustin is helping him pick up the pace for the last piano recital of the season. 

“This piece is really upbeat and happy and just makes you want to dance,” Chen said. “Classical music has more versatility than we give it credit for.” 

First up for Chen is Kapustin’s “Variations,” Op. 41. Kapustin frequently mixed jazz influences with classical compositions, breaking boundaries for “that realm of the arts,” according to Chen.  

“All of his chords are different from Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin — all of them,” he said. “It’s unique technically, as well, as it is mostly played on all black keys. It is so rewarding to play.”

Chen, along with five other students from the Chautauqua School of Music Piano Program, will perform in their fourth and final recital of the season at 4 p.m. EDT on Friday, Aug. 7, on the CHQ Assembly Virtual Porch. Joining him are pianists Hyeseon Jin, Alexander Lo, Kerry Waller, Sheena Hui and ShunFu Chang.  

Chen will also play Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 18 in D major, K. 576. It’s considered Mozart’s last sonata and originated during his trip to Berlin and Potsdam in 1789. Mozart was commissioned by the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm II to write a set of six easy sonatas for his daughter. 

“It is very lighthearted and joyous,” Chen said. “During the pandemic, it has been easy for our lives to begin to feel gloomy and repetitive, but Mozart brings a brighter spirit into the room with this piece.”

The selection by Mozart is “pleasing to the ears,” while the piece by Kapustin may be harder to digest for most listeners, Chen said. 

“For Kapustin, his sound isn’t heard much in a classical setting, so it’s nice to bring it to this platform knowing it won’t be expected and familiar to everyone in the room,” he said. 

Hyeseon Jin, a student from Indiana University, will play Hungarian composer Franz Liszt’s “Sonetto 104 del Petrarch,” from a set of three “Petrarch Sonnets.” The pieces are inspired by the poetry of Italian Renaissance poet Francesco Petrarca and are all concerned with love.

Liszt published the “Petrarch Sonnets” in a score containing several other piano pieces, the second set of his “Années de Pèlerinage,” meaning “Years of Pilgrimage,” written during a two-year stay in Italy.

“I wanted to travel to Europe through Liszt’s music, since we can’t physically go anywhere during the pandemic,” Jin said. 

Originally conceived as songs for piano and tenor voice, Liszt later reinvented them as solo piano works. 

“There are actually quite complex lyrics assigned to this music,” Jin said. “As I am just playing the keyboard and not using the text, I have to convey the content of the poem through the keys. That’s something I have never taken on before.” 

“Sonetto 104” is the most passionate, agitated and dramatic of the three, based on the sonnet “I Find no Peace” by Sir Thomas Wyatt. In it, the Wyatt ponders the confused state love has put him in. Enthralled by his lover, he feels imprisoned, yet free, and “burns with love.”

“The poem is about love, but it uses a lot of contrasting stories to convey it,” Jin said. “For example, it talks about wanting to touch the sky, even though you are laying on the ground. There is a space between where you are, and where you want to be, which is ultimately with this person you are singing about being in love with.” 

Alexander Lo, another student from the Eastman School of Music, will perform Polish composer Frédéric Chopin’s Ballade No. 4 in F minor, Op. 52. Chopin composed four ballades for solo piano between 1835 and 1842. His inspiration for the fourth was Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz’s poem, “The Three Budrys,” which tells the story of three brothers sent away by their father to seek treasures and their return with three Polish brides.

“Most people consider this one to be the most difficult of his four ballades,” Lo said. “It is extremely intense and profound from start to finish.”

Lo was a School of Music student in 2019 and said the “main bulk” of his time learning the Chopin piece took place on the grounds. The following school year, he set it aside, but brought it back during quarantine for “polishing.” 

“I wanted to bring this piece full circle,” Lo said. “So much of my progress with this piece took place at Chautauqua, so to have my first real performance of it happen at Chautauqua as well gave me that extra motivation to make it something special.”

In addition to his one-on-one lessons and coachings, Lo said he found himself working on his selection in “all aspects of the (School of Music) programming.”

“I would take what I learned from the master classes and lectures and ask myself what those lessons could add to the meaning of my music,” he said. “It was enriching to look at this piece for so long and so in-depth — I feel like I know it from the inside-out now.”

Diane Ravitch, research professor of education at New York University, discusses how education is being privatized in the U.S., the failings of charter schools and action that needs to be taken to help students, teachers and communities, especially during the age of COVID-19


After working in the Department of Education in President George H.W. Bush’s administration, Diane Ravitch joined several conservative think tanks and advocated for school choice and charter schools. However, in 2006, she said, she became very skeptical of her own views. 

“I began writing and speaking against the things that I had believed in for many years. I basically said, ‘I’ve been wrong for a number of years, and I want to set the record straight,’” Ravitch said. “As the tests are mostly a reflection of family background, you could look at any test results you want. … They all show the richest kids at the top and the poorest kids at the bottom.” 

Ravitch is a research professor of education at New York University and the president of Network for Public Education. At 10:45 a.m. EDT Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform, Ravitch held a conversation with Vice President and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education Matt Ewalt, titled “The History of Education and Where It’s Going.” Ravitch discussed the privatization of education in the United States, the failings of charter schools and action that needs to be taken to help students, teachers and communities, especially during the age of COVID-19.

Ravitch said that the push for privatization first came from Republicans, but President Bill Clinton was one of the first Democratic politicians to support charter schools, creating a federal program in 1994 that used $5 million to make charter startups. 

“It was unusual for Democrats to support charter schools at that time, because it meant handing money over to private entrepreneurs,” Ravitch said. “What the private entrepreneurs have done with the charter money since then is create a charter sector, which enrolls 6% of American schoolchildren, and there are about 6,000 charter schools overall.”

Ravitch said these 6,000 charter schools attract immense public attention because they are presented as “miracle cures.” Over the past 20 years, she said, people have learned that these schools are very unstable, as they are part of the free market.

“The free market has a lot of casualties. If you look at whether it’s shoe stores or restaurants, they come and go,” Ravitch said. “Some of them persist, some of them don’t. The same is true of charter schools.”

She said there are corporate chains of charter schools, including non-profits and for-profits. 

“When they are for-profit, they obviously make money. When they’re non-profit, instead of making money, they pay huge salaries,” Ravitch said. “In some cases, the CEO may be earning a million dollars a year, which in public education is ridiculous.”

Ravitch said that in American legislation, charter schools are called public charter schools, but are “actually not public schools; they’re privately managed schools that receive public money. You might call them contract schools.”

President George W. Bush became a major supporter of charter schools, and Ravitch said while many people thought President Barack Obama would be opposed, his administration built on education programs created during the Bush administration.

During the economic crisis in 2008, the Obama administration sent out $100 billion in aid to help the education system, but Ravitch said Congress gave around $5 billion of that aid to Secretary of Education Arnie Duncan — a charter school supporter — to distribute.

Duncan helped create the “Race to the Top” program, and told states that to receive part of that $5 billion, they would have to agree to create more charter schools, adopt the Common Core Standards and evaluate teachers on the scores of their students, as well as close schools that produced very low scores. 

“All these were really bad ideas because there was no evidence behind any of them. None. The Common Core had never been tried … so no one knew whether it would make a difference or not. Ten years later we can say it made no difference,” Ravitch said. “Opening more charter schools didn’t solve any problems because the charter schools we already had were not solving any problems.”

Ravitch said evaluating teachers based on the test scores of their students was demoralizing for the teachers. Individual teachers may teach students with disabilities who make very small progress — progress that Ravitch said should be celebrated — while others may have classes of gifted students. 

Almost half of all charter schools ever created have closed, and Ravitch said some collect money from the federal government and never open. 

“So it’s a very volatile sector. Arnie Duncan’s administration was really a series of bad policies, and his emphasis on charter schools and his tremendous support for them paved the way for Betsy DeVos,” Ravitch said. “Then Trump was elected, and he brought in Betsy DeVos who had no background in education, other than as an opponent of public schools.”

Ewalt asked Ravitch about why she wrote her recent book Slaying Goliath: The Passionate Resistance to Privatization and the Fight to Save America’s Public Schools.

Ravitch said she first laid out steps that society should be taking in terms of public education, such as opposing the closures of schools. She wrote about a civil rights leader named Jeetu Brown, who organized a dozen people to fight the closure of the last open-enrollment high school in the south side of Chicago.

“I wanted to tell their stories and many more about parents, teachers, and students who said, ‘No,’ and who fought back,” Ravitch said. “So that’s the story of slaying Goliath, and then the other half of the story is who is Goliath.”

Ravitch said that the “Goliath” in terms of public education and charter schools are the very few, wealthy individuals who are supporting the privatization of education — “a very small number of people are imposing privatization against the wishes of communities, who are losing their right to choose their school, for the right to have a say in what happens to their community, and who are being turned from citizens into consumers. None of which helps education. None of which helps kids.”

Ravitch said if the leaders of the movement were to hold a convention and not invite anyone who was paid by them, there would be no one there.

“This is a movement that is not fueled by passion, or by volunteers,” she said. “It’s fueled by money, and only by money.”

Ewalt then asked Ravitch to discuss the weakness in the U.S. education system exposed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ravitch said the pandemic has exposed inequities in schools, such as resources in affluent suburbs versus resources in cities. She said districts with many resources are able to take greater care of the health of their students and staff, with some schools able to cover each student desk with plastic.

“In the impoverished urban districts, even when there’s a lot of money being spent, it’s still not enough for the incredible needs of kids who are exposed every day to trauma, and to hunger and to lack of medical care,” Ravitch said.

The pandemic also showed disparities in access to the internet, and each district has had to find funding to provide some sort of access to their students. 

“This is harder where students don’t have a computer at home,” Ravitch said. “I’ve heard about students who are getting their online lessons on the one cell phone that their family has.”

School of Music Instrumental Students take “free-flowing cadenzas” and “lighthearted delicacy” to the virtual stage in latest performance


For the final instrumental recital of the season, Ellé Crowhurst is attempting to complete a jigsaw puzzle in under 10 minutes. 

Crowhurst will play the first three movements of “Sonatine” by Zenobia Powell Perry. Alone, Perry’s tonal shifts may sound out of place, unjustifiably incomplete. The hard part then, Crowhurst said, is putting the pieces together.

“In the musical aspects of the piece itself, Zenobia wrote in tonal contexts,” Crowhurst said. “She always tried to stay in that realm, which was different from her colleagues at the time in the ’50s and ’60s. It’s all placed unexpectedly, but comes together in the end.”

I think it’s important to discover new repertoire during this time when we are trying to address the lack of diversity that is in our society at large, which includes the fine arts where we stick to our same favorite composers,” Crowhurst said. “I was excited to find a piece that was representing a different side of music.”

Crowhurst, a clarinetist from Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, will take the virtual stage with five other students from the Chautauqua School of Music Instrumental Program at 7 p.m. EDT Thursday, Aug. 6, on the CHQ Assembly Virtual Porch. Joining her is violist Alexis Mitrushi, cellist Carl Eckert, and violinists Olivia Taylor, Masayoshi Arakawa and Emma Reader-Lee. 

Perry’s colleagues, Crowhurst said, were homogeneous: white men from Western European traditions. Perry, however, was not only a female composer, but a composer of African-American and Creek Indian descent, bringing a “diverse and cultural” perspective to an otherwise analogous industry.  

“I think it’s important to discover new repertoire during this time when we are trying to address the lack of diversity that is in our society at large, which includes the fine arts where we stick to our same favorite composers,” she said. “I was excited to find a piece that was representing a different side of music.”

Listening for the “vocal influences” amid the tonality will guide the audience in understanding the piece, she said. 

“It is incredibly virtuosic,” Crowhurst said. “Sometimes it becomes a bit thinner in texture or is merely centripetal instead of forming a formal melody and accompaniment. You have to pay close attention.” 

Karl Eckert, a student from Vanderbilt University, will play the first movement of Sergei Prokofiev’s “Sinfonia Concertante” in E minor, Op. 125. The 40-minute movement is a large-scale work initially composed for cello and orchestra. Prokofiev dedicated the composition to Russian cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, who premiered it in 1952. 

“It’s really high in register for the cello, which is on par for all Prokofiev’s compositions,” Eckert said. “He was always pushing the envelope, especially in terms of range.”

Before writing “Sinfonia Concertante,” Op. 125, Prokofiev wrote Cello Concerto, Op. 58, which was considered to be a “soulless” concerto. That composition renewed Prokofiev’s interest in mastering the cello and he rewrote the concerto into the current Op. 125.

“Prokofiev turned it into a free-flowing, cadenza-like piece in the end, which means you have to build your own character when you perform something of his — he didn’t just hand it to you,” he said.

Emma Reader-Lee, a student from the University of Ottawa, will perform the first movement of Robert Schumann’s 1851 Violin Sonata No. 1 in A minor, Op. 105. The movement, “Mit leidenschaftlichem Ausdruck,” meaning “with passionate expression,” is a “beautiful, but haunting conveyance.” 

“It’s quite an emotional event,” Reader-Lee said. “It starts minor, in a sad and restless sense and then it jumps back and forth into major. The melodies are beautiful because of that variety.”

Instead of explosive notes, the movement is filled with passionate tones, sporadically relieved by moments of “lighthearted delicacy.” Reader-Lee said there are also drastic fluctuations in the tempo, something the performer must anticipate ahead of time. In that, the selection takes a lot of preparation, a luxury she didn’t have. “It’s actually quite new,” Reader-Lee said, as she had her first lesson for the piece in the first week of April. 

“It’s gratifying to be able to play a new piece and get it to performance level in this brand new platform,” she said. “Putting my all into this helped me push past what I thought would be limitations. Turns out, they weren’t limiting at all.”

Freedom Forum Group’s Benjamin Marcus lays out need for religious literacy education in American landscape

benjamin marcus

With an Italian Roman Catholic mother and a humanist Jewish father, the sometimes-heated religious conversations Benjamin Marcus witnessed between his parents provided “productive tension” that helped him to form his own understanding of his religious identity.

His high school education on religion? Not so much.

“My high school did not prepare me to understand the complexity of religion in American public life, much less the complexity of religion that I was experiencing at home,” Marcus said.

Marcus, a former Presidential Scholar at the Harvard Divinity School and a graduate of the University of Cambridge and Brown University, is a specialist at the Religious Freedom Center of the Freedom Forum Group. He presented his lecture “Religious Literacy in Public Schools: Embracing Complexity and Tension” at 2 p.m. EDT on Tuesday, Aug. 4, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform.

The lecture aligned with the Week Six theme “Lessons in the School House” for the Interfaith Lecture Series. Maureen Rovegno, Chautauqua Institution’s director of religion, led the subsequent Q-and-A with audience questions submitted through the portal and on Twitter with #CHQ2020.

In his role at the Religious Freedom Center, Marcus has helped to develop religious literacy programs for public schools and universities, as well as institutions including businesses, U.S. government organizations and private foundations.

Marcus said a factor that illustrates the need for religious literacy is the gradual change in the composition of religious people and in what it means to be religious. Following a trend that Chautauquans have discussed for years, a Public Religion Research Institute study reported a growing number of people who don’t identify with a religion.

“Young Americans are living in the most diverse generation in American history,” Marcus said.

Religious beliefs also change over time in social and political values with productive tension. Between 2013 and 2019, both white Evangelicals and Black Protestants experienced a historic dip in opposition to same-sex marriage.

Marcus has seen religious shifts in public opinion affect his own life. Pope Francis’ words, “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” convinced Marcus’ Roman Catholic grandfather that he could accept Marcus and his brother as respectively queer and gay without conflict with his beliefs.

But Marcus said that destructive tension has also defined this moment of religious complexity. Hate crime data from organizations including the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Southern Poverty Law Center have reported a rise in hate crimes against Jewish and Muslim people since 2013.

The American Academy of Religion hypothesizes that religious illiteracy is what fuels prejudice resulting in violence, and that teaching about religion can help students understand values in civic life and reduce this threat.

Evidence is found in a study by scholars Emile Lester and Patrick Roberts, who surveyed Modesto, California, students in the only district in the nation at the time that offered a religious studies course. They found that while students did not become more or less religious as a result of the course, they did recognize more the rights of others — including those they disagreed with.

Marcus said that there is also a disconnect in Americans’ understanding of what is legally allowed to be taught in schools. The U.S. Supreme Court Justice Tom Clark wrote in a majority decision that while state-sponsored devotional Bible reading and prayer recitation is not constitutional, the First Amendment supports a secular study about religion in schools for its literary and historical significance.

“It might well be said that one’s education is not complete without a study of comparative religion or the history of religion and its relationship to the advancement of civilization,” Clark wrote.

Marcus said that Harvard’s Religious Literacy Project, which Judy Beals gave a lecture on a day prior, is an example of an institution working toward expanding a model of teaching that encourages critical thinking through a religious lens. Not only does the model present to students that religions are not only internally diverse and are embedded in culture, but also change over time.

“It’s a comment on how those interpretations or expressions in those traditions are changing over time,” Marcus said.

For example, in the first half of the 19th century, white Christians in the United States were relatively divided about whether the institution of slavery fit into the morality of Christian teachings. They were similarly divided about segregation in the 1960s and now, they have split opinions on mass incarceration.

And the experience of religion does not exist separately from a person’s experience of the world. Marcus defined religious complexity in a model “3B” framework with Diane Moore, who founded Harvard’s Literacy Project. The framework connects how religious and secular beliefs, behavior according to those beliefs and belonging to a religion and other identities connects to the rest of a person’s experience in the world. 

Marcus said sociological research findings commonly report that people are more likely to come across people who are different from them at work or while shopping than at their house of worship. He said the conclusions echo a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr. in a 1960 NBC interview.

“I think it is one of the tragedies of our nation, one of the shameful tragedies, that 11 o’clock on Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours, if not the most segregated hours, in Christian America,” King said.

The framework doesn’t just identify identity differences, but also maps out how each aspect informs the others in a person’s understanding of their religion. Growing up partially Roman Catholic, Marcus has observed priests commonly tell people looking to ground themselves in the Church to participate in church life through communion and confession. While Catholics center their religion through belonging to a community, Zen Buddhists seek understanding of life truths through seated meditation.

On the other hand, Marcus said that while a culture with customs of bowing to elders informs a person’s relationship to others and with God, external identities outside religion can mold it as well. According to the Rev. James Cone, the greatest source of Black theology is the Black experience, which he said was a life of humiliation and suffering defined by white supremacy.

“In a world awash with religious influence,” Marcus said, religious literacy curriculum done right also provides critical metacognitive thinking skills in reflecting on a student’s own religious identity and place in public life.

But public schools are not yet teaching religious literacy at this desired level. In a Pew Research Center study, Americans on average answered 16 out of 32 factual questions about religions correctly. In comparison, atheists, agnostics, Jewish people and Mormons answered about 20 questions correctly on average.

While basic knowledge of religion is not the only indication of religious education quality, “it is one data point that shows that education about religion falls short in this country,” Marcus said.

Americans also misunderstand what is allowed to be taught in schools. Another Pew study found that while 89% of Americans know that prayer cannot occur in schools, only 36% know that schools are permitted to offer a comparative religion course and 23% know that students can read from the Bible as literature in class.

Teachers also are not widely trained to teach religion in academic and constitutional ways. According to a PDK International Poll, Marcus said a majority of teachers and parents want schools to offer courses on religion and the Bible as literature should be offered as an elective.

“There is no meaningful ideological or political gap in support for such courses,” Marcus said.

However, Marcus did note that Bible-as-literature courses do privilege a set of Judeo-Christian texts that exclude other religions, atheists and agnostics.

Last year, Marcus organized a National Religions Center summit on religious literacy. From the summit’s discussions — between teachers, administrators, district and state coordinators, scholars, professional development providers, religious community members and textbook publishers — a white paper summarized eight action items. It called to expand and strengthen teacher education, while also creating and implementing an outreach strategy to increase the number of educators, institutions and community members who support the study of religion.

“Ultimately, religious literacy education will not thrive unless teachers feel trained and equipped on religion academically and constitutionally,” Marcus said.

Students can also organize and train teachers. Six Maryland students formed SikhKid2Kid, an organization that provides professional development training for teachers on Sikhism. Teachers receive a certificate from their district after going through the program.

But Marcus said religious literacy needs to be embedded at all levels, in public schools, universities and communities, for the sake of understanding one another.

“We have the power to decide whether the complexity of the American religious landscape will be productive and mediated by a loving commitment to one another — as it was for my family — or destructive.”

Opera Behind the Scenes: Technical Direction to dive into the company’s many moving parts

Chautauqua Opera carpenters work on a piece of scenery for the company’s 2019 production of ¡Figaro! (90210). PHOTO COURTESY OF CHAUTAUQUA OPERA.

John “JP” Woodey knows that when Chautauquans watch a Chautauqua Opera Company performance, they aren’t usually thinking about what’s happening behind the scenes. That’s how he knows he’s done a good job.

“The way I look at it, if they’re noticing what the technicians are doing during the actual performance, then there’s something that’s not quite right,” said Woodey, Chautauqua Opera’s technical director. “During the show, patrons should be enjoying the show.”

Woodey has been working with Chautauqua Opera for more than 10 years, the last three of them as technical director. This week he will join General and Artistic Director Steven Osgood for Chautauqua Opera’s Behind-the-Scenes Series: Technical Direction. The event will air at noon EDT Thursday, Aug. 6, on the CHQ Assembly Virtual Porch.

Woodey started at Chautauqua Opera in 2007 as an assistant lighting designer; four years later he returned and has been with the company ever since. He was part of the team that helped design the preparatory lighting plot for the Amphitheater when it was renovated in 2016.

As the technical director, Woodey is in charge of executing the director and designers’ visions for scenery, lighting, sound, props and more.

“I’m responsible for anything that an artist has to touch, deal with, walk on or be around onstage and backstage,” he said. “I’m in charge of the execution of what goes on that stage in a non-director, non-aesthetic-deciding (capacity).”

Each year he is responsible for looking at the upcoming season and creating a plan that will balance the company’s time and financial constraints with its artistic vision.

“We have a finite amount of money and we have a finite amount of time, (but) we want to have the best quality (production) as well,” Woodey said. “The old phrase is, ‘Pick two.’ So, the challenge I have is trying to figure out how it’s going to work as a whole and not shortchange one area or another.”

He and his crew typically arrive at the Institution in early June, or “Week Minus Three” as he calls it, to start building scenery.

“We hit the ground running,” Woodey said, “because three, four, five weeks later, we have to have the sets practically done.”

While Norton Hall can be a challenge to build for, due to the theater’s small size, performances in the Amp are another beast altogether.

For last year’s performance of John Corigliano’s The Ghosts of Versailles, Woodey and his crew built an extensive set that could be loaded into a truck, driven to the Amp and assembled in an hour or less.

“What the patrons in the house see are, of course, the performers on stage using those set pieces,” he said. “What (they) don’t see is the choreography of the stagehands putting all this stuff together.”

Due to the limited availability of the space, tech rehearsals in the Amp typically start at 9 p.m., and sometimes run into the next morning.

“We’ve had occasions where, as were leaving, the Amp sweepers were coming in to (open) the building,” Woodey said. “The building never goes dark.”

While he isn’t expecting a standing ovation for his work, Woodey hopes Chautauquans will leave the Behind-the-Scenes Series with a better understanding of the many moving parts that go into putting on a production at Chautauqua Opera.

“I just want to make the audience aware that what they see onstage is not the only thing out there,” he said. “Take a look at the program — see who all’s been working hard and putting all this together.”

Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida, discusses how he took actions to transform the public education system in Florida, what school systems and educators need to focus on today and how the pandemic has impacted the education sector


While visiting 250 schools during his 1998 gubernatorial campaign, Jeb Bush, former governor of Florida, watched a student practicing for the HSCT test, a test that students needed to pass to graduate high school. Bush said the student could not answer the question, “If a baseball game starts at 3 p.m. and ends at 4:30 p.m., how long was the game?”

“Having all of these kinds of personal stories as a candidate really supercharged me as governor to make sure that I did everything I could to change the system so that (students), particularly the lower-performing kids, would have a fighting chance,” Bush said. “I think (education) is the great equalizer. Quality education will allow for many different possibilities for a young person as they start their life. The opposite is true if they don’t have the quality education.”

As well as being the governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007, Bush was a candidate for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination and is founder, president and chairman of the board of directors of the Foundation for Excellence in Education. At 10:45 a.m. EDT Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform, Bush joined in conversation with Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill on “Fostering Bold and Transformational Education Reform.” Bush discussed the actions he took to transform the public education system in Florida, what school systems and educators need to focus on today and how the pandemic has impacted the education sector. 

Hill asked Bush to outline the education overhaul he conducted as governor of Florida, and why he did it.

Bush said when he took office, Florida ranked last in the country in high school graduation rates. 

When he was running for office, one of his plans involved more accountability in education, such as if a school was rated an “F,” with the highest rank being “A,” two times in four years, then every child had the option of attending a private school or a better-performing public school. Bush said that plan also held back students at the end of third grade if they were functionally illiterate. 

“If you’re telling people you have these high expectations for every kid, then you have to (have) the resources to be able to back it up,” Bush said. “A lot of times, people advocate reforms that don’t have the resources to actually make the reforms work.”

Bush said reading coaches were hired at every school and teachers were better trained to teach reading. He said Florida went from the bottom of the 50 states, to sixth, in fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math levels. 

“The kids that led the way were low-income kids, Hispanic kids, African-American kids, kids with learning disabilities, because we measured and we had accountability around them and the system,” Bush said. “The entire system was really organized to make sure that they rose up.” 

Hill asked Bush about over-testing students, and how to measure their skills while not simply teaching them how to get high scores on tests. 

“Great teachers don’t teach to the test; they teach to the expectations that are set by educators,” Bush said. 

Bush believes that testing as a measurement is important, and also that there is too much testing. He believes that testing should be done at the end of the semester, instead of during the middle, as in some schools. These tests should diagnose exactly where the student stands, and Bush said this information should be given to their parents, their teacher, as well as their teacher the following year. 

Hill asked Bush how his plans on school choice played out in Florida — plans which many viewed as dismantling traditional public schools.

Bush helped set up the first charter school in Florida, Liberty City Charter School, which first taught 90 Black students whose parents chose to send their children there. These parents were directly involved with the school and, Bush said, helped shape how the school was governed. 

“That, to me, is what public education ought to be about. It ought to be driven by parents empowered with the decisions,” Bush said. “The school was successful. And it was a great learning experience.”

Bush said systems and processes are not what is important.

“I’ve never felt like the system is what needs to be protected,” Bush said. “It’s how do we make sure … we customize the learning experience where (children) are the ones that are front and center.”

Hill asked Bush about the weaknesses the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed in the educational system.

Bush said that the pandemic has made equity issues even more prominent. He gave an example: a parent who cannot work from home, with a child who cannot go to school. 

“That creates massive strains, not just on the education system but on family life, and we’re seeing it play out,” he said. “We’re seeing increases in drug use and foster care. Child abuse is up. Domestic violence is up. Alcoholism is up. These societal stresses have a direct impact, particularly on lower-income families and lower-income students.”

Bush also said that well-funded school systems have and had major issues with the pandemic; technical issues can interrupt or block virtual delivery, and students may only be able to attend remotely three times a week rather than six hours a day. 

“I have a lot of respect for people making these decisions all across the country, because there is no easy way to do this,” Bush said. “In this hyper-politicized environment, when you make a decision, someone’s going to be mad. Then when it doesn’t work exactly right, because there’s a lot of unknowns on this, you’re going to be criticized.”

Hill then asked Bush if systemic racism is an issue in the American education system specifically, and if it is, what action can be taken.

Bush talked about how KIPP Academy, one of the top-performing charter school organizations in the U.S., decided to stop using their motto “Work hard. Be nice.,” after George Floyd’s murder on May 25. 

“They had a big debate amongst their community … the families and the teachers, and they eliminated that, because the point was that systemic racism is so pervasive that working hard and being nice isn’t enough,” Bush said. “But they didn’t replace it with something, either.”

Bush thinks that there is systemic racism in education. One example he gave is that in Miami school districts, teachers who are higher paid — typically those who have been teaching in the area longer — can choose where they work. These teachers may move to schools that have students that are “more capable of taking on higher-order work.” 

“These are systemic elements of our system that end up disproportionately hurting lower-income kids that are disproportionately students of color,” he said. “So I do think that there’s systemic racism from that perspective.”

Bush said the best teachers should be teaching in the most-challenged schools, and they should be paid higher for working at these schools. 

“I’m not sure it’s inherently racist, that it’s designed to be racist, but the net effect is the same; and fixing it is important, rather than having the debate about what is systemic,” Bush said.

Hill’s final question was: If education were to be at the center of the next presidential debate, what question Bush would ask the candidates. 

“I would say, ‘Why aren’t you fixing the digital divide?’” Bush said. “‘Why don’t you make digital infrastructure the highest priority, so that this incredibly generous and prosperous country gives everybody a chance to be successful, making sure that everybody, every kid irrespective of the level of income, has a device that allows him to learn at home?’”

Pastries, coffee, kazoos, oh my! Smith Memorial Library to celebrate annual Library Day

Chautauqua Residents Celebrated Smith Memorial Library’s 87th Birthday With A Kazoo Chorale On Thursday, August 2, 2018 Outside Of Smith Memorial Library. HALDAN KIRSCH/DAILY FILE PHOTO

Grab your coffee, your toaster strudels and your kazoos, and turn on those computer screens: It’s Library Day, people.

Chautauqua’s Smith Memorial Library turns 89 years old this year, and Scott Ekstrom is ready to celebrate. 

“We’re a community center: an iconic, beautiful building on Bestor Plaza,” said Ekstrom, the director of the Smith. “We always have as many books as we can get by those who speak at Chautauqua, and we encourage (Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle) membership. And our children’s room is an important space for intergenerational gatherings.”

At 9 a.m. EDT Thursday, Aug, 6, on the Chautauqua Institution Facebook Page, Library Day will commence, giving people from all around the country and the world a chance to honor Smith Memorial Library and to share their favorite books with each other, too.

“The library is the blood of the literary arts department,” said Sony Ton-Aime, Chautauqua’s director of literary arts. “It’s a very important day, because we want to encourage people to read, and the place to do so is the library. We want to keep this resource that we have alive.”

Library Day is hosted by the Friends of Smith Memorial Library, a group of library patrons who help promote and support the library in a variety of ways.

“Usually, the in-person version (of Library Day) includes inviting librarians from Western New York to the grounds,” Ekstrom said. “We’ll have no in-person physical gathering because of the pandemic, but most other things we’re trying to do digitally, with one exception — we will not have digital coffee or donut holes. So bring your own coffee or toaster strudel to your computer.”

A highlight of Library Day for the last six years is the kazoo chorale, Ekstrom said, which involves a group of Chautauquans — armed with kazoos — playing various songs on the library’s front steps.

“There’s not really any reason for it, except that it’s fun,” he said. “Obviously this year, we’re not going to be on the front steps, spitting on each other. So instead, we’re inviting people to email 30-second videos of either themselves or of so-called ‘quaranteam’ bands playing kazoos, to We’ll be posting those videos on Facebook.”

Ekstrom said other Library Day highlights include a temporary Facebook profile frame that users can add to their profile pictures, as well as an opportunity to join the Friends of the Smith Memorial Library or make a gift to the library at

A new frontier: CLSC Class of 2020 to graduate on a virtual Recognition Day


Though its customary parade to and from the Hall of Philosophy may be absent, the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle’s Recognition Day will carry on anyways, bringing the pomp and circumstance of its predecessors to a virtual setting.

This year, for Recognition Day, the CLSC Class of 2020 will don white outfits and flip open their laptops as the class — also known as “The Visionaries” — prepares to graduate.

“I’ve been part of Chautauqua all of my life,” said Margo Stuart, the president of the Class of 2020. “My father was born here, so I spent my summers in Chautauqua. So it’s important to me to be part of this history, to be part of the CLSC.”

And although the majority of festivities surrounding Recognition Week have been canceled, Stuart said she looks forward to unveiling her class’ banner, which bears the words, “The past, our legacy. The present, our responsibility. The future, our challenge.”

“I would like people, especially women, to view the banner as a walk through our stages of life,” she said. “In our past, the suffragettes fought for the right to vote and to organize protests, and they won.”

In order to honor the suffragettes, graduates — this year totaling 85, in addition to 92 graduates across all six levels of the Guild of the Seven Seals and 10 in the inaugural Vincent Echelon level — were asked to add an element of gold or yellow to their ensembles, and at 3:30 p.m. EDT Wednesday, Aug. 5, on the CHQ Assembly Virtual Porch, the CLSC Recognition Day Ceremony will commence, honoring a more-than-a-century-old tradition of reading. Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill will deliver an address to the graduates during the ceremony.

“When we learned that the season was going online, it wasn’t a question for us that the CLSC Recognition Day would go online, and that it would be a priority for us,” said Sony Ton-Aime, Chautauqua’s director of literary arts. “It’s very important for us to honor and celebrate the graduating class.”

The virtual ceremony will strive to imitate its real-life counterpart in as many ways as possible, Ton-Aime said, because “we want graduating from the CLSC to feel the same as it has for the last 100 years.”

“The ceremony is quirky and charming, and it’s really what draws a lot of people’s attention to the CLSC here on the grounds,” said Stephine Hunt, manager of the CLSC Octagon. “But we’re hoping that with this virtual ceremony, we’ll reach a wider audience than would otherwise be possible.”

Hunt said the CLSC has attained such longevity and importance in part because of the values of the Chautauquan ideal.

“We started out as a degree-granting program mostly for women who were looking to get a position as a teacher or a secretary in townships, as people moved westward in the U.S.,” she said. “Once we stopped being that correspondence degree program, I think it’s the Chautauquan spirit that has really fostered a zeal for lifelong learning.”


For 2020, Hunt said Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was chosen as the class honoree, because “she’s celebrated as a visionary and an inspirational woman.”

Chautauqua Literary Arts, housed in the Department of Education, chooses nine books of literary merit for each CLSC summer season, Hunt said, that address the themes of the week as well as the theme of the year — which, for 2020, was “This Land.”

“The books need to cover the literary and scientific fields that are in our name,” Hunt said. “Our goal is for these books to continue to encourage our members to pursue lifelong learning, through a love of literature. I think the CLSC has continued in part because of that Chautauquan spirit, which really propels people to continue lifelong learning.”

Hunt said that the class attributes and symbols are decided the summer before graduation in class formation meetings.

“We’re now in the process of forming the Class of 2021,” she said. “So if anyone is interested in graduating next summer, now is the time to take part in those decisions. They’ll really inform the creation of the next banner and everything the class stands for and celebrates.”

Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle Class of 2020 Graduates

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Editor’s note: Every year, The Chautauquan Daily publishes a list of names encompassing all of the graduates of that year’s Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle class. We are pleased to continue that tradition in the digital space.


CLSC Class of 2020 Graduates

Marisa Albridge

Suzanne Aldrich

Joan B. Alexander

Veida Ruth Bartholomew

Jessica L. Bertine

Nancy R. Blakely

JoAnn M. Borg

Annika L. Borg-Sundstrom

Vilma Bove

Samantha Busch

Marguerite Chandler

Melissa Charles

Susie Criswell

Claudia Cummins

Charles M. Denton

Beth C. Downs

Maria Emert

Kristen K. Evans

Susan Joy Evans

Janet Forbes

Lorraine Allen Gandy

Carol Ann Gardner

Elizabeth S. Goodwin

Judy Griffith

Grace M. Hanlon

Sandra Kay Harlan

Donald P. Hilbinger

Terriann L. Hilbinger

Judith E. Hinson

Alice Kramer Hood

Stephine L. Hunt

Mark Hurst

Emily Jensen

Jennifer June

Mary Joan Kitchen

Stephen A. Koch

Robert D. Lang

William J. Lawrence

Larry Lawson

Cathy L. Leiber

Jared Magoon

Ida R. Margolis

Charles F. Marshall

Susan H. Martin

Alexis McAvoy

Debra McKay

Lydia Chaverin McKenzie

Carol Grant McKiernan

Robert J. McKiernan

Tara Louise McKiernan

James Miller

Jeffrey Stephen Miller

Shane Arthur Miller

James Moffitt

Judith Annette Moffitt

Michael Moffitt

Susan Moffitt

David J. Munch

Donna Hicks Myers

Sheryl Neal

Anne B. Neville

Barbara Nicholson

Mary Jane Paine

Ruth M. Perkins

David S. Powers

Peter A. Pucella

Nathan C. Reeder

Sabeeha Rehman

Christine Schelhas-Miller

John Schelhas

Karen E. Schiavone

Barbara Schnure

Brenda L. Short

Janice Shoup

Rev. Charles G. Smith

George B. South Jr.

Caroline Stevens

Charlotte Stevens

Margo Pearl Stuart

Susan Syler

Jocelyn C. Taylor

Richard D. Telkamp

Claudia Helene Twist

Claude Welch

Charlotte Young


Guild of Seven Seals 2020 Graduates (All Levels)

The Guild of Seven Seals was founded in 1887 at Chautauqua as the graduate level of the Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle to recognize those who continue their personal reading and learning beyond the reading requirements of the CLSC and to celebrate those who emphasize the spirit of the CLSC and life-long learning each reading year. All CLSC Graduates may progress one level per reading year.

The Guild’s motto is: “To learn, to teach, to serve, to enjoy.”

Seven Seals ~ Read 14 more CLSC books = 26 total

Parnassian~ Read 21 more CLSC books above Seven Seals = 47 total

Olympian ~ Read 28 more CLSC books above Parnassian = 75 total

Centurion ~Read 35 more CLSC books above Olympian = 110 total

Miller Echelon of the Exalted Order of Chautauqua Founders ~ read 42 titles above Centurion = 152 total

Vincent Echelon of the Exalted Order of Chautauqua Founders ~ read 49 above Miller Echelon = 201 books


Seven Seals

Tracy L. Barret

Timothy L. Brown

William A. Burgunder Jr.

Arthur Burris

Laura Comay

Donna M. Dominick

Deirdre Dianne Gregory

Thomas Bradford Gregory

Christine Hammett

Valerie Haslett

Michael E. Hill

John D. Hudson

Kathleen Ann Hurst

Patti J. Komperda

Beth Lassi

Patricia McDonald

Griff McDonald

Shelley McVea

Carol Obernauer

Carol E. O’Connell

Larry Robinson

Pamela Lincoln Senfield

Carolyn Snider

Barbara A. Sochocki

Eileen Tenenbaum

Joan Vondra



Patricia S. Beagle

Elizabeth A. Beckhusen

Katharine F. Clark

Meredith Cohen

Maureen S. Corwin

Suzan M. Cwenar

Metta Flocke

Stephen Flocke

Carol Greetham

Linda Louise Horton

Donna Hanlon Jensen

Robb T. Jones

Carolyn M. Klinge

Andrew Masich

Deborah Masich

Ann-Barri Munday

Liz Propst

Paul Ritacco III

Thomas Rycroft

Ellen Shay

Laurie Stephens

Katie Eichenlaub White



Kit Benson

Margaret B. Champion

Paul H. Champion

Ann McLaughlin

Sandra Sandoz



Barbara Baker

Emily Carpenter

John C. Doney

Robert Douds

Marcia Lehr

Grace S. Lipman

Kimberly Lombard

Genevieve Madden-Koch

Phoebe McLelland

Charlie Martin

Robert A. Matson

Shanna Matson

Marion Mercer

Alice Pedersen

Janet Posner

Sigi Schwinge

Cate Whitcomb


Miller Echelon

Ruth Becker

Matt Charles

Margaret K. Edwards

Douglas Frazer

Gary F. Johnson

Sandra K. Johnson

Barbara C. Jones

Jane M. Kronenwetter

Margaret Mong

Carole Neely

Karen Schwartz

Reba Wright-Quastler


Vincent Echelon (Inaugural Class)

Catherine F. Backlund

Barbara Daly Blanchard

Alice A. Cripe

Karen S. Douds

Leslie Holder

Jeff Innes

Patricia Killewald

Jeffrey Miller

Sue Richardson

Janet R. Yauch

Sir Ken Robinson, education expert, discusses the current state of American education and how system must foster diverse range of mindsets

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“When you have a new generation, every child is a fountain of possibilities. They are a miracle of talent and potential,” said Sir Ken Robinson, professor emeritus at University of Warwick in the United Kingdom. “What becomes of that has everything to do with opportunity, with how they’re raised, and especially if they’re educated.”

Robinson said humans, like other animals, thrive under certain conditions. He said that the same is true in education, with many people losing their passion for learning if they’re not in the right conditions.

“Education is meant to be the system that encourages and cultivates learning, but a lot of children have a bad time with it,” Robinson said. “Schools in particular often see that appetite for learning beginning to fade.”

One innate characteristic of learning is endless creativity, which Robinson said comes with an endless curiosity.

“We’re not seeing the world as it is,” Robinson said. “We’re seeing it through frameworks of ideas or belief systems, according to the cultures that we grew up in.”

Humans collaborate on almost everything, but Robinson said that most education systems prioritize compliance and conformity, rather than creativity and collaboration. 

“Children are being educated in groups, but not as groups. They’re being judged against each other,” Robinson said. “They’re competing for the next level. They’re competing for places, beyond formal education, either in universities, or in some form of post-tertiary education.” 

Robinson is a world-renowned education expert and the most-watched speaker in TED Talk history; he is also the author of numerous books, including Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education and You, Your Child, and School: Navigate Your Way to the Best Education. At 10:45 a.m. EDT Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform, Robinson presented his pre-recorded lecture titled “The State of the American Education System,” originally scheduled for Aug. 3 but postponed due to a family emergency, and aired without a live Q-and-A. He focused on the current qualities of American education, how the system of public education came to be and what education needs to look like to appeal and include a diverse range of mindsets. 

Many people believe that children are blank slates, ready to pick up traits and talents from their parents and community.

“If you’ve got children, (you know) that couldn’t be any further from the truth. Children are born fully loaded. Every one of them has a unique set of talents and possibilities — whether they discover them is a different matter,” Robinson said. “Human resources are very much like natural resources; that’s to say, they are very diverse.”

These talents are often buried beneath the surface, but Robinson said when people discover their natural talents, life takes on a different course. He also said that everyone lives with talents they have never found, and many people leave school prematurely because they believe they do not have any special talents.

“The current system is not based on diversity. It’s looking for a certain sort of talent, mainly academic ability,” Robinson said. “The consequence is that other sorts of talent are marginalized.”

He said that arts and physical education are viewed as recreational activities, which are often abandoned when the student becomes busier with areas that the education system values more. 

Robinson said many talents and skills cannot be measured and taught through conventional classroom means. His granddaughter, for example, is learning and discovering how to speak, and when teaching a child how to speak, people do not sit them down and explain nouns and verbs to them. 

“Honestly, nobody gets it,” Robinson said. “That’s embedded in the language and we just pick it up.”

Learning is also about developing young people, as well as nurturing their discovery. One example Robinson gave was teaching students calculus. 

“If you want to learn those things, it’s much better if you have experts, as it is in most fields, who can help you do that,” he said.

Robinson said education depends on keeping students curious and recognizing their talents, as well as keeping the learning process a social and collaborative experience. Where the current education system fails is focusing on certain areas of academic work, which Robinson said is “only a partial account of our capabilities.”

He said people “unconsciously divide the world into two types of children: the academic and the non-academic, or the able, and the less able.” 

“You do well, you can go on and be judged (as) the great success of the education system. If you don’t, you’re quite likely exposed to remedial programs to try and get you up to par,” Robinson said. “And if you don’t make it through those, you probably leave the system altogether, or you’re judged to be the failure.”

Robinson said one of the tragedies of American education is that each year huge numbers of young people leave school prematurely.

“I really dislike the term ‘dropout,’ because it implies that the children have failed the system. I think it’s much more accurate to say that the system failed them. Most children want to learn,” Robinson said. “It’s amazing how many successful creative people (have been) … written off in the school system.”

Robinson said the mass system of public education in the U.S. was created to meet demands, such as the need for higher-skilled workers during the Industrial Revolution, as opposed to the largely agrarian society of the past. The IQ test, which was first introduced during this era, was used in higher education, the military and mandated for immigrants. 

“It’s like coming into America, put in a Lamborghini and being given a driving test, and all you’ve ever had before is a horse and cart,” Robinson said. “There are skills and conventions here that you can’t just improvise.”

A more chilling use of the IQ test was in the military, Robinson said, where a person’s score often determined whether they lived or died. A high score meant they could be an officer, a lower score meant they were placed in the infantry.

“And if you’ve got below that level, the rather chilling memo, or category in the report, was of ‘low-military value,’” Robinson said. “We know what happened to people who were discounted in that sort of way.”

Along with conformity and compliance, Robinson said the current system of public education prioritizes linearity, meaning that schools prepare students for certain experiences in the future. An example of this is how many private schools see their students’ rate of acceptance into Ivy League schools as the biggest marker of success. 

“Most people have been increasingly prepared for university, and the consequences of this is an obsession that we start to weed the sheep and the goats,” Robinson said. “Children are groomed for university.”

Robinson said the public education system needs to shift from standardization and conformity to personalization, while also customizing education to the present times and circumstances. 

“Now, that’s not about lowering standards,” Robinson said. “On the contrary, we’ll see them rise.”

He said the public education system has three big elements that need to be changed: the amount of standardized testing, the primary focus on math, science and reading, and the neglect systems often show toward teachers. 

“The future of education is teaching, and the quality of it. It’s the teacher who inspires children. It’s the teacher who brings the expertise in the school,” Robinson said. “It’s the teacher who sees the potential, identifies the problems of learning, what’s happening in the local environment, and can devise strategies to deal with it on their own, but as part of the school’s job as well.”

Robinson said throughout the world, it has been demonstrated that improving education depends on investing in vibrant, well-qualified teachers. 

“Teachers have been seen as sort of delivery agents. It’s been based on the assumption that we need to make education teacher-proof, and you simply can’t,” Robinson said. “It’s like trying to make hospitals doctor-proof. It only works if the relationship is right.”

What Robinson laid out is not a theory; there are many examples of systems schools and teachers implementing more customized, collaborative and successful systems for their students. 

“(People say) that the birth of every child is a miracle. It’s true. Life is a miracle,” Robinson said. “And how can we come here, how we develop, is miraculous.”

‘Never the end:’ School of Music voice students to sing themes of hope and heartbreak in final recital


“It’s kind of a funny story,” Melanie Long said, as to how her choice for the fourth and final voice recital of the season came to be. 

Long, a student from the Manhattan School of Music, will perform Italian opera composer Vincenzo Bellini’s “La Ricordanza.” Bellini actually recycled his own composition, and it’s hard for historians to tell whether this song was written first or whether Bellini transformed the aria afterwards into a song. Whatever the case may be, the piece is most familiar to listeners as Elvira’s aria “Qui la voce” in Bellini’s 1834 I Puritani.

“If I wrote something that brilliant, I would do the same thing; refurbish it and stick it on something else,” Long said. 

The piece describes human connectedness, according to Long, but at the same time, recounts “someone who was deeply, deeply in love with another, remembering how much she or he loved them, but also remembering how that person left them in the end.”

“We are all dealing with loss right now, whether that is from death, or the loss of not seeing our friends and family across the country,” she said. “Although (this piece) is about a lost love, it still has an ability to translate to grief in general — we are all grieving in some form.”

The greatest challenge: keeping her composure.  

“The whole time, I am trying not to get lost in that feeling of complete grief, because it can take over the performance if you let it,” Long said. 

Long will be joined by 10 other students from the Chautauqua School of Music Voice Program to perform in their final recital of the season at 7 p.m. EDT on Wednesday, Aug. 5, on the CHQ Assembly Virtual Porch. 

Alexis Reed, a soprano from Oberlin Conservatory, will sing Gustav Mahler’s “Frühlingsmorgen” from “Des Knaben Wunderhorn,” which translates to “The Boy’s Magic Horn.” “Des Knaben Wunderhorn” are voice-and-piano and voice-and-orchestra settings of German folk poems chosen from a collection of the same name published in 1805.

“It’s an upbeat, cheery piece that always makes me happy, which is a really nice perk for this time,” she said. “This song, in my opinion, comes from the perspective of a sister telling her sibling to get up and get out because the sky is beautiful and the sun is out. It’s extremely sweet and caring in nature.”

The work has remained in Reed’s repertoire for “quite awhile,” and she said that means she carries with it a “lot of old mistakes,” especially in terms of German diction and interpretation. 

“As I have grown as an artist, this song has grown with me,” Reed said. “The biggest challenge is keeping it fresh for an audience and making sure that everytime I sing it, it feels like the first time.”

Joshua Carlisle, a tenor from Pacific Lutheran University, will perform Franz Lehár’s “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz” from Das Land des Lächelns, which translates to “The Land of Smiles.” Das Land des Lächelns is a romantic operetta in three acts by the Hungarian composer, with German language libretto by Ludwig Herzer and Fritz Löhner-Beda.

“Dein ist mein ganzes Herz” means Yours Is My Heart Alone.Carlisle said the piece about suppressing an “impossible and unrealistic love” is a standard in any tenor’s repertoire.

“It’s one of those tenor pieces that everybody does at some point,” Carlisle said. “It’s just something I have always wanted to sing and I have been waiting on my voice to catch up.” 

Carlisle learned the piece in the last two weeks, completely reliant on virtual coachings and previous recordings. 

“It’s a struggle of finding a recording where you love someone’s artistry and what they are able to do with the piece, while also recognizing when you can’t healthily do what they did with it,” he said. “I had to learn to sing the piece within the limitations of my instrument instead of trying to be somebody I am not.” 

For Long, the self-reflection inherent in perfecting a piece of music is part of the reason she loves “La Ricordanza” and feels obliged to conclude the summer’s programming by bringing its message to the digital stage. 

“(The piece) also represents that there is a hope as well,” Long said. “While we can look back on these things and learn from them and grow from them, it’s not the end. It’s never the end; no good story truly has an end.”

Judy Beals from Harvard’s Religious Literacy Project calls for past and present context in religious education

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Judy Beals’ favorite quote from former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is also an antithesis to Beals’ pitch for injecting religion into cultural context.

“Diplomats in my era were taught not to invite trouble, and no subject seemed more inherently treacherous than religion,” Albright said.

But Beals brought up several case studies that she said indicated a need for expanded interfaith religious education: the U.S. government’s lack of understanding of Islam spurred the post-9/11 invasion of Iraq; the international community failed to understand the significance of burial practices in West Africa, which caused an isolated Ebola virus to go global; and most Americans learn about religion not from courses, but from movies and TV shows.

“We need to teach religion in schools, but not in the way you think,” Beals said.

Beals proposed teaching religion along with nuanced cultural context in her lecture, “Teaching Religion Through New Eyes,” at 2 p.m. EDT Monday, Aug. 3.

Beals’ lecture launched Week Six of the Interfaith Lecture Series theme, “Lessons in the School House.” Chautauquans submitted questions during the livestream on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform, through the portal or on Twitter with #CHQ2020. Vice President for Religion and Senior Pastor Gene Robinson joined Beals to deliver questions in a subsequent Q-and-A.

Beals is an associate director for Harvard’s Religious Literacy Project and is also an experienced human and civil rights attorney, former legislative aide in the U.S. Senate, a former state Assistant Attorney General and a nonprofit CEO.

Mainstream religion courses teach religions as if they are unchanging since inception, Beals said. While learning the basic doctrines, rituals, myths and symbols is still necessary — 66% of Americans in a study knew that the first book in the Bible was the Book of Genesis, but much less that the Dalai Lama was a Buddhist figure — religious education needs to touch on how religions affected past and present events.

“How does learning about the five pillars of Islam teach us about the resurgence of the Taliban in Afghanistan?” Beals said. “The limitations of this are even more apparent when considering history. How can we know anything about Christian attitudes about the Crusades, the Inquisition or Christian support for chattel slavery?”

Beals said along with the negative effects of religion in history, there are also believers that use the same set of values for good.

“Though some Buddhists in Myanmar are involved in the persecution of Rohingya Muslims, others — based on their own Buddhist values and convictions — are opposing those actions,” Beals said. “And while it’s true that Evangelical Christians supported Donald Trump, others did not, including other white Christian Evangelicals. And similarly, many Muslims in Afghanistan and around the world oppose the Taliban. Understanding the diverse reasons of each of these actions is what is really important.”

Teaching religion with a non-devotional approach, which Harvard’s Religious Literacy Project proposes and provides resources for, observes multiple competing perspectives in religions without one superseding the other in importance.

One theme in this curriculum is that religions are not uniform and “internally diverse,” with a center mainstream and believers on the margins.

“Religion is a lived thing,” Beals said. “It is practiced as it is understood and adhered to by its adherents and its followers. And that means it is always changing and evolving. So two communities within the same branch may practice their religion very differently.”

A Catholic Mass in rural Uganda will differ from a Catholic Mass in France, as it would be different in the Philippines or in Latin America, Beals said. In Islam, women in some cultures are not required to wear a veil. Jewish kosher practice can be interpreted in multiple ways.

“Think about how often one hears things like, ‘Buddhists are nonviolent,’ or, ‘Islam promotes terrorism’ or, ‘Christians are socially conservative,’” Beals said. “These kinds of statements, no matter how well-meaning, are always over-broad and they are incorrect. It is too simplistic to capture the rich diversity of religious expression, and it is always something to stop when you hear it.”

Religions also change in response to historical and social conditions based on new opportunities, constraints and challenges framing those religions. While some religions claim to be unchanging over time for the sake of performing authenticity, Beals said that no person or institution remains static over time.

And it doesn’t end after a Mass, Shabbat or meditation concludes. It leaks into how nations shape their calendar and how companies grant holidays from work, as well as art, architecture, food and language. Even the U.S. justice system doesn’t go unscathed, Beals said, as it has direct ties to Calvinist ethics.

“For the practicing and the non-practicing alike, religious stories and allegories — think of the Good Samaritan, the golden rule, Mara and the Buddha, so many others — these are powerful influences of how people respond to adversity in their lives,” Beals said.

COVID-19, Beals said, is one such example of people looking to faith institutions for guidance. Some churches are operating as health care sites while others have become “super spreaders” for the virus. 

“We see a range of responses from faith communities to public health advice around public gatherings and so on. And we see that evolving and changing all of the time,” Beals said. “And frankly, I think religious services and practices will be forever changed by the coronavirus.”

Beals said that religious education should shed light on how religion is a nuanced influence on past and present moral justifications.

“Clearly throughout history and ongoing, religion has functioned to inspire and justify a range of human action, from the heinous to the heroic,” Beals said.

Done right, she said, religious literacy can also help students imagine a more just future and understand the world with religious context. One project where students came up with their own case studies included how Muslim women engage with New York Fashion Week and how Muslim astronauts pray toward Mecca while in space.

“It means they get to ask and are expected to ask the religion question anywhere,” Beals said. “They cannot assume religion is irrelevant to any situation.”

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