Morning Lecture Previews

Historian and public school activist Diane Ravitch to talk about the problems with the education reform movement


Diane Ravitch has worked as a historian of education for more than four decades. She’s served as the assistant secretary of education under President George H. W. Bush, written numerous books on education and has taught as a research professor of education at New York University for the last 26 years. In that time she’s watched the evolution of the American education system, and has been vocal about the evolution of her own thoughts on the matter.


“In the last 10 years I’ve become an activist on behalf of public schools and the importance of public education in a democracy,” Ravitch said in an April interview with Education Week. “This was a big change from where I was before then.”

Ravitch will be speaking as part of the Chautauqua Institution’s Week Six, “Rebuilding Public Education.” Her lecture will air at 10:45 a.m. EDT Thursday, Aug. 6, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform.

“Ravitch is one of the country’s strongest advocates for public education, and with that advocacy comes strong criticism of the current education reform movement,” said Matt Ewalt, an Institution vice president and the Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education. “During a week that looks at reform efforts throughout the United States, Professor Ravitch will make the case against privatization and highlight those who have fought against these forces.”

In 2010, after being known for years as a conservative advocate for the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, charter schools and school choice, Ravitch came out against these policies. In her 2010 book, The Death and Life of the Great American School System, she writes about becoming disillusioned with NCLB.

“I realized that the remedies were not working, I started to doubt the entire approach to school reform that NCLB represented,” she wrote. “I realized that incentives and sanctions were not the right levers to improve education; incentives and sanctions may be right for business organizations, where the bottom line — profit — is the highest priority, but they are not right for schools. I started to see the danger of the culture of testing that was spreading through every school, community, town, city, and state.

Ravitch has come to realize that national standardized testing and penalizing “under-performing” schools does little to raise education standards or address the root causes of undereducation.

“Standardized tests themselves are a social construction of very limited value,” she told Education Week. “When we use standardized tests we judge children, we stigmatize them unless they’re in the top. … (They) have become a way of adding to the privilege of those who are already privileged.”

She is highly critical of billionaire philanthropists trying to “disrupt” the education system through the advocacy of such measures at the Common Core.

“The great failure of the billionaires, aside from their arrogance in thinking that they are somehow entitled to reinvent education without paying attention to the people who do the work, is that they change the subject,” Ravitch said in the same interview. “The subject to me is, what do we do about the dramatic inequality in our society?”

To her, the only way the American education system will improve is if politicians and voters see it as a resource worth investing in.

“Almost half the kids in this country are, by federal definition, living below the poverty line, and an enormous number of them have special needs,” she told Education Week. “It costs money to address all those needs. Are we willing to pay teachers a professional salary and have a teaching profession, or do we want to just keep skimping and pretending that choice and testing are somehow a substitute for genuine social and political action?”

This program is made possible by The Locke-Irwin Fund.

Setting high standards: Excellence in Education founder Jeb Bush to speak on education reform


Political platforms often include party-affiliated stances on a variety of issues, from tax reform to health care. Typically, the Democratic party and the Republican party hold opposing beliefs regarding these issues, giving voters a choice of one side or the other. 

One of the only topics that tends to transcend party differences — at least in theory — is that of improving  education. Across the board, politicians and governments strive to better education systems on local, state and national levels. 

Jeb Bush, the 43rd Governor of Florida, is one of the most prominent voices in the fight for better education, and made such large improvements to Florida’s education systems during his 1999 – 2007 tenure as governor that Florida remains a national leader in education and is one of the only states in the nation to significantly narrow the achievement gap

Bush will speak on education reform during his lecture, “Rebuilding Public Education,” at 10:45 a.m. EDT on Wednesday, Aug.5, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform, as part of the Week Six Chautauqua Lecture Series theme, “Rebuilding Public Education.”

“Education has been a top priority while Jeb Bush served as governor of Florida and in his professional life since leaving the governor’s office. He remains an influential voice, with his foundation working closely with states all around the United States on reform,” said Vice President and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education Matt Ewalt.

He will be the first member of the Bush family to speak to a Chautauqua audience since former First Lady Barbara Bush lectured in 1987. 

The first Republican in Florida’s history to be reelected governor, Bush championed educational reform as a priority, implementing an accountability system in public schools that created one of the most ambitious school choice programs in the nation. 

“The sad truth is that equality of opportunity doesn’t exist in many of our schools. We give some kids a chance, but not all. That failure is the great moral and economic issue of our time. And it’s hurting all of America,” Bush said in his speech at the 2012 Republican National Convention. “I believe we can meet this challenge. We need to set high standards for students and teachers and provide students and their parents the choices they deserve. We must stop excusing failure in our schools and start rewarding improvement and success. We must have high academic standards that are benchmarked to the best in the world. Education is hard work, but if you follow some core principles, and you challenge the status quo, you get great results.”

Following his time in office, Bush became the president and chairman of the board of directors of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, a national non-profit organization that aims to raise student achievement through collaboration with education leaders, teachers, parents and advocates. 

During his lecture, Bush will discuss the work being done by ExcelinEd to transform education reform and bolster student achievement. 

According to its website, ExcelinEd has a goal of “transforming education to unlock lifelong opportunity and success for each and every child.” The organization works with educators and politicians at all levels to develop and implement policies that aid in student achievement. 

ExcelinEd is able to provide each state with unique solutions for issues in their education systems through the help of educational experts from around the nation, and seeks to advance student learning, increase equity and ready graduates for college and career. 

Ewalt is looking forward to Wednesday’s lecture and thinks that the discussion of educational reform is an interesting and important element of the weekly theme of Education. 

“We look forward to learning more about his call for reform and how we navigate the often contentious debate around education in this country,” Ewalt said. 

This program is made possible by The Charles Ellsworth Goodell Lectureship in Government and Public Affairs & the Carnahan-Jackson Lectureship.

Sir Ken Robinson CBE FRSA to speak on the state of education in the U.S.


In 2006, Sir Ken Robinson, CBE FRSA, dazzled his TED Talk audience with acerbic wit, relatable anecdotes, and one piercing question: “Do schools kill creativity?”


Robinson’s talk has since been viewed over 60 million times, in 160 countries. In it, he makes a case that children’s innate creativity has been squandered and squashed by education systems across the globe, and called for a reordering of priorities for producing educated, healthy students. 

“We need to radically rethink our view of intelligence,” he told his audience then, “(because) we think visually, we think in sound, we think kinesthetically, we think in abstract terms, we think in movement.”

An internationally recognized leader in education policy who was knighted in 2003 for his service to the arts, Robinson was originally scheduled to speak to Chautauquans worldwide, addressing the state of education in the United States in his lecture at 10:45 a.m. EDT on Tuesday, Aug. 4, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform, opening the Week Six theme on “Rebuilding Public Education.” His lecture, originally scheduled for Monday, Aug. 3, was initially postponed due to a family emergency; it will be aired Tuesday without a live Q-and-A.

“Sir Ken Robinson’s powerful message of how our educational system has impoverished the culture of learning comes at an extraordinary time for a national dialogue on public education — a time of great anxiety and uncertainty for children, parents and educators,” said Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education at Chautauqua Institution. “Yet this very moment also makes clear the power of his larger argument, that a culture of learning must prioritize compassion, collaboration and the diversity of our communities.”

Following the lecture will be a live Q-and-A, when viewers will be able to send in questions via or on Twitter at #CHQ2020. 

“We have to rethink the fundamental principles on which we are educating our children,” Robinson told his TED audience in 2006. More recently, in line with this credo, Robinson has published, spoken and brainstormed around the world for systems that will embrace children’s innate gifts. 

A prolific author as well as public speaker, Robinson has published New York Times best-selling works including The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything; Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life; You, Your Child, and School; and Creative Schools: The Grassroots Revolution That’s Transforming Education. 

Aside from his books, Robinson hosts the podcast/video series “Learning From Home,” which looks at the way that the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many parents to take charge of their children’s education. Through it, Robinson shares resources, insights and support. 

“These are times where we all need to pull together,” he said in the pilot episode, “and support each other with whatever expertise and resources that we can.”

The podcast has released three episodes to date, each sharing strategies, stories and insights from parents and educators worldwide.

The environment which informed Robinson’s 2006 TED Talk was dominated by the legislation of No Child Left Behind, which mandated authorization of school funds according to test scores. It often ensured that programs such as art and music, not covered in testing, would be underfunded or cut altogether. It was criticized across the board, even spawning a humorous protest song from troubadours Tom Chapin and John Forster. According to Robinson, the prioritization of only some subjects has been devastating, because it ignores gifts that children might otherwise develop.

“Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we’ve strip-mined the earth,” he said in that original TED Talk. “Our children should be their own best resources, and by not equipping them properly, we are failing their developmental future the same way we fail their environmental future. The only way we’ll (survive) is by seeing our creative capacities for the richness they are, and seeing our children for the hope that they are. Our task is to educate their whole being so they can face this future.”

This program is made possible by the Richard and Emily Smucker Endowment Fund and the Louise Roblee McCarthy Memorial Lectureship.

Barbara A. Mikulski, longest-serving woman in Congressional history, to conclude week on women’s vote centennial with call to ‘Remember, Reflect and Recommit’


If you want democracy to work, Barbara A. Milkulski likes to say, you have to work at democracy.


A great deal of that work was done by generations of women in America as they fought for their right to vote, finally secured in 1920 by the 19th Amendment — and it wasn’t just a fight, Mikulski said. It was a battle.

“I bristle at the phrase, ‘given the right to vote.’ No one ‘gave’ them anything,” Mikulski said. “Suffragists were tarred, ostracized, and fought a tremendous battle to win hearts and minds and a place in the Constitution.”

Mikulski, former U.S. Senator from Maryland, is the longest-serving woman in Congressional history, a lifelong public servant, and a commissioner for the federal Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commission. Currently the Homewood Professor of Public Policy at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Mikulski will close the Chautauqua Lecture Series Week Five theme of “The Women’s Vote Centennial and Beyond” in conversation with Institution President Michael E. Hill on “How to Use This Anniversary to ‘Remember, Reflect and Recommit’” at 10:45 a.m. EDT Friday, July 31, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform.

Mikulski spoke as part of the Chautauqua Women’s Club Contemporary Issues Forum in 2018; at that point, plans were already being formed for a week celebrating the centennial of the 19th Amendment.

“Senator Mikulski has been a trusted guide throughout our planning for a week on the suffrage centennial, reminding us of how we can look to history as a reminder of the work ahead of us,” said Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education, who works with his department to plan each week’s theme and lectures. “In particular, we look forward to her insight on the lessons we can take from the suffragists as we look to today’s social justice movements.

When Mikulski and Institution staff began talking about 2020, they were aware that “this is a significant year,” she said, encompassing the national census and a presidential election alongside demographic shifts.

“The manner of Chautauqua, with roots in tradition of the exchange of the contemporary and new ideas with reflecting on the past … means that they can bring that principled nonpartisanship to a commemoration on the suffrage centennial,” Mikulski said.

But more than just commemorating, Mikulski pointed to the national theme of the federal commission: “Know our history, and to own the whole narrative,” she said. “Reflect on what it meant, and not just observe the benchmarks of these battles, but remember, reflect and recommit.”

At the commission, Milkulski said, “we are committed to owning the entire narrative. The good, the bad and, at times, the ugly. Often, we talk about what George W. Bush said at the dedication of the (National Museum of African American History and Culture): that a great nation often has flaws, but what makes a nation great is that it looks at its flaws and tries to do better.”

As her conversation with Hill will offer insights on just how to “Remember, Reflect and Recommit,” Milkulski wants to impart “how each person can make a difference and work together to make change. People will say, ‘I’m just one person,’ but you can make a difference.”

It’s about participating in a community, voting in elections, volunteering, she said. It’s about taking ideas and turning them into actions. It’s what the suffragists did.

“Ideas and ideals that lead to action, to empowerment — that’s what the battle was for,” she said.

This program is made possible by the Richard W. and Jeannette D. Kahlenberg Lectureship Fund. 

Carol Jenkins, Co-President and CEO of the ERA Coalition and the Fund for Women’s Equality, To Talk About The Long History of The Equal Rights Amendment and Why It Must Be Ratified


Carol Jenkins’ grandfather had 15 children — nine girls and six boys — and he sent all his daughters to college. In the 1920s, Jenkins said, he “believed his daughters deserve to have a fair shot in the world and he was going to give them a college education.”


By sending his daughters to college, Jenkins said, that Black Alabama farmer created “several generations now of doctors, lawyers, writers. … I call it the small army that came out of that little plot of land in Lowndes County, Alabama.”

Alongside her work in the ERA Coalition and the Fund for Women’s Equality, where she is co-president and CEO, Jenkins was a journalist for 30 years, and served as the founding president of the Women’s Media Center. She will present “On the Work Toward Passage and Enactment of the Equal Rights Amendment” at 10:45 a.m. EDT Thursday, July 30, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform as part of the Week Five Chautauqua Lecture Series theme, “The Women’s Vote Centennial and Beyond.” 

Journalism was Jenkins’ dream, and in 1968, newsrooms were covering “rioting situations where they found it useful to have a person of color.”

“They were looking for Black people. They were looking for women,” Jenkins said. “You’ll see at that time that most of the people of color who got hired were Black women, because they filled two HR needs, so to speak.”

Jenkins started out as a researcher, then was promoted to a writer then to an on-air talent. From there, she worked at NBC News for 23 years.

At the ERA Coalition and the Fund for Women’s Equality, Jenkins works on behalf of the Equal Rights Amendment, which would codify that discrimination based on sex is illegal and allow the U.S. government to form laws that would better protect women and girls.

“Every day, when I get up, my first thought is, ‘What could we do today to bring equality to girls and women, to people of color? How can we move this forward, because we are so far behind?’ … The Equal Rights Amendment is literally putting a fix on our Constitution that wasn’t there. Women are not included.”

The Constitution states that any amendment must receive a two-thirds vote in the House of Representatives and the Senate, and then three-fourths, or 38, of the states must ratify it. Jenkins said that ERA was first proposed almost 100 years ago in 1923 and voted through Congress in 1972, but only 35 states chose to ratify the amendment. In 2017, Nevada ratified ERA, and Illinois and Virginia followed suit in 2018.

The Department of Justice then said that because of a time limit that was in the introduction of the amendment, the ERA has lost its opportunity to be passed.

“What we say is that there is no time limit on equality,” Jenkins said. 

Jenkins said that the House and 38 states have agreed to remove the deadline from the ERA, and she and others are working to pass the amendment through the Senate.

When the Constitution was written by mostly slaveholding wealthy white men … slaves and women were left out,” Jenkins said. “… If I can make a contribution to ensuring that my daughter and her children do not have to face the same obstacles to success, then I want to work on that.”

In addition to her work at the ERA Coalition, Jenkins hosts the three-time New York Emmy-nominated show, “Black America.” She said the show was inspired by “African American Legends,” a show in which Roscoe Brown would interview “all of the heavyweights in the black community.” Brown and Jenkins’ fathers were both Tuskegee Airmen.

“(Brown and I) had a conversation, and he anointed me as worthy of being a successor. … I was so honored,” Jenkins said.

“Black America” is currently in its sixth season.

“We always ask two questions. The first is, ‘How do you place yourself in Black America, where do you fit in, what do you do, what are your influences?’” Jenkins said. “We always end with the statement, the strength, the power of Black America, and those have been fascinating, fascinating answers.”

Jenkins is also working on a miniseries about her uncle, who she also wrote about in Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire. Gaston was the grandchild of slaves and his mother cooked for wealthy Alabama families. 

“(Gaston) worked in the coal mines and started selling insurance and ultimately became a multimillionaire with about 10 businesses — not only insurance, but banking and The A. G. Gaston Hotel, which was famous for being the headquarters for Martin Luther King Jr. during the desegregation of Birmingham,” Jenkins said.

For her Thursday presentation, Jenkins will discuss the progress that has been made to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, and why ratifying it would be pivotal.

“It’s a complicated, convoluted step forward, a step back. Women are working, they run into obstacles, they continue to work, and then (experience) surprise breakthroughs,” Jenkins said. “It’s been a long, long, long effort.”

This program is made possible by the Travis E. and Betty J. Halford Lectureship Endowment.

Errin Haines, co-founder of The 19th, To Discuss Journalism During A Time Of “Dual Pandemics Of COVID-19 And Racism” and Intersections Between Gender and Politics


While covering the Iowa caucuses earlier this year, Errin Haines, co-founder of The 19th, was surprised that a lot of the same mistakes of the 2016 election were happening again in political journalism.


“Most of the people that are covering our politics are white men, and most of the gatekeepers and decision makers around political journalism are white men,” she said. “What that told me was that the issue was not limited to any individual or was not limited to any individual newsroom, but that the problem was systemic, and that the fastest way to address this from a systemic structural response was to really just start over.”

One of the main catalysts behind The 19th — launched earlier this year — was to create a newsroom and coverage that was necessary for women and, Haines said, marginalized communities “who have not seen themselves reflected in our politics.”

“I think being at The 19th now, as a Black woman, really allows me to just bring my full self to the newsroom every day,” Haines said, “to be in a place that values my lived experience as an asset, and not a liability, to journalism.”

Haines is editor-at-large and a co-founder of The 19th, a nonprofit newsroom focused covering women, politics and policy, and was a national writer on race and ethnicity for the Associated Press. She has also written for The Los Angeles Times, The Orlando Sentinel and The Washington Post, and will present “The Role of Journalism & Media at the Intersection of Gender, Politics & Policy,” at 10:45 a.m. EDT Wednesday, July 29, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform as part of the Week Five Chautauqua Lecture Series theme, “The Women’s Vote Centennial and Beyond.” 

When she was in college in Atlanta, Haines started writing for The Atlanta Daily, interviewing city officials and occasionally leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. 

“What that taught me was that our stories were important, stories about and by Black people were important,” Haines said, “but also that I shouldn’t have to fight or argue with anyone for why those stories matter and why they should be considered to be important journalism.”

She then covered national politics for the first time during President Barack Obama’s 2008 election, covering mainly the Black electorate. Haines said that intersection between race and politics is very pronounced and “covering race is really the unfinished business of our democracy.”

Haines covered the 2016 presidential election and the 2018 midterms with the Associated Press and is reporting on the 2020 presidential election with The 19th.

“My experience covering race for as long as I did made me uniquely qualified to cover politics in this moment,” she said, “to be able to see certain things and understand kind of what they are and what they meant. … All politics are identity politics.”

Haines started to report for The 19th shortly before COVID-19 spread to the United States. Like many other political journalists, she was following the campaign trail before the pandemic.

“This year was supposed to be our Super Bowl. (The presidential election) was the main event. Especially for us making our debut as a newsroom; this is going to be hugely consequential for us, but also for the country,” Haines said “By mid-March, the campaign trail had basically vanished. … It’s pretty much virtual.”

Haines said the team at The 19th realized they needed to pivot their focus to also covering how the pandemic has disproportionately impacted women, who make up a majority of essential workers in education, nursing and different caregiving fields. They are still covering the election, like Joe Biden’s upcoming vice presidential pick, and how the pandemic is affecting how people vote and participate in democracy.

Haines said it was important for The 19th to cover voting rights and suppression, as the news organization is named after the 19th Amendment. Aug. 18 marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment’s ratification, and Haines said the news agency plans on engaging as many women as possible, including those who have never voted or do not always vote. 

During her Chautauqua lecture, Haines will discuss what she calls “the dual pandemics of coronavirus and racism” and the disparities and ethical questions exposed by the pandemic — such as who will be able to attend school or work safely and who will have secure access to food and housing.

“It’s not just about one president, one moment, the pandemic. It’s not just about George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor. It literally is about the intersection of everything for people,” Haines said. “Even before the pandemic, I was saying that racism is on the ballot, and that race and gender were kind of the story of 2020 — but I think that that could not be more true headed into November.”

This program is made possible by The Frank G. Sterritte Memorial Lectureship & the Dr. Robert R. Hesse Lectureship.

Kimberly Churches to emphasize ‘action over words’ in role of closing equity gaps in the United States


Kimberly Churches doesn’t subscribe to the Golden Rule. Treating people the way you wish to be treated? That’s egotistical, she said — at best.


“That’s a very self-centered way of thinking because it’s focusing solely on our lived experiences, our upbringing, our own personal values,” Churches said. 

So, “flip it on its head” and treat people how they wish to be treated. That acknowledgement, she said, is how “change will be made.”

Churches, CEO of the American Association of University Women, will deliver her lecture “Close the Gaps Forever” at 10:45 a.m. EDT Tuesday, July 28, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform as part of the Week Five theme “The Women’s Vote Centennial And Beyond.” 

In 2017, Churches attended the Women’s March in Washington D.C. with her daughter and sister. Though it was “a moving experience,” she said she feared there was a limit to its agenda. 

“I felt like there was no set itinerary as to what could be done to break down the barriers and biases for women and girls,” she said. “Even the laws we have in this country don’t actually ensure that human behavior and practice is fully met in the end.”

She joined the American Association of University Women, an organization “committed to empowering women” through education and economic security, that same year. In 2018, she put forward a strategic plan that focuses on implementing plans to achieve more “racial and gender equities” throughout the nation, especially within the “realm of equal access to education.” 

To give a perspective on how “we got here,” Churches said she will take a step back in history during her lecture, starting with the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which “aimed and failed’ to abolish the gender wage disparity.

“The gap has barely budged in the last two decades, when we should have had equal pay for people of color and for women right when this law was initially passed,” she said. “It’s not happening in practice because there are loopholes and not enough transparency or accountability.”

Even laws that successfully prompt immediate action often miss a mark of their own, according to Churches. For example, the 19th Amendment did grant women the right to vote, but Churches said white women were the only ones to reap its benefits.

They want to see diversity and inclusion and accessibility in everything they do,” Churches said. “Research has shown for decades that if you have more people with different backgrounds around the table, better decisions are made. If you are homogenous in your thinking, the same ideas will keep getting regurgitated. That doesn’t make them good ideas.”

“That law only helped white women when it came down to it, not women of color,” Churches said. “The individual and collective work we all need to be doing is making sure we are examining our own biases and checking them at the door. Passing laws is important, but we need to ensure that we are improving human behavior and accountability at the same time or we are going nowhere.”

The overlap of the COVID-19 pandemic and Black Lives Matter movement presents a “beautiful opportunity” to break those historical cycles of “words being valued over actions,” Churches said.

“You have an American public that is not on European vacations or running to see the latest blockbuster movie,” she said. “We have more opportunities right now to listen, absorb and then act on what we hear.” 

While permanently breaking those cycles may not be a feat accomplished in her lifetime, Churches said she is optimistic that younger generations — millennial and Gen Z — are already doing the necessary work to reform their workplaces beyond what is “written in the handbooks.” 

“They want to see diversity and inclusion and accessibility in everything they do,” Churches said. “Research has shown for decades that if you have more people with different backgrounds around the table, better decisions are made. If you are homogenous in your thinking, the same ideas will keep getting regurgitated. That doesn’t make them good ideas.”

This program is made possible by the Margaret Miller Newman Lectureship Fund.

‘Woman’s Hour’ author Elaine Weiss opens Chautauqua week dedicated to suffrage centennial


In many ways, it makes sense that Elaine Weiss is opening Week Five of the CHQ Assembly season, dedicated to celebrating the centennial of women’s suffrage in the United States. For one, she literally wrote the book on the topic: The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote. But perhaps more importantly, while the book takes place in Nashville in 1920, Weiss thinks the suffrage movement itself would not have been possible without the Chautauqua Movement.

“This is the heyday of the mother and daughter Chautauquas,” Weiss said. “When you think about it, how do suffragists get the message out? And Chautauqua becomes important as one of the biggest gatherings of people across the country, but it’s also the suffrage audience, of open-minded, educated, reform-minded men and women.”

Weiss will discuss The Woman’s Hour as part of the Chautauqua Lecture Series, opening a week on “The Women’s Vote Centennial and Beyond” at 10:45 a.m. EDT Monday, July 27, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform.

In researching her book, Weiss found “again and again and again” just how critical Chautauquas all across the country were as the “primary communication source” of the suffrage movement. And part of that research? Spending hours in the archives of The Chautauqua Assembly Herald, the precursor to The Chautauquan Daily. 

“It was very revelatory,” she said. “It was such fun; at a certain point, I had to tear myself away, but through those newspapers, you’re able to find when Chautauqua was discussing suffrage and when it wasn’t, and who was speaking when.”

The Woman’s Hour was published in March 2018; in August of that year, it was announced that Amblin TV had optioned the rights for a television adaptation. It will mark Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s debut as an executive producer.

Weiss admits she’d anticipated a different role for the executive producer at the helm of the adaptation: “The book was turned in the day before the (2016) presidential election. We had kind of assumed it would come out during the first term of the first woman president.” But her editor at Viking, Weiss said, told her something “quite wise.”

“This book,” her editor said, “is more important now.”

“We as a nation have not really reckoned with or been able to agree on what kind of democracy we want or need,” Weiss said. “It started at the very beginning — the Constitution only gave voting rights to wealthy white men. There had to be a struggle — it was not very long-lived, but there was pressure and struggle for universal suffrage among white men of all classes. But it was still only white men. In 1870, we have the 15th Amendment (granting suffrage to African-American men) but that gets undermined by Jim Crow, and then again, the 19th Amendment is undermined by Jim Crow. Race is shot through all of this.”

Indeed, one of the arguments against women’s suffrage was that “universal” suffrage meant suffrage for Black women. And despite the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Weiss said, “we are still battling for voting rights, as minority women and men are still targeted for partisan reasons. We are still grappling with what we mean when we say we are a democracy, and we’ve been pretty hypocritical about it for all of our history.”

“Why,” she asked, “if we consider a government by and for the people, should we fear our own citizens?”

In The Woman’s Hour, Weiss details not just the women on the frontlines of the suffrage movement, but the anti-suffrage movement, as well. 

“The anti-suffrage side had not been told very much, and it’s extremely important to know who they are and what they understood the dangers of suffrage to be. … In the last chapter, I trace the results of the anti-suffrage women who were ‘forced’ to vote,” Weiss said. “They organize in a much better and more effective fashion than the former suffrage movement.”

The suffragists had dispersed, Weiss said, taking disparate ideologies with them. 

“They were a big tent: Socialists, Republicans, those in the temperance movement,” Weiss said, while the anti-suffragists were much more unified. The results can be traced through the 20th and 21st centuries — from McCarthyism to movements against the Equal Rights Amendment and modern voting rights.

“They are very much connected. Isn’t that fascinating? I was struck that the ‘antis’ do a much better job than the suffragists,” Weiss said. “I was struck that I have heard these arguments — about a woman not being temperamentally suited to leadership, how they’re shortchanging their children by attending meetings and marches and lobbying — in my lifetime.

This program is made possible by The Eleanor Fund Lectureship Endowment.

Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel to finish Week Four with live Socratic discussion on digital responsibility in tech.


Michael Sandel has spent many summers speaking from the Amphitheater stage, and in all that time he’s never just come just to deliver a lecture. He comes to Chautauqua to have a conversation, and this year is no exception.


“The Chautauqua community is really very special,” Sandel said. “It’s one of the most morally, as well as intellectually, engaged communities that I’ve been privileged to speak to over the years.”

Sandel, a Harvard political philosopher and best-selling author, will be leading Chautauquans in a Socratic discussion on “Digital Responsibility in the Tech World” at 10:45 a.m. EDT Friday, July 24, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform. His talk will finish off Chautauqua Institution’s Week Four, “The Ethics of Tech: Scientific, Corporate and Personal Responsibility.

He will be speaking live, and will engage with a group of around 20 of pre-selected volunteers throughout his talk. Participants were randomly chosen from a pool of Chautauquans who responded to a call through the Institution’s e-newsletters and social media.

“A subgroup of the audience will be live participants in what I expect will be a lively dialogue about the ethical dilemmas posed by new technologies,” Sandel said. “The theme of the session, in line with the theme of the week, will be: How can we think our way through the hard ethical dilemmas raised by new technologies?”

He urges Chautauquans to be critical of the promises of new tech developments.

“New digital technologies promise to make life more efficient, convenient; some even promise modes of decision making more objective and more ‘rational’ than human decision-makers can make,” Sandel said. “But I think we need to question these assumptions and ask whether there are some important human and civic values that we must be careful to protect.”

The illusion of privacy on the internet, particularly in the wave of scandals like Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica breach, is a major point of conversation regarding ethics in technology.

“A great many people like the ability to use Facebook or Instagram to keep in touch with their friends,” he said. “But in the last couple of years we’ve become increasingly aware of the downside, even the dark side, of these platforms for sharing information and personal data.”

With so much money to be made selling user data to companies for advertising purposes, companies like Facebook have been resistant to any attempts at regulation.

In the European Union, legislation like the General Data Protection Regulation asserts when, where and how companies can collect personal data from users. There is currently no such legislation in the United States.

Another illusion that needs deconstructing is the idea that algorithms are inherently objective.

“Decisions of who should get parole, or what neighborhoods should be the target of policing, these are areas where we’ve come to rely more and more on algorithms,” Sandel said. “While (they) may seem objective, going dispassionately on data and making predictions based on data, too often the data built into the algorithms reflect patterns of inequality and of discrimination that raise questions about just how fair (they) can be.”

In 2017, Amazon infamously disbanded a resume-screening AI project after it observed patterns in the resumes submitted to the company and started discriminating against female applicants.

Sandel said that while it’s easy to view the increasing power of tech companies and the increasing dependence on new technologies as inevitable, history says otherwise.

“We should not accept the idea that the direction of technology is entirely outside our control,” he said. “We can think back historically to the rise of big powerful corporations around the turn of the century, and it seemed then that the rise of big trusts and monopolies … (were) inevitable.”

However, the rise of the antitrust movement from 1900 to 1920 brought in new regulations that broke up monopolies like John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil.

“Perhaps we are now going through a similar time,” Sandel said, “when we need to summon up public awareness and public determination to deliberate together as democratic citizens about how to bend technology to human purposes.”

While Friday’s talk won’t solve any of these problems in itself, Sandel believes it’s a step in the right direction.

“Our discussion will be, I hope, at least one example of the kind of public debate we need as citizens if we are to direct technology to human and democratic ends,” he said.

This program is made possible by “The Lincoln Ethics Series” funded by the David and Joan Lincoln Family Fund for Applied Ethics, The Sondra R. & R. Quintus Anderson Lectureship, “The Chautauqua Lecture” and the Malcolm Anderson Lecture Fund.

University of Virginia professor Deborah G. Johnson to talk on deepfakes, election misinformation


University of Virginia Professor Emeritus Deborah G. Johnson believes that reputation is the commodity that wins elections. But this commodity is threatened by deepfakes.


Deepfakes are a technology that first started appearing online in 2017, in which sophisticated AI technology compiles and studies existing media to fabricate videos depicting specific people, often public figures, doing and saying things that never happened. These deepfakes can be detrimental in an election year, as videos of candidates can be doctored to show things that are what Johnson describes as “unseemly and inappropriate” to deter voters. 

“The thing that worries me the most there, is that if it were done late in the election cycle, even though you might be able to debunk it, if it’s late in the election, there isn’t enough time to get the word out,” Johnson said. “Even if there is enough time, once it’s out there circulating online, you can’t possibly catch every place that it’s been to debunk it.”

Johnson will discuss deepfakes, election security and more in her lecture “Integrity of Cybersecurity and Digital Ethics” at 10:45 a.m. EDT Thursday, July 23, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform, as part of the Week Four Chautauqua Lecture Series theme of “The Ethics of Tech: Scientific, Corporate and Personal Responsibility.” 

“First of all, I want to make people aware of the possibility of these deepfakes being out there, and distorting the information that they’re getting,” Johnson said. “Second of all, I wanted to kind of go into some detail about the ethical implications (of) why this is so dangerous and worrisome. I also want to suggest that there are some possibilities and possible strategies for combating the negative effects.”

While Johnson will be discussing the sinister uses of this technology, she acknowledges that deepfakes can be used for good. Johnson believes that this technology can be used for parody and entertainment, historical reenactment, and editing speeches into different languages. 

“The main ethical (dilemma of deepfakes) is deception. But, if it’s not used in a deceptive way, then it’s not necessarily bad,” Johnson said. 

Through the presentation, Johnson said she hopes to inform the audience about deepfake technology so that they can form their own opinions about future policy to regulate or combat it. 

“I want (the audience) to have a kind of healthy dose of skepticism about what they see in media, social media, and other kinds of media — but at the same time, I don’t want them to be so skeptical that they don’t believe anything they see,” Johnson said. “I think we need everybody to be thinking about how to manage these things. I think there are particular policies that we want people to get behind — whether it’s pressuring platforms to look out for deep fakes, ban them, or label them, or other kinds of legislation or policies.”

Johnson began researching and teaching the ethics of tech and engineering in the early 1980s, when she taught philosophy to classes comprised mostly engineering students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. At the time, computing was a hot topic that she wove into her lessons to interest her students. She started to notice along the way unaddressed ethical dilemmas in the field, so she began to shape her research and career around the subject.

Even as technology evolved, her approach to ethics did not necessarily change. Johnson said that tech ethics is not based on technology, but rather social values. 

“Trained as a philosopher, you think of ethics and morality as this thing that’s separate from the world, and there’s right and wrong. I think over the years it’s become clearer and clearer to me that it’s about social values more than right and wrong,” Johnson said. “I now realize that you can’t do the ethical issues without really understanding the relationships between technology and society. Technologies are always embedded in some social context. When you’re doing ethics, you’re really navigating the social context as much as the technology.”

This program is made possible by “The Lincoln Ethics Series” funded by the David and Joan Lincoln Family Fund for Applied Ethics and by the Miller-Beggerow Fund in honor of Cornelia Chason Miller.

Carnegie Mellon University scholars to join panel on ethics and tech


A philosopher, a roboticist, and a literary scholar log onto a livestream …

Danks, Nourbakhsh & Keating

It seems like a silly quarantine-inspired joke, but it isn’t. At 10:45 a.m. EDT Wednesday, July 22, on CHQ Assembly Video Platform, three scholars from Carnegie Mellon University will host an interdisciplinary discussion on the ethics of tech. 

Chautauqua Institution will welcome David Danks, Philosophy Department head and L.L. Thurstone Professor of Philosophy and Psychology; Illah Nourbakhsh, K&L Gates Professor of Ethics and Computational Technologies and director of the Community Robotics, Education and Technology Empowerment (CREATE) Lab; and Jennifer Keating, former Assistant Dean for Educational Initiatives at Dietrich College  — now a Senior Lecturer and Writing Disciplines Specialist at the Department of English at the University of Pittsburgh

Danks said that while many universities have scholars who can speak on issues of ethics and tech, CMU is unique in its interdisciplinary approach.

“Carnegie Mellon, as an institution and as a culture, is more interdisciplinary in ways I think run deeper than you find at almost any other university,” Danks said. “It is a culture where we don’t draw divisions of, ‘This is the ethicists’ job, this is the technologists’ job.’ Rather, it is understood that what we’re doing is we’re trying to work collaboratively to produce technology that benefits all. Ethical AI is about the process, not the product. So, it’s absolutely critical you have these kinds of interdisciplinary connections.”

The group will discuss AI in particular, as each member has unique research in that area. Keating and Nourbakhsh wrote the book AI & Humanity, published in March 2020. Along with the book, the two curate a website by the same name that provides teaching points for educators about the increasingly normalized interaction between humans and technology.

The content from the website and book was informed by a multi-year experiment at CMU, where freshman students, from humanities and computer science departments, were put together in seminars on issues of tech’s influence on society. 

While working in administration at the university, Keating developed this class among others as an interdisciplinary approach to society’s most “gnarly” challenges. 

“It makes sense to start thinking about the ways in which our society has responded to other meaningful advances in technology like the steam engine, the cotton gin, the printing press. Those have had broad societal implications,” Keating said. “What have we learned from researchers in history, anthropology, sociology, political science on attending to those advances in technology and how might you refashion some of those questions to attend to this boundary space that we’re navigating currently?”

This project is Keating’s introduction into the world of tech. Previously, she studied culture and literature from places amid strife — in particular, the Troubles in Northern Ireland. In this research, she began to shift her attention to how advancing technology in the military and police force influenced human-to-human relationships, and shaped the decades-long conflict itself. 

“With my own interest in representations of language, veracity and communication, a lot of my considerations on the political effects of language, and people’s relationship to political systems, and how they present that in different fiction or nonfiction forms, really turned into a very rich area of study,” Keating said. 

Nourbakhsh provided the roboticist’s point-of-view in this educational experiment, having spent the last decade studying human-robot collaboration and community-based robotics. 

“(Through the course) I learned that the humanities students can do extraordinarily deep thinking about technology, and its ramifications,” Nourbakhsh said. “A lot of our technology students are also really equipped to study literature, and to use literature, futuring and science fiction to create an understanding of the kind of imagined possible futures that we face.”

The course was designed to teach students a way of interdisciplinary thinking. Nourbakhsh said that many existing social ills are because of a lack of lateral thinking — causing the movers-and-shakers of the world to be too narrow-minded. 

“I think lateral thinking is the only way to solve the complex problems we have in society right now,” Nourbakhsh said. “This is a chance for them to exercise that ability to think laterally, to not just think as a technologist, not just to think as somebody who studies literature and writes science fiction, but to think about how you can use science fiction and rhetoric to advance a narrative to explain to people issues like privacy and surveillance and drone warfare.”

Danks, Keating and Nourbakhsh will replicate this classroom experience in their presentation by utilizing what Nourbakhsh calls “key words” from the field, which can unlock and encourage deeper conversation beyond the presentation. 

Keating said that she hopes that with this newfound mindset and vocabulary, the audience will engage in deeper conversations about technology and its impact on society. 

“I want the audience to feel empowered,” Keating said. “I would love the audience to interact with us — to ask questions, to bring their expertise to the discussion — to feel like technology is not some advancing tidal wave that is going to overtake their lives, but that these really are just tools.” 

After this panel, Danks will present a lecture at 3:30 p.m. EDT on CHQ Assembly on remedying cultural biases in algorithms as a part of the African American Heritage House Lecture Series. 

This program is made possible by “The Lincoln Ethics Series” funded by the David and Joan Lincoln Family Fund for Applied Ethics & the McCredie Family Fund.

Affectiva CEO Rana el Kaliouby to discuss ethics of artificial intelligence, burgeoning field of “Emotion AI”


As a toddler in Kuwait, Rana el Kaliouby was surrounded by technology. “My dad had one of the first video recorders,” el Kaliouby said. “I would stand on a blue plastic chair, at 3 or 4 years old, and ramble to the camera.” 

When her dad gave el Kaliouby and her sisters an early video game console, she loved it — “but it wasn’t about the game,” she said. It was about bonding with those she played with.

When she grew up, el Kaliouby took this love of connecting through technology and ran with it. She is the author of a recent memoir, Girl Decoded: A Scientist’s Quest to Reclaim Our Humanity by Bringing Emotional Intelligence to Technology, and the CEO of Affectiva, a pioneer in the field of Emotion Artificial Intelligence. She has always sensed the incredible potential that comes with programs that can read a user’s expression. 

“As it turns out,” she said, “only 10 percent of human communication is verbal. Ninety percent is nonverbal — expressions, gestures. I’m in the business of developing the 90 percent.” 

El Kaliouby will give a virtual lecture on the potentials of Emotion AI and her work at 10:45 a.m. EDT on Tuesday, July 21, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform. Her lecture, titled “Humanizing Technology Within AI,” will cover her work to enhance the emotional intelligence of the devices we carry in our pockets every day. Following the lecture will be a live Q-and-A with Institution Vice President and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education Matt Ewalt. Viewers can submit questions through or on Twitter at #CHQ2020. 

Artificial intelligence is becoming more common — in our cars, our diagnostic healthcare, our hiring practices — but el Kaliouby argues that we have built AI, and technology at large, without regard to making it a more human experience. On a small scale, we may find it difficult to read others’ emotions over texts. On a larger scale, as many schools transition to online learning, translating a positive teaching experience to Zoom or Skype can be hit-or-miss. 

“In a classroom, a great teacher will re-engage you,” she said. “With Emotion AI, you can identify a level of confusion or frustration.” 

There is also a potential to democratize education globally. “Great teachers aren’t always available,” she said. “With programs like Khan Academy or Corsair, (there is an opportunity for) personalization.”

Both the problems of communication and learning are critical to el Kaliouby. 

“If it wasn’t (for) COVID, I’d be there (at Chautauqua),” she said. “I’d have a sense of the audience and be able to adapt in real-time. ‘Oh, are they confused?’ ‘Oh, did they like my joke?’… But in a Zoom webinar, I have no idea how people are engaging.” 

To el Kaliouby, this means a future opportunity to use Emotion AI to graph audience emotions and reactions.

With opportunities, however, there are risks. El Kaliouby outlined two principal possibilities for abuse: unethical development and unethical deployment. Unethical development’s primary risk is the accidental introduction of data and algorithmic bias, leading to situations where the AI might not be able to accurately generalize expressions to women or people of color if the only inputs are the faces of white men. In terms of unethical deployment, el Kaliouby said, “privacy is paramount.” Affectiva’s technology is sometimes sought by governments or companies seeking to use it for shady or malevolent purposes. 

“There are certain industries,” she said, “which we won’t entertain — surveillance, lie detection.” 

It is hard for a company to turn down those profits, which are sometimes in the millions, but el Kaliouby and Affectiva are standing firm in this conviction. She noted that it was important to set those boundaries with technology use, and to present an alternative to perceived inhumanity within the tech industry. 

“As we continue to be catapulted into this virtual universe, how do you make sure you’re leading with emotional intelligence and empathy?” she asked.

Since tech and AI are transforming so many parts of our lives, she said, tech leaders need compasses, and need to embody clear social and moral leadership of their companies. 

“It’s not just about creating cool new tech,” she said. “It’s about fundamentally changing how we communicate with each other (in a responsible way).” 

Developers and users of AI alike must own up to the duty that comes with the possibility.

“We need to humanize technology,” she said, “before it dehumanizes us.” 

This program is made possible by “The Lincoln Ethics Series” funded by the David and Joan Lincoln Family Fund for Applied Ethics and The Kevin and Joan Keogh Family Fund.

Nicholas Thompson to showcase the history of tech and the debates swirling around it


Routine is important to Nicholas Thompson.


At 6 a.m., even in the midst of a global pandemic, he wakes before anyone else in his family to go on a run. 

By 7 a.m. he’s making breakfast, and around 8 a.m., he’s at his job. For Thompson, that means working remotely as the editor-in-chief of Wired magazine. 

Thompson is forward-thinking. In his capacity as editor-in-chief, he’s published pieces for Wired on how technology helped him to run a faster marathon, how Microsoft is partnering with Land O’Lakes to equip farm cows with sensors to improve yields, as well as multiple stories on the corporate turmoil ravaging Facebook

Even the story of how Thompson became interested in journalism is fascinating: After getting his start writing opinion pieces for his college newspaper, he traveled to Morocco after graduation and was immediately kidnapped by drug dealers.

“I was released; it was fairly innocuous,” said Thompson, a journalist, musician and author. “But I wrote about that experience and other experiences that I had in West Africa, and I was published in The Washington Post. That was fun. So it was a combination of liking traveling, liking talking to people, liking journalism. Journalism is a great job for young people: You get a lot of interesting assignments and responsibilities at a young age.”

At 10:45 a.m. EDT Monday, July 20, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform, Thompson will do a deep dive into “The Most Important Story: Science and Technology,” a lecture that will kick off the Chautauqua Lecture Series’ Week Four morning lecture theme: “The Ethics of Tech: Scientific, Corporate and Personal Responsibility.”

“My talk (is going to be) about the biggest debates in tech right now,” he said. “It’s a little bit of the history of the tech industry, and how we ended up where we are at this moment.”

“How” is the operative word there — Thompson said that in his lecture, he intends to both pose and investigate questions like, “How do we think now about how work will change, how artificial intelligence will change? How do we think now about our communications platforms? How do we think now about the trade-offs between security and privacy?” 

That last question is especially relevant, given the COVID-19 pandemic and its ripple effects in the tech industry.

“The big issue — and we’re seeing it less in the United States right now — is contact tracing,” he said. “(It’s) whether not we’re willing to give up location data, whether or not we’re willing to let governments or phone companies track our location and store our location via Bluetooth, in exchange for some help in identifying how the virus spreads, and limiting its spread.”

That’s a big problem, Thompson said, because as “we go through a second wave, and as we go through a response, there’s going to be moments where we have to choose between safety versus privacy, and that’s a big choice.”

On a personal level, the pandemic has brought swift, discordant change to multiple areas of Thompson’s life.

“There’s the question of, ‘How do I manage the staff of Wired?’” he said. “We’ve gone entirely remote. There’s the question of, ‘How do we deal with the new economic realities in journalism?’ There’s the question of me personally — I have three children who don’t have school or camp, and I live with two grandparents who are at high risk for coronavirus.”

It’s the little things that keep him going, despite these radically different realities.

“I try to structure my days to do the best I can with running Wired, and to do the best I can with raising my children,” he said.  

This program is made possible by “The Lincoln Ethics Series” funded by the David and Joan Lincoln Family Fund for Applied Ethics & The Winifred C. Dibert Fund for Chautauqua.

Amid turmoil, Aaron Bryant asks how we can preserve history in real time in lecture


How will the conflicts of our time be reflected in history books 10 years from now? What about 30?

Aaron Bryant_cropped

What signs, symbols, texts or objects will tell our stories? Who gets to decide that?

Well, Aaron Bryant, for one. 

“We’re very much committed to, at our museum, committed to being a conduit for voices and we just provide a platform for people to share their stories,” said Bryant in a June 2020 interview with Scripps National Correspondent Stephanie Stone. 

The museum to which Bryant is referring is the National Museum of African American History and Culture, part of the Smithsonian Institution, where Bryant works as a curator of photography and visual culture.

“Our museum isn’t just about the past, it’s about the present moment and looking towards the future,” he told Stone. “How does history help to inform where we are and where we hope to be for generations to come?”

At 10:45 a.m. EDT Friday, July 17, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform, Bryant will seek to answer that question through his lecture titled, “Preserving History In Real Time.” Virtual attendees of the lecture can submit questions at any time for a live Q-and-A after the program. Questions can be sent via the submission portal at from any mobile or desktop browser, or on Twitter, using #CHQ2020.

Part of the challenge for museum curators like Bryant in the year 2020 is how to take advantage of the vast cornucopia of digital photos being taken by protestors and demonstrators. 

“How do we collect cell phone photographs as well as videos of people who are participating in demonstrations or are a part of some transformative event, how do we do that digitally?” Bryant said in his Scripps interview. “Think about a document maybe 10 to 20 years ago. Would you be able to access that document today, floppy disks for example, so if we collect digitally what’s the best way to archive what would be an artifact and how would people access it in the future?”

In a June 2020 interview with NPR, Bryant said he believes that, whether it’s recorded digitally or not, “we live history every day of our lives.”

That’s true for demonstrators taking part in the Black Lives Matter protests across the country, including in front of the White House. 

Bryant said he traveled to Washington, D.C. from Baltimore in order to help document the fence surrounding the White House, which had been converted by protestors into a makeshift exhibit of protest art.

“So we thought it was most important for us to come down here to make sure that 50, 100, 200 years from now, this moment is not forgotten, these voices aren’t forgotten and these stories can be shared for generations,” he told NPR. “And the message that’s on the signs — we can’t forget the message because they represent the voices of the people who helped to shape this history.”

This program is made possible by the Barbara and Herb Keyser Fund.

PBS President Paula Kerger to discuss new project, the redefining of what is means to be an American


Lin-Manuel Miranda ended his esteemed musical Hamilton with “Who lives, Who dies, Who tells your story?” For Paula Kerger, that series of questions is where her newest story begins.

“I love Hamilton just as much as the next person, because I think it shows us that the importance of authentic media is to pay attention to not only the stories themselves, but the people who have lived those stories,” Kerger said. “If we ever want to get to a place of having an understanding of one another, we need to start listening more — a lot more.”

Kerger, president and chief executive officer of PBS, will speak about “American Portrait” in conversation with Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill at 10:45 a.m. EDT Thursday, July 16, on CHQ Assembly’s Video Platform with a lecture on the Week Three theme, “Art and Democracy.”

“American Portrait” is a national storytelling initiative aimed to define what it means to be an American. To accomplish that, PBS and its partners have gathered photo, video and text submissions from an array of Americans across the nation. The effort also includes stories from PBS Digital Studios that will stream as a companion miniseries, a documentary series inspired by user submissions, live event experiences and educational materials for classrooms across the country. Last off-season, Chautauquans who attended the Winter Village were among the first to engage in this project, with PBS representatives on the grounds to encourage community members to record their own stories.

“‘American Portrait’ was envisioned as being an opportunity, post-election, to get a snapshot of America by getting people to talk about their own individual experiences,” Kerger said. “We proposed questions such as, ‘When I leave my house I feel …’ and, ‘I never thought …’ to have them fill in the blanks.”

We are finding more similarities than we are differences,” Kerger said. “Having people talk about their personal experiences about their families and their lives allows others to see what brings us together, which then allows for a space of unity.”

Though inspired in part by a musical that tells the historic tale of Alexander Hamilton, the project has shifted to tell more modern-day narratives, including ones about COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement. Kerger said while it’s a “race to keep up,” some aspects have remained consistent.

“We are finding more similarities than we are differences,” Kerger said. “Having people talk about their personal experiences about their families and their lives allows others to see what brings us together, which then allows for a space of unity.”

More than 200 years after America’s founding, its citizens are still bearing witness to significant, life-shaping and history-making events.

“It’s important for us to be able to look back at this part of our history,” Kerger said. “As someone who lived through 9/11, I know memory changes everything about a moment.”

Kerger, who lectured at Chautauqua once before in 2013, said the conversations she is having for the project mirror those that “happen every year at Chautauqua.” She was originally going to give a solo presentation, but upon recommendation from Hill, decided last-minute to have a conversation with him instead.

“I think he wanted to get in front of an audience and capture some of the conversations we have been having about the intersection of art and democracy for such a long time already,” she said. “I think when you’re in conversation, the topic goes into a richer space.”

Even with the dozens of submissions she has received so far for “American Portrait,” Kerger knows she doesn’t have all of the answers to her questions yet. However, her hope is that the exchange with Hill will fill some of the “empty spaces” in the current American discourse.

“I feel like people are hungry for conversation right now and I think they are paying more attention than ever before,” Kerger said. “American values are shifting and people are reevaluating everything that’s important to them — we need to seize this moment to reach those people.”

This program is made possible by the Berglund-Weiss Lectureship Fund.

Tricia Rose brings Ivy League understanding of racism to the people in “What I’ve Learned Telling the Story of Systemic Racism”


Born in 1960s’ Harlem and raised in the Bronx, Tricia Rose said her acute awareness of the inequality she saw in reality played out every time she watched kids’ movies.


“I’ve always had a deep alignment with the underdog, even in Disney movies,” Rose said.

Rose’s work at Brown University intersects at creative storytelling, social justice and inequality, and her most recent project, How Structural Racism Works, is on brand. The public information academic project provides public access to how systemic racism happens in theory and in daily life.

Rose’s Chautauqua lecture, What I’ve Learned Telling the Story of Systemic Racism provides background on this academic endeavor. The lecture will be released at 10:45 a.m. EDT on Wednesday, July 15, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform. The audience will be able to submit questions at or on Twitter with #CHQ2020.

Rose serves in multiple leadership positions at Brown University as Chancellor’s Professor of Africana Studies, associate dean of the Faculty for Special Initiatives, and director of the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America. She received an undergraduate degree in sociology from Yale University and her Ph.D. from Brown University in American studies. She serves on boards for the Nathan Cummings Foundation, Color of Change and Black Girls Rock, Inc.

She has written several books on the intersection between race and culture, including Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America, which was the first academic treatment of the field of hip-hop.

“It’s a weird predecessor for this work (I’m doing now), but it’s a storytelling genre of music that upends stories,” Rose said.

Rose has also written Longing To Tell: Black Women Talk About Sexuality and Intimacy, a collection of oral narrative stories, and The Hip Hop Wars: What We Talk About When We Talk About Hip Hop-And Why It Matters, a followup on the field she founded with her first book.

Rose said her current project is not just about revealing data, but also about revealing the stories people tell about themselves and others.

“For everyday people, the difference between a myth and a story is sometimes nothing,” Rose said.

Myths and stories in any form, through music, culture or art, can also inspire people.

Rose doesn’t care for “indulgent” music when there is “music, art and culture that take human dignity and suffering seriously.”

In the context of 2020, Rose sees the current expression of this suffering in the form of political action — sparked by the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police and various incidences of murders recorded on camera — has two sides.

“It has been a challenging year emotionally, physically and psychologically,” Rose said.

But in the midst of tragedies, the national and global response reached a size that no one expected.

“It’s an opportunity to make some meaningful progress, or even tip the whole thing over into something new,” Rose said.

This program is made possible by The Edith B. and Arthur E. Earley Lectureship.

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