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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

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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.”

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

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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?’”

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.”

Barbara Mikulski, the longest serving women in Congressional history, discusses the women’s suffrage movement, her time in Senate and how to honor 19th Amendment centennial

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Studying history can show people what to do now, and Barbara Mikulski, the longest-serving woman in Congressional history, said that that work, “in terms of women’s history, … is often invisible, overworked, undervalued, and, quite frankly, (contains) too many hidden figures.”

Mikulski wants to “own the whole narrative,” in the women’s suffrage movement, including mistakes made in that movement.

“It was grassroots organizing at its very best … but at the same time it was (exclusionary),” Mikulski said. “There were … strains of racism and xenophobia that ran through it.”

In order for a democracy to work, she said people have to actively participate.

“Democracy is not a spectator sport,” Mikulski said. “We have to continue to work at keeping democracy going and expanding democracy in our own communities and beyond.”

Mikulski is a former U.S. Senator from Maryland, and is the longest-serving woman in Congressional history, a lifelong public servant, and is currently the Homewood Professor of Public Policy at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. At 10:45 a.m. EDT Friday, July 31, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform, Mikulski finished 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.’” Mikulski discussed the women’s suffrage movement, her time in the Senate and the support she received from female and male legislators.

Growing up in Baltimore, Mikulski did not think she could make a career in politics. She began her career as a social worker, but Mikulski realized the people she wanted to help needed more resources, and she needed to become an advocate for them.

“When you want to be an advocate, it takes you to politics,” Mikulski said. “Then politics took me to the great battles in the 1960s around voter registration and voting rights itself.” 

Then in 1968, after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, former U.S. Attorney General, she wanted to take a break from public work and earn a doctorate. Along the way, she became aware of a plan in Baltimore to build a highway through communities of European immigrants, such as families from Poland and Italy, and also Black communities. Mikulski decided to run for Baltimore City Council.

“I got into the fight. I knocked on doors. Doors were slammed. I decided to open doors, … faced ridicule, faced obstacles, but, guess what? The people were on my side,” Mikulski said. “That’s my message today: That … politics is not a top-down thing. It is bottom-up.”

Hill asked what role men play in advocating for women’s rights.

Mikulski said that men have always been a part of the women’s advocacy movement. She said that Frederick Douglass worked with Susan B. Anthony, though they did not agree on everything, such as issues of race and inclusion. John Lewis, she said, was one of the biggest advocates for women’s rights when he was in office from 1987 to his death this month.

When Mikulski first came to Congress, former Sen. Paul Sarbanes (MD-D) helped her gain positions on certain committees. During this time, she and former Sen. Nancy Kassebaum (KA-R) were the only women in the Senate, and she said men worked with her on legislation on the economic empowerment of women.

Hill asked what Mikulski’s prescription for society is now, to ensure women do not have to be exceptionally talented and qualified compared to their male counterparts in order to get a fair chance in elections.

She said that women continue to work to claim their power in society.

“We claim that power, and ensure that it’s not taken away directly through the law or indirectly through patterns, policies and practices,” Mikulski said.

Many women run for political office because, Mikulski said, of their experience working at volunteer organizations, trying the improve that group and having their opinions dismissed. Similar to Mikulski, her friend, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), never thought of running for office, but when Murray was lobbying for better childcare legislation, a state senator told her she was “just a mom in tennis shoes.”

“She’s been running ever since,” Mikulski said. “As she runs, she builds up her entire community.”

Mikulski quoted Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman elected to Congress: “If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring your own folding chair.” Mikulski recommended that everyone look at educational institutions, such as public schools and public libraries in their communities, and to get involved.

“It’ll take you into working on policies,” Mikulski said. “I believe it’ll take you into lacing up those tennis shoes, squaring your shoulders, putting your lipstick on and getting out there.”

Hill then asked how society’s faith in public institutions could be restored.

Mikulski said that this lack of trust can be seen in different times in history; people used to say in the ‘60s, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” She said people need to question what information sources they trust, and ask if the source is educational or “propaganda in a steady, daily, corrosive effect.”

She said people have been questioning the work of scientists, amidst the pandemic and climate change. Because science can be validated through peer review and factual numbers, Mikulski said that it is a good starting point for rebuilding trust.

“Let’s claim our respect for science, our respect for scientists, our respect for scientific information,” Mikulski said. “If we start with something that can be validated, we can then move on to other areas.”

Hill asked Mikulski about former Vice President Joe Biden’s commitment to have a female running mate in his presidential bid, and what qualities Biden should be looking for in his vice presidential pick. 

When Geraldine Ferraro became the first female running mate in U.S. history, she was one of Mikulski’s best friends in Congress.

“We thought we had broken a barrier. But again, it’s taken over 30 years to come back to this point,” Mikulski said.

She said she knows Biden will make the “right decision” because of the way he uses his core principles, and said that young Americans need inspiration. Mikulski said the passion that came from Lewis’ death last week was partly due to a need of society for inspirational leaders such as him.

“It was not only the recognition of the incredible life … but it was the hunger to have a champion, to have a champion that you could trust, and a champion that wanted to help everybody as they worked,” Mikulski said.

Carol Jenkins, co-president and CEO of the ERA Coalition and the Fund for Women’s Equality tells the story of the ERA and calls the people to action

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The national fight for equal rights began more than a century ago, the charge led by women such as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and kept afloat by individual women and men across the country who believed in equality for all. 

Carol Jenkins’ fight for equal rights began before she was even born; her grandfather, a small farmer in rural Alabama with 16 children, brought each and every one of them into the world with a belief that women are equal to men. 

His ideas, so radical at the time that he was written about in a local newspaper for sending his nine daughters to college while keeping his six sons home to run the farm, shaped the mindset that Jenkins carries with her each day. 

Jenkins said her grandfather’s unique way of thinking produced “a small army of doctors, lawyers and businesswomen, an impressive crop for a small piece of land owned by an equality-believing farmer.” 

It was her feminist grandfather who planted the revolutionary seed, and it was her own passion that caused it to grow. 

“I am a believer in equality; I do the equality work; I do it every single day, and I will do it every single day until there is an Equal Rights Amendment,” Jenkins said. “We are closer than we have ever been before.” 

Jenkins, co-president and CEO of the ERA Coalition and the Fund for Women’s Equality presented her lecture “On the Work Toward Passage and Enactment of the Equal Rights Amendment” in keeping with the Week Five Chautauqua Lecture Series theme of “The Women’s Vote Centennial and Beyond” at 10:45 a.m. EDT Thursday, July 30, on the CHQ Assembly Virtual Platform.

According to a recent ERA Coalition survey, over 90% of all Americans are in favor of the passage of the ERA. Women make up the majority of the American population, yet are disproportionately affected by gender bias and prejudice.

“Women are most of the poor in our country, the un- or under-employed or the underpaid,” Jenkins said. “Women are subjected to domestic and sexual insult, assault or aggression, and are lacking in protections and rights.”

Jenkins spoke about the approaching 20th anniversary of the deaths of Jessica Lenahan’s three daughters, who were abducted and killed by Lenahan’s estranged husband after police refused to enforce an order of protection. The case is important to Jenkins because, when Lenahan filed a lawsuit against the police department on the basis of gender discrimination, the Supreme Court ruled that she had no due process right to enforcement of her restraining order. Surpreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that the police department was only required to make arrests for protective order violations at their discretion, prompting the ACLU to file a suit on behalf of Lenahan alleging gender discrimination.

Sexual discrimination often goes hand-in-hand with racial discrimination, or vice-versa, and women of color are frequently faced with the highest instances of prejudice and injustice, which Jenkins believes has only gotten worse in the face of the global COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The current pandemic has exposed for all to see what inequality breeds, and that it can mean the difference between life and death,” she said.

The surge of protests and activism indicates to Jenkins that the movement toward justice and equality is growing and gaining traction. 

“Given the recent throngs in the streets protesting the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, as well as charges of racism and sexism inherent in our society, it is not surprising that many of us believe that systemic change, real change, is required in America,” Jenkins said. “To that point, there is nothing more systemic than the core legal document that dictates our rights and protections than the Constitution.”

The authors of the Constitution — the “Framers” — were wealthy white men, most of whom were slave owners. As they drew up the Constitution, the rights and protections in the document were only afforded to property-owning white men. Others — namely, women and enslaved people — were excluded.

However, the Framers, anticipating growth and transformation of the young country in years to come, included a clause which created an amendment process for the Constitution should there be a need to adjust the governing document moving forward. 

As of the year 2020, the Constitution has been amended 27 times, notably granting rights and citizenship to African-Americans and allowing women the right to vote. 

However, there is still no clause prohibiting discrimination based on sex; the Equal Rights Amendment is meant to eradicate injustice based on gender in what would be the 28th amendment to the Constitution. 

As the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 1920 19th Amendment approaches, so too does the centennial anniversary of the proposal of the Equal Rights Amendment, introduced by suffragette Alice Paul in 1923. The amendment, if ratified, would contain an explicit statement of gender equality and prohibit discrimination based on sex. 

The process for amending the Constitution is not a simple one — it requires a two-thirds vote by both houses of Congress in favor of the bill, followed by ratification by three-fourths of the 50 states. In 1972, in a groundbreaking moment, two thirds of Congress voted to pass the ERA with an added provision of a seven-year time limit for it to be ratified by the required 38 states. 

Seven years passed, and only 35 states had ratified the amendment. Congress granted three more years to the time limit but still, three states were needed to finalize the process. 

“The movement for the ERA seemed to fall silent,” Jenkins said. “But there were still people working.”

Then, Jenkins said, the 2016 election sent shockwaves of indignation through the country which renewed both passion and interest in the ERA. 

“There were colossal worldwide women’s marches, the heartbreaking impact of the #MeToo movement; something was in the air,” Jenkins said. “It was the voices of women that we heard then, and soon on their lips were the letters ERA, long fallen into disrespect and forgotten by most of the country. In recent history, the ERA became alive again as a valid movement and perhaps as the thing to solve the problem of this persistent inequality of women in this country.”

In response to the swelling movement, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) created the ERA Coalition, which provided a forum for groups fighting for the ERA to work together, now representing millions of women and girls across the country and hundreds of organizations. 

Soon after its formation, the ERA Coalition won a great victory — Nevada had become the 36th state to ratify the amendment. A year later in 2018, Illinois voted to ratify the ERA, leaving only one more empty slot. 

On Jan. 27, 2020, Virginia became the 38th and final state to ratify the amendment.

“What an exhilarating moment, sitting in the chamber with women who had worked their entire lives for this, watching the mostly women of color legislators who carried that bill see it pass,” Jenkins said. “It was an incredible breakthrough for everyone doing the equality work.”

Now all they needed was an archival ratification — for the bill to be signed by the Archivist of the United States, the position which oversees the National Archives and Records Administration.

The Department of Justice ordered the bill not to be signed on the grounds that the time limit had expired, prompting three states, 52 women’s and social justice organizations and over 90 businesses to file a lawsuit compelling the archivist to sign the ERA, a fight which is still ongoing. 

Though obstacles still remain in place, Jenkins finds great inspiration in the progress toward equality made thus far, especially when it comes to her 10-year-old granddaughter — who has lobbied for the bill with Jenkins since the age of 7. 

Her granddaughter was present when Jenkins gave a speech to the night before the vote in the Virginia House of Representatives for ratification; Jenkins wanted to show her the impact of the movement. 

“I wanted her to see what courage, commitment and dedication to equality look like. I wanted her to see your faces and know that tomorrow, you will be casting a vote for her equal future in this country,” Jenkins said. “I want her to see that it was all worth it.”

Jenkins ended her lecture with a question: “How can we continue to look into our daughters and granddaughters faces and tell them that we will do nothing to raise them up in this society that has cast them as second class citizens and kept them there, when a remedy — the 28th Amendment — was at hand?” 

“The Senate and the courts demand equality for the girls and women of this country,” Jenkins concluded.

Co-founder of The 19th Errin Haines explores the role of journalism in politics, race and gender.

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The year 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing and protecting women’s constitutional right to vote.

The year 2020 is also the year in which a groundbreaking news publication, The 19th, was born, aptly named for its one of its main focal points: the intersection of gender and politics. 

Co-founder Errin Haines told the story of The 19th during her lecture, “The Role of Journalism and Media at the Intersection of Gender, Politics & Policy,” which she presented at 10:45 a.m. EDT on Wednesday, July 29, on CHQ Assembly Video Platform, as part of the Week Five theme for the Chautauqua Lecture Series, “The Women’s Vote Centennial and Beyond.” Due to technical issues, Haines’ lecture will not be reposted to the CHQ Assembly Video Platform, but will be reproduced as an episode of the Institution’s CHQ&A podcast.

During her lecture, Haines not only elaborated on the founding of The 19th but also discussed the role of journalism in the discourse surrounding race and gender in politics and elections, specifically the role played by The 19th.

“Race and gender were not just a story of the 2020 election, they’re the story of the 2020 election,” Haines said. She said the online publication began to take shape following the 2016 presidential election, the media coverage of which Haines and The 19th co-founder Emily Ramshaw found very frustrating.

“The majority of the political writers were white men,” Haines said. “We realized newsrooms needed to be more inclusive.”

With the acknowledgment of the stunning lack of diversity in newsrooms and political journalism across the country, thus began the quest to build an outlet that represented the electorate and was a safe and equitable space for women and people of color. 

Over half of the United States population identify as female — a statistic that is not paralleled in governmental offices or in newsrooms reporting on these offices. However, though female representation in office and in journalism is lacking, the representation for people of color, specifically women of color is even smaller. 

Historically, women of color have been disproportionately underrepresented at the ballots. The 1920 ratification of the 19th Amendment, intended to guarantee a right to vote regardless of sex, did nothing to dissolve the Jim Crow laws enforcing race-based voter suppression throughout the Southern United States for many years. This asymmetric distribution of voting rights is the reason behind the inclusion of an asterisk in The 19th’s website logo, meant to symbolize a recognition of the omission of women of color from the ballot. 

The 19th launched on Jan. 27, 2020, right in time for the Iowa caucus. Political journalists across the country were poised and ready to jump on the presidential campaign trail, which Haines referred to as “our Super Bowl.” 

Then, COVID-19 swept through the world, leaving in its wake national shutdowns and transforming the physical aspect of the 2020 campaign trail into a ghost town of solely virtual coverage. 

“It was not really the start we envisioned, but we still have an important role to play,” Haines said. “Women are disproportionately affected by the pandemic and are sitting at the intersection of so many things.”

Haines was prepared to report on the presidential race but soon realized a new topic had taken precedent. 

“The other pandemic of systemic racism reared its head with the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Breonna Taylor,” Haines said. It was at that point that she realized the need for open and extensive coverage of the intersection of politics, gender and race. “When we talked about what we produce in our newsroom, it was a vision that was very long overdue and very important in this moment.”

One unique element of The 19th is that it is free and all-access, free to reprint — making it one of the few national-scale news outlets not hidden behind a paywall.

“We are seeking to democratize journalism for the majority of the electorate; making our news free to consume and free to republish means that you have women — and especially women of marginalized communities, who may not be reading the news on paid sites — being able to access our news,” Haines said. “It is not as important to us that they know it’s The 19th’s stories as it is that they are getting our journalism.”

The hope that Haines has is that The 19th will open new avenues for political participation, specifically for those who may have felt left out of the discourse.

“We encounter so many women who want to have those conversations, but don’t necessarily have the vehicle to start them in the communities where they live,” Haines said. “We can be that bridge.”

Another unique facet of The 19th is its lack of an opinion or editorial section, something Haines said was done intentionally to avoid ostracizing those who may share different beliefs.

“We decided not to have an opinion or editorial section in order to build faith with our readership through reporting and through facts,” Haines said. “We want to encourage a community; we seek to be a home for all women regardless of their political strife. We want people to feel welcome.”

When asked by moderator Vice President and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education Matt Ewalt about the role that men play in her reporting, Haines assured viewers that no one was excluded, saying that “men are absolutely part of this conversation. Frankly, we couldn’t be covering the 2020 election if we were not covering men.”

However, she wanted to emphasize that the purpose of The 19th was to elevate the role of female journalists in an atmosphere where there is less representation, citing the fact that over two-thirds of political journalists are men. 

“Women are as qualified and capable of weighing in on our politics and of shaping the conversation around our politics as men are,” Haines said. 

“As editor-at-large, I have the role I wanted to play, not only as one of the first reporters, but also as an ambassador,” Haines said regarding her appearances on and in various news platforms, including NPR and PBS. “This is an opportunity to be among these visionaries not fixing a culture, but building a culture.”

Haines went into the creation of The 19th with a goal of creating an inclusive environment.

“You have to create the climate for women and minority journalists to thrive, to do the kind of journalism that is going to be impactful, that is going to afflict the comfortable, that is going to right wrongs and that is going to move us to a more free and fair democracy,” she said.

As the United States continues to battle COVID-19, Haines believes that political journalism is more important than ever.

“The pandemic is absolutely political,” Haines said. “With the pandemic, it is our duty to inform women of how they can safely and fully participate in this democracy.”

As the 2020 election draws closer, many issues are appearing in the forefront of the media, forcing many people who may have been previously isolated from engagement to involve themselves in politics. 

“This national reckoning has really presented an opportunity for people to learn and expand their worldview,” Haines said, calling it “very encouraging.”

One concern that Haines hopes to dispel with The 19th’s bias-avoidance publication style is the creation of yet another echo chamber where people simply surround themselves with like-minded thinkers and close themselves off to new thoughts and opinions.

“Our timelines are filled with people who think like we think,” Haines said. “We have to be more deliberate about expanding that circle.”

Haines has been inspired by the shift of race and gender issues to the forefront of public concern, and is adamant that journalism must continue to play a large role in the dissemination of factual reporting.

“This country was founded on protests and dissent and revolution,” Haines said. “Journalism has the potential to be part of that ongoing revolution in our country that helps to perfect our union.”

As systemic injustices are more widely recognized, Haines is hopeful that the dissolution of historically biased institutions and ways of thinking will allow a space to build unity.

“The important conversations that we have now are about the centennial of the suffrage movement and what voting means and who gets to participate in this democracy,” Haines said. “These are the big questions that we have an opportunity to wrestle with, hopefully with the goal of finding a new way forward together.”

Kimberly Churches, chief executive officer of the American Association of University Women, discusses the rifts in different stages of the feminist movement and gender inqualities in the United States

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When women become mothers, said Kimberly Churches, chief executive officer of the American Association of University Women, they’re often hit with a “motherhood penalty;” they’re expected to do most of the work around the house and for the child, and earn on average 70 cents per dollar that a father makes. When men become fathers, Churches said they often receive a “fatherhood bonus,” meaning they are seen as more trustworthy and “tend to see a good bump in their salaries and in their tenures.”

Churches said the COVID-19 pandemic has amplified all of the United States’ inequalities. She said that almost 30% of working Americans have no sick leave, and have to put themselves and their families at risk for the infection for their paycheck. Women are particularly at risk, as Churches said they comprise more than 70% of the health care industry, including 85% of the nurses, and the majority of low-wage workers. 

“Can you even imagine talking once we’re past COVID-19, once we’re past this terrible pandemic, and we get back to some semblance of our old lives?” Churches said. “Can we even imagine anyone suggesting that all working human beings don’t deserve paid sick leave? We can’t even fathom that as we’re living in it right now during the coronavirus pandemic.”

Prior to working at the AAUW, Churches was the associate vice chancellor at the University of Denver, and director of development at the University of North Florida. At 10:45 a.m. EDT Tuesday, July 28, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform, Churches presented a lecture titled “Close The Gaps Forever” as the second part of Week Five’s theme of “The Women’s Vote Centennial and Beyond.” She focused on the rifts in different stages of the feminist movement and inqualities in the United States currently.

Different areas and generations of the feminist movement are usually described as waves, but Churches said describing the movement as a wave “also assumes a single unified approach or agenda; yet, frankly, that’s never been the case in our history.”

She also said that there have never been a single, unified agenda in approaching racial and gender equity, and these different views have caused rifts between generations of feminists.

The American Association of University Women was founded in 1881 when Churches said access to higher education was largely unavailable to women. She said that Harvard University produced a research report around that time which found that if women pursued a life of using their mind, they would not be able to procreate. The AAUW’s first research report debunked this long-held theory, and Churches said the nonprofit has continued to be committed to being non-partisan and grounding their research in fact, as well providing more than $4.5 million annually in fellowships and grants.

“This isn’t just about raising our fists up and saying, ‘Now is the time for true gender equity,’ after decades and decades of work,” she said. “It really is about meeting people where they are, that’s educational institutions, employers and employees, and society as a whole.”

Churches said that the leaders, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony in the first wave of feminism, made the movement largely about white women. This focus on white women can be seen in the 19th Amendment, which did not help women of color as much as their white counterparts.

The major legislative and legal victories of the second wave of feminism included the Equal Pay Act, Roe v. Wade, which made abortion legal in the U.S., and Title IX, which protects against discrimination based on sex in education.

“While the gap has narrowed a bit since 1963, progress has frankly stalled over the last two decades,” Churches said. “We’ve only budged about a nickel in two decades, which means the law is not there with practice again.”

An example of the women’s movement disagreeing on a single agenda is with the Equal Rights Amendment, which was passed through Congress in 1972 and has recently picked up steam in 2020. During this time, many people, including women, believed that if ERA was passed, it would “deny a woman’s rights to be supported by her husband, privacy rights would be decimated and, if you can imagine, the assumption was that women would be sent into the armed forces and straight into combat.”

“The second wave has lasting images of feminists as angry, man-hating and lonely. As the second wave began to lose momentum, (this view) stuck to the word ‘feminism’ and it continues to haunt the way we talk about feminism today,” Churches said. “In a lot of ways, feminism has been seen as a bad word, a highly polarizing word for so many and empowering for others.”

Churches said the women’s movement of the ‘60s and ‘70s had a large focus on combating racism, but several of the issues they worked on did not resonate with many Black and Latino women. One of these differences, Churches said, is that many Black women were accustomed to working outside the home because of “economic security for their families about putting food on the table and keeping a roof over their heads.”

She also said while Black and white women fought for reproductive rights, Black women wanted to stop the forced sterilization of people of color. 

“This (divide in the movement) also gets to feminism versus womanism,” Churches said. “Womanism is really the idea of supporting all women, no matter their class or their race, and not simply focusing on females.”

While the policies and laws around women’s rights that previous generations have fought for are major milestones, Churches said they do not go “far enough to ensure that we can change human behavior and break down biases and barriers for women to finally close the gaps.” 

She said these barriers include the gender pay gap, educational and occupational segregation and the leadership gap, as well as sexism and harassment. 

“It really is a Venn Diagram of all of these issues overlapping from the beginning of a woman entering into adulthood, all the way through to retirement and death,” Churches said. “We’re holding women back from economic security at every stage of their life.” 

She is proud that women now earn more educational degrees, but gaps still exist — out of the $1.54 trillion in American student loan debt, women hold two-thirds, with the most affected being first-generation college students and Black women finishing their undergraduate degree. 

“It’s a triple whammy: higher levels of debt, the gender pay gap right on day one, and an extraordinarily terrible job market,” Churches said.

Churches said, at the same level of work, education and expertise, women earn on average 82 cents for every dollar men earn, with Black women earning 62 cents and Latina women earning 54 cents. She said collectively “working women are losing out on more than $500 billion a year” and that closing this gap would “move 2.5 million children out of poverty.”

The lecture then shifted to a Q-and-A session with Emily Morris, vice president of marketing and communications. Morris asked Churches how to raise sons who are good feminists.

“I say the same for my friends with young girls or young boys,” Churches said. “Gender inequities are not just for girls and women.”

Churches said that her daughter plays baseball and is interested in political science, and her nephew loves ballet.

“My daughter gets applauded by men, women, girls and boys for playing baseball,” Churches said. “Do you think that my nephew gets applauded in the same way?”

She is more optimistic with younger generations, who, she said, “will not accept anything but an inclusive real society. Not one that is just words on paper, but that is true and action and true (in) form.”

“I think because we’re raising our kids now of understanding, they’re coming of age at a time of a huge LGBTQIA movement, of understanding more about their Brown and Black brothers and sisters sitting beside them,” Churches said. “(They have an) understanding what access to money means, and socio-economic status and geography matters in a way that we just did not have because we didn’t have a 24-hour news cycle when we were raised.”

Woman’s Hour author Elaine Weiss presents on turbulent history of women’s suffrage

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American history books look at women’s suffrage as a simple story in which a civil group of suffragists asked for the vote through the Declaration of Sentiments at the Seneca Falls convention, and they were given it by the United States government. But Monday morning, journalist Elaine Weiss dispelled this as a myth through a presentation on the turbulent history of the 19th Amendment. 

Weiss painted a more detailed picture of this history at 10:45 a.m. EDT Monday, July 27, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform, opening the Chautauqua Lecture Series theme for Week Five: “The Women’s Vote Centennial and Beyond.”

She recounted over 70 years and three generations of women clawing their way to suffrage through strategic lobbying, public discussions, public relations campaigns, marches, picketing, and hunger strikes. These insights came from her 2018 book, The Woman’s Hour: The Great Fight to Win the Vote

Suffrage efforts began pre-Civil War among the abolitionist movement. Weiss described suffrage and abolition as “sister causes,” where most supporters of one supported the other. 

“Women fully expected that at the end of the (Civil War) they, too, would be given the right to vote — all the disenfranchised classes: Black men, Black women, white women — would be given the vote,” Weiss said. “They are sadly disappointed when they’re told after the war, that the nation can’t handle two big reforms at once. It would be another 50 years they would have to wait.”

Out of frustration, many early suffragists like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony opposed the 15th Amendment, which secured the vote for Black men, because it excluded women — and in particular, white women. They cited the fact that white women were more educated than Black men, therefore deserved the right to vote more. 

“Race would continue to vex the suffrage movement, employed by the suffragists when politically expedient, but even more by the anti-suffragists, who used race as a weapon against enfranchisement,” Weiss said.

Weiss addressed the concurrent anti-suffrage movement in her lecture as well. Many men were opposed to women’s right to vote, but so were a number of women.

“Many other of these anti-suffrage women were social and religious and cultural conservatives who feared that suffrage would bring about a profound and unhealthy shift in gender roles — it would endanger the American family, it would bring about what they called the moral collapse of a nation. It will alter private life, as well as public life, and that’s what made it so dangerous,” Weiss said. “This is an important reminder that the fight over women’s suffrage was never just a political fight. It was also a social and cultural, and for some, a moral debate about the role of women in society.”

Both male and female suffragists faced this opposition in the form of violent confrontation in the street, degrading political cartoons, and questions about their moral standing and patriotism. They reached out to the masses to sway opinion through posters, literature, public demonstrations, and public speaking. 

Here, Chautauqua played a key role in bringing women the vote. Many suffragists traveled to Chautauqua Institution, and daughter Chautauquas across the nation, to speak on suffrage.

“The suffragists had a not-so-secret weapon for, as Susan B. Anthony said, educating and agitating. … That secret weapon was Chautauqua,” Weiss said. “Chautauqua provided the perfect audience of educated, progressive, reform-minded citizens for this radical concept of women’s political equality and enfranchisement.”

Weiss pointed to the irony of this, because Chautauqua co-founder and Bishop John H. Vincent was opposed to women’s suffrage. In the early years of the Institution, women were not allowed to lecture because it was deemed inappropriate. The first woman to speak at the Institution was Frances Willard, who spoke on the temperance movement. 

A Constitutional amendment securing women’s right to vote was stuck in the federal courts for four decades, so suffragists took to the states in the meantime. Through lobbying and public relations campaigns, they won the vote for several states. But they found that many states would never budge on their conservative stance, and federal legislation was necessary.

Alice Paul emerged from Carrie Chapman Catt’s mainstream suffrage movement to try a more radical approach. She, and the members of her organization, the National Woman’s Party, made history by being the first to protest at the White House. They sported signs and flags questioning President Woodrow Wilson’s failure to give women their basic rights as citizens. These women were arrested and thrown into prison where their communication was stifled, and after a hunger strike, were force fed.

After their release, Paul and the other ex-cons traveled in a car they nicknamed the “Prison Special” to tell the story of how they, average women, were arrested and tortured for simply requesting the right to vote. 

“Alice Paul, as a radical who advocated for very controversial and very confrontational political methods, was never invited to speak at Chautauqua,” Weiss said.

Paul’s unsettling methods lit a fire under the federal government to move the 19th Amendment along. After being passed in Congress and ratified in 35 states, the fate of women’s suffrage rested in Nashville, Tennessee, as the amendment awaited the make-or-break vote by its legislation on its ratification. 

“All sides confront one another in Nashville and it gets wild — there’s bribes and booze and propaganda and blackmail conspiracies and kidnappings and fistfights. The newspapers call it suffrage Armageddon,” Weiss said. “The outcome remains in doubt, until the very last moment. I won’t spoil it for you — but it does come down to a single vote of conscience by the youngest member of the Tennessee legislature, who receives a letter from his mother.”

Once ratified, rather than retiring from political efforts, many suffragists went onto the next step for women: having representation in the government. Catt formed the League of Women Voters, and Paul wrote an early draft of the Equal Rights Amendment, which one century later has yet to be ratified. Weiss said that most suffragists expected that with the right to vote, the government would be flush with elected women. 

“I think the suffragists would be shocked and appalled that at this point, a century later, we have not chosen a woman president. Remember, most modern democracies have had a woman executive of their nation,” Weiss said. “We are very much laggard in that regard, just as we were not pioneers with women’s suffrage — we are only the 22nd nation to grant the vote to women.”

Weiss pointed out that the arguments as to why women are not fit for president are the same arguments anti-suffragists made in the late 19th century — women are too emotional, and their leadership —considered amoral — would disturb gender roles. Many of the tactics used to silence women in the #MeToo movement, Weiss said, are similar to tactics anti-suffragists used to silence suffragists. 

“(Political cartoons and public ridicule were) all to keep women from speaking out, from communicating their complaints, their sense of injustice. That’s what those anti-suffrage (efforts) were about: keeping women quiet,” Weiss said. “Of course, one of the goals of the (#MeToo) movement was to abolish that silence, to make it no longer appropriate for women to be silent. We’re 100 years later, and we’re still dealing with that.” 

But these injustices do not stop at the #MeToo movement. Recent efforts toward social justice have paralleled major moments in the suffrage movement.

“More recently, seeing the Black Lives Matter protests — I think anyone who’s dealt with the suffrage movement was given a real shiver when we saw protestors in Lafayette Park being invaded by the police, arrested and forcibly removed,” Weiss said. “All I could think of was, ‘That’s the (National) Women’s Party.’ They were in Lafayette Park as they were crossing the White House with their picket signs and they were arrested.”

Weiss stressed that while many of the social justice struggles currently echo those of the century previous, the solution may be the same.

“What has to happen now, and what did happen for suffragists, is that (public demonstration) has to be followed up by political action. You have the public awareness and how you have to harness that in very specific strategies to make change where it can actually happen,” Weiss said. “That means the political world, and convincing the corporate world in influencing our national debate. But to make real and lasting change, there has to be big use of the vote.”

Michael Sandel, Harvard political philosopher, mediates a Socratic discussion via Zoom with Chautauquans on week’s theme of ethics in technology

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All humans are susceptible to changes in mood, taste and ideology. Grandparents may listen to country one day and rock ‘n’ roll the next. Children always seem to want a new adventure. Unfortunately, these little shifts in the mind often decide people’s fates, such as with life-altering sentencing that happens in the courtroom everyday.

Harvard political philosopher Michael Sandel said judges’ decisions tend to change depending on the time of day, specifically before and after they eat lunch. He also said that artificial intelligence is not only able to process more information than people, but AI is dispassionate, as well. 

“The algorithm doesn’t eat lunch, doesn’t get hungry, doesn’t get low blood sugar,” Sandel said.

Sandel, a Harvard political philosopher and bestselling author, held a conversation on “Digital Responsibility in the Tech World” at 10:45 a.m. EDT Friday, July 24, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform as the final part of Week Four’s theme of The Ethics of Tech: Scientific, Corporate and Personal Responsibility.” This Socratic conversation, meaning one driven by asking questions, included 18 members of the Chautauqua community in a Zoom call, with Sandel asking them about their opinion of certain uses of artificial intelligence, such as with COVID-19 tracing and police surveillance.

Sandel asked the participants their opinion on using cell phone data to track cases of COVID-19; half said they would support this, and the other half said no. The latter said they are reluctant to share their personal information with someone, or something, they have no confidence in, that the information could be used for other means and that their data can be leaked.

“We all have seen the unfortunate track record of even the best-intentioned protectors of data, have been leaked,” said an opponent of using cell phone data. “I don’t have a great deal of hope that this will be any different, at some future day.”

One of the people who supported using cell phone data was a physician, and they said everything in medicine is a risk, and this specific case would be for the greater good. Another supporter said that people commonly give up certain freedoms for safety, and it is important to have as much information as possible to combat the pandemic.

“Though it’s not a terrorist attack, we’re trying to keep (the pandemic) at bay,” they said. “I think it’s really important to make sure that we have as much data as possible.”

Sandel then asked supporters of using cell phone data for contact tracing what they thought about the using this data to enforce stay-at-home orders for people who tested positive for the virus.

One said they would support that use under the current climate if a person was exposed, but in the long term it would be problematic. 

An opponent said that using this technology to enforce COVID-19 quarantines could lead to this cell phone data being applied to crimes, such as missing a child-support payment. 

Sandel then asked, with the assumption that the crime rate is reduced in places that use predictive policing measures, would they support using artificial intelligence to predict where a crime will likely occur. Eight said yes and 10 said no.

An opponent said that these AI are frequently biased because they are based on historical information.

“We’ve seen a bias against minority communities,” they said. “And so using that kind of algorithm (to predict crime) really concerns me tremendously.”

A supporter said that there are many practical issues with AI, but they support the idea in theory that the technology would find more efficient methods of policing amidst limited resources. Another said that society needs to look at police departments that are already using predictive methods, and how the community responds, in order to get the best idea of how to effectively use AI.

Sandel then asked the supporters of using AI for predictive police strategies if they would be in favor of using AI to predict whether a prisoner would commit another crime and if they should be released on parole. 

A few said that they would support using these AI in determining whether an inmate receives parole, if it was used in conjunction with other evidence.

“I think the common theme in all of the scenarios we’ve discussed has been essentially a conservative approach to implementing any of these technologies or applications,” a participant said. “I believe that governance is key in all of them, but the tricky part about governance is who’s governing what, who owns the data, who is designing the algorithms that help the public, or how accessible is that information.”

A conversation participant said that the information that the AI would have to take into account would be too complex, including how well trained the officers are, what kinds of programs the jail offers, and if the inmate has a family.

“I don’t know that it would ever be completely neutral, just because I think that’s hard to do,” they said. “I think that it all involves some sort of collaboration between the data and the people who are going to deliberate this.”

The lecture then shifted to a Q-and-A session with Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill, who asked Sandel if it is possible, or even necessary, to teach ethical inquiry now, compared to other moments in history.

Sandel said it is necessary and possible, and he has been striving to teach ethical inquiry to his students for a long time. He starts with where people are coming from, and then invites those who have similar or contrasting opinions into the conversation.

“We sometimes, in engaging in this kind of reflection, change our minds — either about the principles we thought we believed, or about our judgment in a particular case,” Sandel said. “Sometimes we don’t change our minds, but still learn something, learn a deeper appreciation of those with whom we disagree.”

Hill then asked what Sandel explores in his book that is coming out in the fall, The Tyranny of Merit: What’s Become Of The Common Good.

Sandel said that the United States’ rise in wealth inequality and political divisiveness is partly due to meritocracy, the idea that the wealthy and the poor earned their places in society. 

“That’s the tyranny of merit. That’s what’s driven us apart. That’s what’s brought such polarized politics. So I’m trying to diagnose how we got here,” Sandel said, “then ask how we could emerge from it, however we could rein in a meritocratic hubris, and and find our way to a politics of the common good.”

Deborah Johnson, former professor at the University of Virginia, discusses the danger of deepfakes for institutions and how society can defend against disinformation

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A video circulated around the internet of former President Barack Obama calling President Donald Trump a “dipshit” and making references to the movies “Black Panther” and “Get Out.” 

“Now, you see, I would never say these things. At least not in a public address, but someone else would. Someone like Jordan Peele,” Obama appeared to say in the video. “This is a dangerous time. Moving forward, we need to be more vigilant with what we trust from the internet.”

This video was a “deepfake,” a video created using synthetic media technologies, a type of artificial intelligence, to show people saying and doing something that they never did. The video of Obama was created, said emeritus professor at the University of Virginia Deborah Johnson, by taking a picture of the former president and superimposing it on a video of Peele talking. The AI then made Obama’s face match the movements of Peele’s, making it look like Obama was talking.

Johnson recently retired as the Anne Shirley Carter Olsson Professor of Applied Ethics in the University of Virginia’s Department of Engineering and Society. She authored one of the first textbooks on computer ethics in 1985. She talked at 10:45 a.m. EDT Thursday, July 23, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform as the fourth part of Week Four’s theme of The Ethics of Tech: Scientific, Corporate and Personal Responsibility.” Johnson discussed multiple examples of deepfakes and the potential harm they can cause on individuals and institutions, and how they are applied for entertainment and education — but also about how society must take action to defend against this kind of disinformation.

Johnson is a philosopher who looks at ethical implications of digital technologies, going into this field because she “saw that they were having this enormous effect on our world.”

An example she shared was a video where Adele’s face was doctored by AI to appear like she was talking about other deepfakes, such as ones impersonating Kim Kardashian and Arnold Schwarzenegger. The video ended with her saying she was not Adele, but media studies expert Claire Wendell. Another example of a deepfake was of Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, talking about how one man can control billions of people’s data.

Johnson said that the most frequent use of deepfakes are in pornography, mainly taking a face of a female celebrity and superimposing it on a pornographic video. She also said that the technology is available online, making the process very easy — meaning a person does not have to be an expert to create a deepfake. 

Deepfakes are not solely used for misinformation and pornography, Johnson said, but also for entertainment and education. An example of a deepfake used to entertain is a video of actor Burt Reynolds as James Bond. Reynolds was considered for the role in the 1970s, and the creator of the deepfake wanted to see what that scenario would have looked like.

Johnson said a handful of museums are also using deepfakes to recreate historic events, and also have videos of dead artists talking about their work. One possibility in deepfakes, she said, is having speeches by political leaders being translated into multiple languages and making it seem like the person is speaking in the listener’s language.

“Traditionally, we have relied upon our senses, especially hearing and seeing, to tell us what’s real and true,” Johnson said. “If I see someone directly doing something or saying something, I believe that the person said that and did that.”

Some people may argue that technology has mediated information for hundreds of years, with inventions like the printing press, photographs and radio, but Johnson said deepfakes provide “a much greater opportunity for mischief.”

“I think the most worrisome thing about deepfakes is this idea that’s referred to as amplification,” Johnson said. “It’s the idea that you’ve got this deepfake that can spread across the globe very quickly and very broadly. So it has much more power than a single person telling you a lie.”

She said there are three categories of harm caused by deepfakes: harm to viewers, harm to reputations and harm to institutions.

When people make deepfakes and generate other fake news, Johnson said they are intentionally misleading the public for their individual goals.

“When someone gives us information that’s false, they’re undermining that autonomy; they’re there in a kind of classic term, they’re using us as a means to their end,” Johnson said. “They’re manipulating us to do their work and not allowing us to think, the way we think and vote the way we want to vote.”

Reputation is especially important with elections, when Johnson said “you win or lose because of your reputation.” She said that while deepfakes may seem like a clear example of defamation, courts also do not usually pursue defamation claims around political speech, because they do not want to interfere with the election process.

“They have this rule against not interfering with (political) speech, not because they think it’s not harmful — they know it is harmful. But they are worried about how to do it,” Johnson said. “They’re worried that it would be too hard and too political to try to draw the line between what is considered a lie and what is considered the truth.”

Deepfakes and other forms of disinformation harm institutions such as the electoral process, and Johnson said if people do not trust the process, they do not trust the outcome. 

“It hurts everyone. It hurts the winners as well as the losers,” Johnson said.

She said remedies to the problems caused by deepfakes exist, such as educating the public on media literacy and teaching people how to spot videos that spread disinformation. Two other strategies are protecting individuals targeted by deepfakes, like having a part of a political staff dedicated to keeping track of information on the internet, and creating technology that can decipher if something is true or false. 

The last way of defending against deepfakes is by stopping them from spreading. California, for example, bans the use of deepfakes in elections, but Johnson said she is not sure how much this is enforced and some people may believe banning deepfakes interferes with free speech. An alternative, Johnson said, is social media sites labelling the video as questionable or as not containing valid information. 

“We have a set of technologies that are capable of a good deal of mischief, to put it mildly,” Johnson said. “And not only should we be aware of them, we should all be trying to figure out how to get the benefits of these synthetic media technologies, without letting the technology undermine the integrity of our oral and visual experience.”

The lecture then transitioned to a Q-and-A session with Emily Morris, vice president of marketing and communications and chief brand officer at Chautauqua Institution. Morris asked how fast the development of detection tech is happening compared to the development of deepfake tech.

Johnson said it is hard to evaluate the pace, but the technology for detection is going forward. She said another detection strategy is having the creators of the technology behind deepfakes tell the public where to look for flaws in the video. 

“I always think about this as kind of an arms race. You have the new technology and they counter,” Johnson said. “Then they change the way they do it and then you have to get a new counter.”

Morris asked what’s next on Johnson’s agenda.

Johnson said she has recently started working on accountability in AI, and said that even the creators of an artificial intelligence sometimes do not understand how the algorithm came up with a decision they made. 

“Who is then responsible for decisions that are made by artificial intelligence? I’ve always, for a long time, thought we’re being set up to accept that nobody is responsible, which I don’t accept,” Johnson said. “I think it’s the people who design the artificial intelligence systems and test them, and then put them out there for use, knowing that they don’t really understand how they work.”

Carnegie Mellon University panel talks importance of ethical AI, evolving views on computer science

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David Danks, head of the Department of Philosophy at Carnegie Mellon University, said if artificial intelligence is used in the United States to prevent crime or arrest more people, the AI would most likely target communities of color based on the country’s history of systemic racism, which has been protested against in recent weeks. 

“Unfortunately, I think, hopefully we all now recognize there’s a very long history of law enforcement and governments using technologies for surveillance and control, rather than purely for safety and support,” Danks said.

Though data and codes are essentially ones and zeros on a screen, Danks said that technology embodies the values that the creator prioritizes. 

“If you have a hammer, it embodies the value that everything is a nail. And, in practice, most of these AI systems aim to optimize. They tend to be high performing at some task,” Danks said. “Somebody is evaluating this task, whether it’s predicting where a crime will occur or predicting where an arrest might occur.”

Danks is the L.L. Thurstone Professor of Philosophy & Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University. He talked with Jennifer Keating and Illah Nourbakhsh at 10:45 a.m. EDT Wednesday, July 22, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform as the third part of Week Four’s theme of The Ethics of Tech: Scientific, Corporate and Personal Responsibility.” Keating is a Senior Lecturer and Writing the Disciplines Specialist in the Department of English at the University of Pittsburgh and Nourbakhsh is K&L Gates Professor of Ethics and Computational Technologies at CMU and director of the Community Robotics, Education and Technology Empowerment (CREATE) Lab.

Nourbakhsh started the lecture by delving into three words that are needed to understand the way that AI influences humanity: agency, equity and power. Agency refers to how much people rely on AI to make decisions for them — an example of this is a Boeing 737 Max, which can make decisions as well as, or better than, pilots around 99% of the time.

“The problem is what happens in that .001% of the time when the AI system flying the airplane does a worse job the pilot and the pilot doesn’t know what’s going on because they’ve lacked agency,” Nourbakhsh said. “It’s been taken away from them.”

Equity refers to bias within AI, such as when credit approval is done by an algorithm that learns from decisions by humans in the past — but those decisions had racial bias, so the AI does, too. Power refers to the large amount of power AI brings to companies, such as advertisers who can use AI that can do a much better job than any single person. 

“It changes the dynamics of democracy, when our ability is based on information that’s highly mediated, and therefore not balanced. And that’s the fundamental question of power relationships,” Nourbakhsh said. “I can make the world better, but in doing so we can actually exacerbate inequities that can exacerbate unequal power relationships.”

Keating then talked about power and political strife, and how information gathering affects the way society thinks. She cited Anna Burns’ award-winning novel Milkman, which showed how powerless people can feel when their government seems omnipotent. She said that predictive policing measures can squash forms of resistance against the government. Keating questioned what the government in South Africa during apartheid would have done with modern technology to suppress the movement to end racial segregation.

“What if today’s technological advancements had been applied to such a movement?” Keating said. “What level of scale could have pushed down this already vulnerable population to quell any form of resistance or rebellion?”

Nourbakhsh said that in the past computer science was mostly a theoretical field and was treated like math, “We never thought in the design of the curriculum that we were having influence on society. So we didn’t bother with the question.”

His students at Harvard were excited about Google’s slogan of “Do No Evil,” and the prospect of becoming millionaires, but a transition happened as the company and others in the technology industry grew.

“What I started seeing is graduates of our programs in the early 2000s actually emailing me back and saying, ‘Could you come and do a lecture to my group at Google on ethics, because we’re getting into some spaces that I’m uncomfortable with?’” Nourbakhsh said.

He said that his current students are not interested in becoming millionaires or organizing the world’s information.

“What’s going on is a fundamental recognition, especially by millennials,” Nourbakhsh said, “That the code, they write changes and influences society, it changes our relationships in society.”

He said Barbara Grosz, Higgins Professor of Natural Sciences at Harvard University, focuses a week on her students arguing issues around computer science and AI, such as the pros and cons of facial recognition.

Danks said that it is important to educate the next generation about the challenges of AI, but that the industry and the government need to improve now. To achieve this, he said organizations need to recognize that ethical AI and technology are not products, but processes.

“You can’t just build cool tech, and then slap some ethics on at the end. That isn’t how it works,” Danks said. “It’s never going to achieve the goals that you really have in mind.”

He said that some companies, like Facebook, have had to “rebuild while your ship is out to sea.” This rebuilding means they had to change and question if the technology they create embodies their own values.

“When I’ve worked with companies,” Danks said, “oftentimes they come to me and say, ‘We need ethical help.’ And my response is to say, ‘No, you know what you should do. You just have to decide that you’re willing to do it.’”

Danks said this does not just apply to corporations; each individual must try to engage with technology that advances their own values and interests. He said several years ago he realized that social media platforms were not supporting his own personal interests.

“They weren’t empowering me, but rather were empowering those companies, and so I made a deliberate decision to simply remove myself,” Danks said. He also said that the decision of which technology to use is different for everybody, and that many people use social media effectively. “But it’s important for us to reflect on what it is that we want from the world and engage with technology in that way, so that we can all have more ethical and societal responsible technologies.”

The lecture then shifted to a Q-and-A session with Vice President and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education Matt Ewalt. His first question was how teachers can create a learning environment that is respectful to students who start out wanting meaningful change in society, while also challenging assumptions and biases. 

Nourbakhsh said it is important to understand the mindsets of younger generations. Many millennials and those in Gen Z are disappointed in previous generations, whom they feel have failed in terms of economic equality, climate change and other issues. 

“That’s what used to drive them, not just a hopefulness to make the world better, but a fear that the world is basically political hell in a handbasket,” Nourbakhsh said. “And it’s going down and they need to solve it and resolve it, so that it doesn’t go downhill that badly.”

Younger generations are effective at creating social movements that are leaderless, he said, such as Black Lives Matter, “without a normalized sensibility that says, ‘Here’s the five steps we want to sell the older generations on.’”

Danks said that many students have a hunger to bridge the gap between people who disagree with them, especially older generations, and are frustrated that there are no places to do so. When these conversations do occur, he said students often feel that they are not talking through their differences and issues, rather they are “typically just being talked at rather than engaged with.”

Ewalt’s last question was what takeaway the panelists would like the audience to leave with.

Keating went back to an important point in the beginning of the lecture, that people need to be aware of their relationship with technology.

“(We need to be) conscious of those relationships with these tools, these machines, but also highly sensitive to the ways in which that might be affecting your interactions with other individuals, or collectives,” Keating said.

Rana el Kaliouby, CEO of Affectiva, Discusses The Need for Ethical Practices In Creating Artificial Intelligence

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When she was studying for her Ph.D. at Cambridge, Rana el Kaliouby, CEO of Affectiva, realized she was spending more time with technology than with any human being. 

“I realized that this machine was emotion blind. It had absolutely no idea how I was feeling,” el Kaliouby said. “It took actions or decisions that were not at all congruent with my emotional and mental state, but perhaps even worse, it was the main mode of communication I had with my family back home.”

El Kaliouby began to think of the possibility of devices understanding emotions the same way humans do. With artificial intelligence becoming more mainstream, such as in self-driving cars and in assisting in health care, she said the emphasis with AI is with efficiency, “and there is no consideration for the human elements.”

“I really want to kind of bring that balance. I want to marry the IQ and the EQ in our devices. … This has the power not only to reimagine our relationship with technology and human-machine interfaces,” el Kaliouby said, “but, more importantly, reconnect humans in more powerful ways and bring empathy into the equation in terms of human-to-human connection and communication.”

El Kaliouby is the CEO of Affectiva, an emotion recognition software analysis company, and author of the memoir Girl Decoded: A Scientist’s Quest to Reclaim Our Humanity by Bringing Emotional Intelligence to Technology. She presented her lecture “Humanizing Technology with AI” at 10:45 a.m. EDT Tuesday, July 21, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform as the second part of Week Four’s theme of The Ethics of Tech: Scientific, Corporate and Personal Responsibility. El Kaliouby discussed how artificial intelligence can be used to improve human communication and make the world safer, and how these aspirations can only be attained through ethical practices and collecting diverse information.

El Kaliouby grew up in the Middle East, and studied computer science at The American University in Cairo.

“At the time, I got so fascinated by the role technology plays in connecting people and how it changes the way we connect and communicate, and that’s been a common thread across my research, and my work over the last 25-plus years,” el Kaliouby said.

Ninety percent of human communication is nonverbal, which she said includes facial expressions, gestures and vocal intonations. El Kaliouby said people have been researching non-verbal communication, like Guillaume-Benjamin-Amand Duchenne, Charles Darwin and more recently Paul Elman in the ‘70s mapping out every facial muscle into code. For example, she said, when people smile, they activate the Zygomatic muscle and when they furrow their brow, they use the Corrugator muscle.

Becoming a verified face reader requires hundreds of hours of training, so el Kaliouby and her team uses computer vision and machine learning to automate that process. They provide the algorithm or computer with hundreds of thousands of examples of people smiling, smirking or frowning, and the AI looks for similarities. Her team started with facial expressions, then added vocal intonations, then activities like eating, drinking and sleeping. 

“The more data you give it, the better it becomes,” el Kaliouby said. “The more diverse data you give it, the better, more robust and more accurate it becomes.”

One of the applications of this technology is helping people with autism communicate. El Kaliouby said that these individuals often avoid looking at the face altogether because they find it too overwhelming.

“So they’re completely missing out on that 90% of communication we’re talking about, which impacts their ability to make friends if they’re in school, their ability to keep jobs if they’re adults, so it has a lot of dire consequences,” el Kaliouby said.

After earning her Ph.D., el Kaliouby worked at MIT and created a device, similar to the Google Glass, that functioned as a real-time coach and helped children on the autism spectrum understand facial expressions. The device made the process into a game for the children, giving them points when looking at faces. This project is still a research project, but el Kaliouby said they found that the children were improving at communication.

El Kaliouby and one of her coworkers, Rosalind Picard, left MIT in 2009 and founded Affectiva. They realized that there were many applications for this technology, such as detecting driver drowsiness, and using facial and vocal biomarkers to detect stress, depression, suicidal intent and Parkinson’s disease. 

“Imagine if we can detect all of that just off of your cell phone. Very transformative, but at the same time, we recognize that this data is very personal,” el Kaliouby said. “There is a lot of potential for abuse.”

She said Affectiva set up core values. First, they would reject any business they felt that did not understand what the technology should be used for, even if that meant turning revenue away. Second, any person who chose to give Affectiva data would be compensated. Third, the company would focus on ethical practices and make sure their algorithms are not biased.

“This is really important for me. This is the biggest issue right now in the space of artificial intelligence. It’s not that the robots are going to take over the universe,” el Kaliouby said. “It is that we are just building bias into these systems and then deploying them at scale unintentionally, but with really dire consequences.”

Affectiva has collected 9.5 million facial videos from 90 countries. These videos include people of different genders, ages, ethnicities, and even people wearing face masks and hijabs.

El Kaliouby said a few years after starting Affectiva, one of their principles was tested. The company was running out of money. Two months away from not making payroll, a venture arm of an intelligence agency offered them $40 million in funding to research lie detection, surveillance and security.

“I remember going back home one night and just kind of imagining what the world would look like if we took that money and Affectiva pivoted to working on this,” el Kaliouby said. “I just really didn’t feel that that was in line with why we started Affectiva. Our start was in autism and bridging this communication gap between people, between companies.”

In 2020, the company started an international program where they pair young people with Affectiva employees. 

“These kids are asking awesome questions, and really kind of challenging us around what we’re building and how we’re building all this technology. That gives me a lot of hope in the future,” el Kaliouby said.

The lecture then shifted to a Q-and-A session with Chief of Staff and Vice President of Strategic Initiatives Shannon Rozner. The first question was how Affectiva retrained algorithms to analyze people wearing facemasks.

El Kaliouby said that people rely on the lower half of their face for communication, particularly because that is where the mouth is. She said when people genuinely smile out of joy, or a Duchenne smile, they activate muscles around their face, causing wrinkles like crow’s feet.

“What we’re seeing is that when you when you do cover the lower half of your face, you need to exaggerate some of your expressions so that they can manifest in the upper half of the face, but also use things like head gestures and hand gestures that can accentuate some of these nonverbal signals,” el Kaliouby said.

Rozner then asked if el Kaliouby could explain the process of collecting data, from the initial gathering to analysis by the AI.

El Kaliouby said that for training an algorithm to detect a smile, they have two ways of gathering data. One is having people from all over the world watch a video on a laptop, and, with the person’s permission, use the camera to record their reaction. The other way is to have people put dash cameras in their cars and record their daily commute for a few weeks. 

Then the videos go to human annotators who watch the video in slow motion and label parts that have smiles. The annotators’ findings serve as the correct answers, or validation data set, and if three out of five annotators find that a person is smiling, then the person is most likely smiling. El Kaliouby said the AI’s findings are tested against the annotators and this process is repeated for different expressions and emotions, and even if the person is eating or drinking.

“The repertoire of things we can train the machine is endless. I find that really exciting,” el Kaliouby said.

The final question was what el Kaliouby’s ideal world in 50 years looked like, and what the average person’s role in creating that world might be.

She said the power of consumers is monumental, and that people need to choose companies that are committed to the ethical development of AI. El Kaliouby said that people being educated about AI will go a long way, and help create not only a more productive and automated future, but a more empathetic and human one, too. 

“I really hope in 50 years, we have rebuilt our technology in a way that gives us a sense of connection,” el Kaliouby said. “Not the illusion of a connection, but the real sense that we are connected across borders and across our differences. I’m excited about that.”

Nick Thompson, editor-in-chief of Wired, discusses idealized origins of the internet and the current contrasting reality

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The online world started to take shape in 1990, when computer scientist Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web, and many people felt that technology would stop the censorship and oppression seen in Soviet Union and prevent another Cold War. 

“The internet seemed to make life more efficient, allowed people to connect with their friends and their high school exes,” said Nick Thompson, editor-in-chief of Wired. “It made a lot of people a lot of money. The most sophisticated argument about why the internet was a good thing was that it created the possibility for non-zero (or win-win) human interactions.”

As the ways people can communicate become more complex, he said everyone becomes better off. The internet was seen as the next step of this process, and Moore’s law, which states that the power of computer systems doubles each year and a half, shows how much progress the technology makes.

Thompson is the editor-in-chief of Wired, an editor of newyorker.com, a co-founder of the multi-media publishing company the Atavist, and the author of The Hawk and the Dove: Paul Nitze, George Kennan, and the History of the Cold War. He presented his lecture “The Tech Boom, Backlash, and Boomerang” at 10:45 a.m. EDT Monday, July 20, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform as the first part of Week Four’s theme of The Ethics of Tech: Scientific, Corporate and Personal Responsibility.” He discussed the idealized beginning of the internet and how those ideals of promoting democracies have been called into question in recent years, spurring on debates and “reckonings” around issues of privacy, authoritarianism and truth.

Thompson graduated in 1997 from Stanford University and his first job was with CBS, “where I was actually fired within 60 minutes of arriving. The only employee ever to work at CBS for less than an hour, I believe.” He then went to West Africa, where he was kidnapped by drug lords and eventually was released. The third thing Thompson did after college was join an open source software computer company, whose main aim was to combat Microsoft and monopolies. 

He started to doubt that the internet was a proponent of liberal democracies and increased moral understanding of society. In the Arab Spring 10 years ago, for example, protestors used Facebook to organize, but the same technology caused rifts in the protests because social media also amplifies the angriest and loudest voices.

“Maybe this is just pushing society, or maybe it is actually amplifying some of our worst tendencies,” Thompson said. “Maybe it is not making places like Egypt better, (maybe) it is actually making authoritarian governments worse.”

Thompson also said people using the internet to subvert democracy was seen in the 2016 presidential election with trolls from Macedonia creating fake news websites for ad money, and the Russian disinformation campaign.

“This has led to the election of someone whose fundamental philosophy of how the world works is the antithesis of the fundamental philosophy of the people who built the platforms of how the world should work,” Thompson said

The 2016 election led to many debates and reckonings about technology, including within companies themselves. Thompson said that people who work at Facebook started to question the platform they had built, the unintended effect of spreading misinformation and what they could do about it.

Another question was if phones, computers and the internet were helping society. 

“The smartest people in the world made these with the best technology and the most money,” Thompson said. “But did they make these devices to enrich our lives or just suck away our attention?”

Thompson cited a study which showed that many people regretted using apps, like Facebook or Reddit, for long periods of time, but enjoyed apps that they used for less time, such as Evernote.

He said the third question about the role of technology in democracies was what was real. Thompson said that when people realized how much disinformation and fake accounts existed on Facebook and Twitter, “the internet seemed evermore … a place where you couldn’t really trust who was who.”

“Think about places you’ve been where you can trust, where you can put your suitcase down and you know that it’s not going to be stolen. Where you can buy a ticket to something and know that it will work at the door. Well, those societies work,” Thompson said. “(A society does not work when) we can’t really believe that somebody is who they say they are.”

People also debate artificial intelligence. Thompson said that computers can analyze every chess match in history and create new, creative ways of playing that humans have never considered. But AI’s success is dependent on how much data it has and what’s in the data, which is where problems occur. 

“For example, you train an AI system for criminal justice, you train it on historical sentencing data, and it will be racist,” Thompson said. “You train an AI on how it should rearrange things in your home, and you train it on historical photographs, and it will learn to identify women doing one kind of task, and men doing another kind of task.”

Thompson then discussed authoritarianism and privacy in relation to modern technology. China, which he used as an example, has a huge advantage in AI because the biggest technology companies are state-owned and the government can collect any data it wants because there are not many privacy restrictions. Certain cities in China also have a system called a social credit score, which Thompson said is calculated based on whether a person pays fines and bills on time, as well as scores of their friends and their political allegiances. This score can determine whether a person is allowed to buy certain goods, such as bus tickets. 

Thompson said that all these recent debates and reckonings have led to deeper conversations about making the tech industry better, “one (in which) the technology is enriching our lives, not making them harder. Where we have trust that the outcomes are fair and just. The data we are collecting leads to artificial intelligence that actually makes us live longer, productive or healthy lives.”                                                                

The lecture then shifted to a Q-and-A session with Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education. The first question was if there were any troubling topics or themes that emerged in the last two weeks that relate to Thompson’s talk.

On July 15, many popular verified Twitter accounts were hacked, such as those belonging to Barack Obama, Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos, and tweeted out a Bitcoin scam. He said that the hacker was able to get access through a single control panel.

“We’re very lucky that the person who perpetrated this was seemingly just doing a Bitcoin scam, But what’s interesting about it is why was Twitter security so lax,” Thompson said. “How come to reset Barack Obama’s email, you just needed one person to have access to a control panel? You didn’t need two, or three, or 10?”

Ewalt’s next question was how much screen use was healthy for children, and if eliminating screen time may make children unprepared for a future with a larger emphasis on technology. 

Thompson has three boys, ages 12, 10 and 6, and he views technology similar to the food pyramid. Activities at the top are commonly viewed as bad, like using a phone at the dinner table and violent video games. The next level down is more ambiguous, because lessons can be taught there, such as through instructional YouTube videos. Thompson said the base of the pyramid are videos and activities that are “genuinely good.”

“For whatever reason, my 6 year old wants to learn German. Well, not for whatever reason, he’s obsessed with the Barcelona goalie (Marc-Andre) Ter Stegen and it wants to be able to talk to him,” Thompson said. “So we use a German learning app called Memorize which is gamified and we learn German phrases in the morning together, which is hilarious. And no doubt, good for him.”

He said that each parent needs to have a conversation with their children about screen time. His 10-year-old son really wanted a PlayStation, which would be near the top of the pyramid as a platform for violent video games. But his son was also feeling left out of his friend group. Thompson bought his sons a PlayStation and tries to keep limits on how long they can play, has them play games that stretch their imagination and even plays with them himself. 

The last question was how Thompson would advise consumers to stay informed, think about their decisions and help shape society.

Thompson said he does not always live up to this, but every word typed and link clicked changes Google’s algorithm in a small way, so he has “the sense of the internet and technology becoming something like a collective global consciousness. In a way, Google is the repository of human thought.”

“I do think that each of us has a certain obligation in how we act. We have a certain obligation to, and how we teach, our children to act, how we talk to our friends about how we act,” Thompson said. “So we all play a role in shaping this sort of phenomenal amazing thing that is (the) digital internet.”

Aaron Bryant, museum curator, Discusses How Museums Can Reveal the Humanity Behind Items.

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Aaron Bryant, curator of photography and visual culture at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, will never forget the first time he visited a museum. In his art class in fifth grade, every student created a painting based on an illustration, and Bryant’s work of an African market was chosen to represent his school at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

“I remember they had painted Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’ outside of the museum and, as a kid standing next to the sculpture, how imposing it was because I only came up to his knee,” Bryant said. “I’ll never forget how I was only as his knee at the time before we walked into the museum.”

Bryant has been a researcher for around 35 years, and started out doing corporate research.

“I love to research, and I’ve always loved the arts and history,” Bryant said. “And so, at a certain point, I began to ask myself would I feel I’m making a contribution, if I took my skills and business analysis and research, to work for a nonprofit organization.”

Prior to working at the NMAAHC, he was curator of collections and exhibitions at Morgan State University’s James E. Lewis Museum of Art in Baltimore. Bryant talked on Friday, July 17, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform, with Vice President and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education Matt Ewalt. The conversation, titled “Preserving History In Real Time,” was the last of Week Three’s theme of “Art and Democracy.” Bryant focused on the importance of bridging the gap between high culture and popular culture to make museums more inviting to everyone, as well as showing the humanity behind objects.

History happens everyday, and Bryant said rapid-response collecting is a way to keep track of current events in the United States, and preserving information and visuals for future generations. Bryant said these artifacts can be “anything that helps us to preserve the memory of the moment. It’s really about the object representing an experience, a human experience.”

He said with the recent protests against racial injustice, museums are collecting signs, banners, T-shirts and even face masks with messages written on them. Bryant prefers to have a direct donation in order to know and capture the story behind the item.

“You see someone with a particular sign and you just go up to them and you talk to them about the sign,” Bryant said. “And you ask them, ‘Why are (you) here?’ ‘Why is this important to you?’ You start having a conversation and then that helps to give a better context to the object itself, and creates a way to connect the objects in some sort of human experience.”

Artifacts from large events, like presidential inaugurations, were always collected for exhibits, but after 9/11, Bryant said rapid-response collecting started when American museums started to think how they could respond to a larger range of historic events.

Ewalt asked why photographs were not sufficient, and why museums needed physical objects.

Bryant said that with large murals, people do not get the sense of scale with pictures. With three-dimensional objects, people need to be able to walk around it, Bryant said, to “get a sense of its magnitude and its presence within the physical space.”

But photography is important as well; Bryant said that images serve as evidence that an event happened.

“They can also be very creative in terms of artistic expression and emotion, giving some sort of emotion,” Bryant said. “They can have emotion tied to them, so they’re important in that way.”

He said transformative periods in history, such as the Civil Rights Movement, are part of everyday life of those living them. 

“The Civil Rights Movement didn’t just come out of nowhere and actually was part of an evolution,” Bryant said. “I think about history as really representing an arc in the human progress. Every point along that arc is really connected in some way.”

Ewalt asked about Bryant’s previous work addressing gaps in representation in civil rights and photography.

“When we think about civil rights photography, if you’re familiar with the names, those names will generally be men,” Bryant said.

He said these men were often taking photos for newspapers, magazines and other publications. Women photographers whose work were part of the Civil Rights Movement are not represented in the “canon” of the movement.

“I would also say, ironically, (there is an) absence of African Americans in many ways,” Bryant said. “We know of African-American photographers can be seen at the time, but it seems that the canon of civil rights photography was really defined by white men.”

Ewalt then asked how videos from cell phones and social media can be presented in a museum alongside physical objects.

“I think many museums across the board are still trying to figure out how … we grapple with cellphone images as objects,” Bryant said, “and then in terms of how it might fit in with the object itself in many different ways when you collect these materials.”

Video is particularly important with how it relates to the history of protests, like in the early ‘90s with Los Angeles police’s beating of Rodney King and the later LA uprisings.

Going off of Week Three’s theme of “Art and Democracy,” Ewalt asked why museums are essential to democracy.

Bryant said that museums are places where people feel welcome and open to engage in a civic dialogue, but this has not always been the case. 

“There has been a barrier between mass and popular culture and everyday lives versus high culture — celebrating the Princeton galleries, for example. ‘Welcome to this museum that is really a tribute to my collection of the things that I’ve collected as I traveled all over the world,’” Bryant said. 

Bryant said the National Museum of African American History and Culture selects objects that “really celebrate and elevate everyday life and everyday people.”

Ewalt’s last question was how museums traditionally presented an object as opposed to the newer way of showing the humanity behind the object.

Traditionally, Bryant said, objects were presented with information that was specific to the object itself, like who made it, what it is made of and its function. The newer way is presenting the story behind the object, such as how the “Red Violin” is presented, which Bryant recommends to everyone.

“You learned that when it was first made that the violin maker made it for his wife, who was going to give it as a gift to their unborn child, (and that) both his wife and his child died in childbirth,” Bryant said. “He decided that he was going to get rid of the violin, because it held on to so many memories, and then it goes to the next person.”

Each owner of the violin had a different story to tell and, Bryant said, the instrument held a deep significance in each of their lives. An actor in his late 60s told Bryant something similar, that with each character he played, he learned more about humanity. If he acted well, he was able to share that knowledge with the audience and maybe become a better person himself.

“That’s my curatorial practice, that’s my approach,” Bryant said. “How do I become a better person? How do I learn about humanity and how do I help people connect to their own?”

Multimedia artist Azzah Sultan leads audience through multifaceted portfolio highlighting culture, faith

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To flesh out her multifaceted experiences in her latest work, “Anak Dara,” artist Azzah Sultan had to upgrade her tools to match by experimenting with and doubling down on video, performance and installation aspects.

“I felt like the topics I was focusing on were so complex, I felt like the medium it was displayed on needed to be as complex as they were,” Sultan said.

Sultan shared her story as a Muslim immigrant who channels her experiences into her art, and how her work has evolved, in her lecture “Navigating Culture and Faith Through Art.” It was released on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform at 2 p.m. EDT on Thursday, July 16, as part of the Week Three Interfaith Lecture Series theme: “Art: A Glimpse into the Divine.”

Sultan received her MFA a few months ago from Washington State University, but her reputation as an innovative artist precedes her. Earlier in the week, art historian and Chautauqua regular Ori Soltes praised her portfolio as a powerful set of installations on the politics of gender.

Part of a Malaysian diplomat family, Sultan was born in Abu Dhabi and grew up in Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, Finland and Bahrain. She first came to the United States seven years ago at 16 years old to study at Parsons School of Design.

I use my art to express frustrations in the society I am living in. By doing so, my feelings would be felt and my voice heard  — without antagonizing anyone or jeopardizing my true faith.”

Maureen Rovegno, the director of Chautauqua’s Department of Religion, led the subsequent Q-and-A, which lasted 36 minutes. She delivered questions that the audience populated through submissions via questions.chq.org and on Twitter at #CHQ2020.

“You are bringing this authority into this very different American context, in which you have to deal with the multiple sorts of conditionalities here in America, such as dealing with racism and ethnicity, which people often conflate here and don’t distinguish,” Rovegno said.

Sultan left home to study art, but also retains her connection to her home through practicing art — and her religion. She started wearing a headscarf shortly before leaving for the United States.

“I started to realize that my faith was the only thing I could hold onto (from home), which is why I found it important to highlight aspects of my religion within my art, as the Islamic faith has molded me to what I am today,” Sultan said. “I use my art to express frustrations in the society I am living in. By doing so, my feelings would be felt and my voice heard  — without antagonizing anyone or jeopardizing my true faith.”

Sultan’s body of work turns Islamophobic and racist ideas of the West on their heads while also celebrating her own experiences as a Muslim woman with family lineage reaching through India, Pakistan and Malaysia. 

In her installation “Radical Media,” Sultan stitched video clips of news pundits misusing terms to describe Islam — “radical Islam,” “radicalized,” “moderate Muslim,” “jihad,” and “sharia law” — so they played on the same screen in unison. It’s a 7-second clip on a constant loop, which is meant to emphasize how often Muslims hear these words used against them and how negative news media can perpetuate a hatred of a peaceful religion.

“Islam is peace, to me,” Sultan said. “Islam means peace.”

While working toward her master’s degree, Sultan dove deeper into performance art with her installation, “Oriental Woman,” which flashed images of 18th- and 19th-century European artwork that depicted “women of the East” as objects.

“These images of oriental women embody images of fantasy, myth and exoticism,” Sultan said.

While the images projected onto her body and the background, Sultan performed a traditional Malaysian dance she learned while she was a child.

Her installation, “Perfectly Blushed,” tackles companies like Fair and Lovely that market skin-bleaching products to South Asian women.

In this project, Sultan models in a mock commercial where her skin synthetically pinkens to an unnatural color, playing on these products’ claims to create a “rosy” complexion as a result of having whiter skin. She said she does not fault anyone who uses these products, since they are simply caught up in expectations fueled by white supremacy and colonialism, but seeks to guide her audience through questions of what it means for a person to change their skin tone.

“Women of color are often encouraged to use methods of skin bleaching, as it promises them a future in which they can succeed in their own careers, love life and any obstacles that they face,” Sultan said. “The removal of dark skin tone is akin to the removal of one’s history and past. ‘Perfectly Blushed’ is an examination of the way marketing works to sell this fantasy.”

Her latest work, “Anak Dara,” includes five installations focusing on childhood nostalgia, materials of memorabilia and familial ties using digital media. It’s her master’s thesis. Her mother is featured prominently throughout, teaching Sultan how to make sambal, or Malaysian chili paste, in a video, as well as through her material items. While wearing a greenscreen suit and covered with a vibrant batik wax print background, Sultan wraps her headscarf like her mother does in one performance. In another, she plays with the sounds of her mother’s jewelry. Partway through the video, she hides her hands with a distorted batik background.

“My hands are a signifier to my race, and the lack of (skin shown) in the other clips creates emphasis on the jewelry worn and the patterns of the batik, a nod to my own culture,” Sultan said.

Due to the coronavirus, Sultan could not host a traditional reception for her thesis and couldn’t show her parents the end result of her work, despite the fact that they inspired it. One element of the installation — spice sachets reminiscent of the smells of Sultan’s family home, which viewers would have been invited to carry around while they explored the other installations — while innovative, would be too high risk of a contact point in a live viewing.

But even in a virtual viewing, Sultan’s description of her work ignites all human senses.

“My current art serves almost as an altarpiece, enshrining my culture by representing it through visuals, smells, colors and textures,” Sultan said. “I am making art as a tribute to where I am from, and an investigation of how I perceive myself through garments and objects of personal memories. The viewer is invited into this space to reflect on their own personal connections through their past and cultural background.”

As a young artist, Sultan’s work continues to evolve. She said that the Western influence has crystallized and misread the femininity of cultures and faiths, and she is considering exploring a wider range of what the term “feminine” means in future installations through craft, materiality and video distortion. 

“I’m at this point right now where I want to create art that’s very open to interpretation, but at the same time very present as well,” Sultan said.

A portrait of America: PBS CEO Paula Kerger discusses ‘profound importance’ of organization’s work

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Fifty years ago when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Public Broadcasting Act, he wanted to create an organization that acted in the public interest. 

“Time and time again, we need to remind ourselves and come back to the core of why we were established in the first place,” said Paula Kerger, CEO of PBS.

PBS is a relatively small media organization, she said, and spends less on content annually than Netflix does for a big series. All PBS affiliate stations are also locally owned, operated and governed, which Kerger said is important in “this era of media consolidation.”

“It’s profoundly important to have local media organizations that are accountable to the communities that they serve, that are run by people that live in those communities,” Kerger said. “No one understands the needs of a community better than people that live there.”

She said that many news agencies aim to attract the most views, but PBS has a different goal.

“If we create a program that opens people’s eyes, and hearts, then we’ve been successful,” Kerger said.

Kerger became the CEO of PBS in 2006, and since then, the media organization has gone from the 14th most-watched channel in the United States to the seventh. Kerger talked on Thursday, July 16, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform, with Chautauqua Institution President Michael E. Hill. The conversation, titled “Who Are The American People?” was the fourth part of Week Three’s theme of “Art and Democracy.” Kerger talked about PBS’ role during this time of social unrest, and how the organization is commemorating its 50th anniversary with the American Portrait project, which aims to capture who the American people are during this time in history.

Hill first asked how PBS’ 50th anniversary has been going, given the COVID-19 pandemic and protests against racial injustice.

“I think about all of the things that PBS has done over the years and all of the work that we have engaged. It has really prepared us for this moment,” Kerger said.

She said that PBS has led discussions around race for a long time, such as broadcasting works of filmmakers such as Henry Hampton and Stanley Nelson. PBS has also been focusing on programs that will help people make decisions about their daily lives, such as providing reporting on the pandemic. Kerger said the organization, throughout its history, has also focused on broadcasting for children, such as “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” “Sesame Street” and recently “Molly of Denali.” 

When LA Unified was discussing closing schools due to the pandemic in the first week of March, superintendent Austin Buettner asked Kerger to create an app to stream PBS shows, as many families did not have access to broadband. 

“Our stations around the country have created an app, a home-learning environment that is both broadband-based, as well as broadcast-based,” Kerger said. “I think that we’ve tried to really help to fill in gaps, and continue the educational experience, particularly for so many families for whom connection to robust broadband is not a possibility.”

Hill then asked how PBS’ approach to programming has changed with people working and watching in isolation.

Kerger said that during the summer, PBS does a lot of productions in the field, such as “Antiques Roadshow,” which cannot be filmed due to the pandemic. Many British productions have been put on hiatus, as well, though she said there will be new programming in the fall. 

PBS is also looking further down the line, like finding compelling stories from international producers, such as Peter Gelb, director of the Metropolitan Opera. PBS will broadcast a series of concerts Gelb is working on, which Kerger said will be recorded “in extraordinary places around the world with the world’s best singers.”

“That project would not have come to us (if other productions were not canceled), and it’s going to be spectacular,” Kerger said.

She said that PBS has recently added programs — old and new — centered on race, such as Henry Louis Gates’ series on reconstruction in the South after the Civil War.

Hill then asked about the origin of the American Portrait project, in which people across the country can send videos of themselves answering a series of questions about what it means to be an American.

“We were very interested in paying tribute to some of the extraordinary visionaries on whose shoulders we all stand,” Kerger said. “But I always feel that it is too easy to get tied up in your past, and all of the great things that have been accomplished and really lose sight of what is important: that 50 is a milestone. And you need to talk about what you will do moving forward.”

For the project, Kerger said PBS is populating a map of the country with people answering open-ended prompts that get to the heart of the U.S. as a nation. 

“What unites us is so far greater than what separates us,” Kerger said. “And I spend a lot of time traveling the country. I’ve been in every state. I have spent a lot of time in rural America. I have talked to a lot of people who feel that, ‘No one understands me. No one understands my story, my community.’”

PBS will select certain submissions and have filmmakers make a docu-series about them, which Kerger said will air January 2021, “so, after the election, when I think all of us will look at one another and say, ‘What does it mean to be in America?’ ‘Who are we?’ ‘Where are we going?’”

The final question from Hill was what should people be thinking about and looking at to understand the issues in this election, and also the future of the United States.

Kerger stressed the importance of people voting and educating themselves.

“My suggestion to everyone is don’t get caught up in the horse race in the end of the polls, but just to look at the facts,” Kerger said. “Look at the issues and vote, and encourage everyone around you to do the same. That’s how a society is strong, when people are engaged.”

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