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Morning Lecture Previews

A political cascade: Ambassador Samantha Power to close Chautauqua Lecture Series with emphasis on the role of America, the individual in driving diplomacy

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Before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, before California and Australia were ravaged by climate change-fueled wildfires, before a massive explosion shattered Beirut and a U.S. drone strike killed an Iranian major general, Chautauqua Institution placed the Week Nine theme “The Future We Want, The World We Need: Collective Action for Tomorrow’s Challenges” on the 2020 calendar.

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Ideally, according to Samantha Power, the rest of the world would have been on the same page. And if that were true, “we would not have needed this very rude and devastating reminder of how critical global cooperation is,” she said. 

“So many of the key issues on people’s minds right now, the necessity is cooperation among countries,” Power said. “No matter which issue you choose, no matter what you care about, chances are, there is some international dimension.”

Power’s lecture, “America’s Role in International Engagement and Leadership,” will close the 2020 Chautauqua Lecture Series and the Week Nine theme in partnership with the United Nations Foundation. Her lecture will air at 10:45 a.m. EDT Friday, Aug. 28, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform. Power is the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author twice selected as one of TIME’s “100 Most Influential People,” and a professor at Harvard Kennedy School and Harvard Law School.

America is the most powerful country in the world, so it’s impossible to imagine addressing these problems in full without America at the table,” Power said. “If America isn’t part of the solution, it’s part of the problem.”

A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide, Power’s 2002 book, won the Pulitzer Prize for general nonfiction in 2003. It illustrates a century’s worth of American inaction in the face of multiple massacres: of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire during the World War I, in Europe during the Holocaust, and in Rwanda in 1994.

Eighteen years have passed since A Problem from Hell, and while the present-day problems are different in both size and shape, the irrevocable consequences remain largely the same. In the United States alone, more than 177,000 people have died from COVID-19. Nearly three billion animals were killed or displaced during Australia’s wildfires, more than 2,000 structures destroyed in the wake of those in California. The detonation in Beirut’s port compounded the ongoing political and economic crises gripping a Lebanon already unraveling.

As Power will emphasize in her presentation, there is a “disproportionate rate” of responsibility for America, and a growing one in China, to “get it right.” 

“America is the most powerful country in the world, so it’s impossible to imagine addressing these problems in full without America at the table,” Power said. “If America isn’t part of the solution, it’s part of the problem.”

But in recent decades, Power said America has made an inordinate investment — both in terms of “big budget allocations” and attention — in the military over diplomatic solutions, “and we’ve got to change that.”

“We have to make investments in ending conflicts; aggressively addressing climate change, putting in place an infrastructure to deal with future pandemics — that has to be a top-tier priority in a way diplomacy never has been in my lifetime,” Power said. “The balance has to shift.”

The question of whether the United States will make those investments in diplomacy may “very well hinge on how many turn out for the November election,” according to Power.

“The fact that we have walked away from combating climate change domestically turned on a very narrow election margin,” she said. “Now, many Independent and Republican voters have begun to care about climate change — not, of course, the current president — but it’s a sign that individual action can elevate these issues.” 

Individual action is often halted by a recurring tendency: People feel small compared to the scale of the problems that greet them, Power said. 

“That can be very disempowering,” she said. “The pandemic has reminded us of the possibilities of being connected, but also the risk.”

No one person can resolve the COVID-19 pandemic, or any pandemic for that matter. So what Power can and will offer in her lecture and in the face of “problems of this magnitude,” is the strength in “shrinking the change,” or tailoring for oneself what their individual difference is going to be.

“I, Samantha, can’t solve the global refugee crisis — I single-handedly can’t do that,” Power said. “But I can go door to door in support of a candidate I believe in. I can donate money for an organization I care about. Everything feels small until enough people pick up that small task and that creates, over time, a political cascade. That cascade makes all the difference.” 

This program is made possible by Week Nine “Program Sponsor” Erie Insurance and the Helen C. Lincoln Fund for International Programming.

UNICEF Director Henrietta Fore to discuss how to help children reach their potential amid COVID-19

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Of all the questions posed by the coronavirus pandemic, one of the most important is how exactly schools — both primary and secondary schools, as well as institutions of higher education — reopen safely.

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“When the COVID-19 pandemic began sweeping across the planet, there was a lot the world did not know about its impact on children,” wrote Henrietta Fore, the director of The United Nations Children’s Fund, also known as UNICEF, in a June 19 opinion piece on cnn.com. “Could they get sick? Could they transmit the virus? Were schools safe? We have since learned quite a bit. We have learned that children are not the main drivers of the epidemic across countries.”

Though Fore said we can be certain about children’s safety in terms of COVID-19, she also said that we “know there can be severe negative effects on children — from deterioration of mental and physical health to lack of sufficient food in some cases — when they are out of school.”

Fore said one of the most important questions to ask is why so many schools around the world are still closed. 

“Strict measures were taken to help contain the spread of COVID-19 and flatten the curve,” she wrote for CNN. “Often, schools were among the first places to close, sometimes even before shopping malls, movie theaters and restaurants. By early April, nation-wide lockdowns in 194 countries left 1.6 billion children out of school, approximately 90% of the world’s students. As (June 19), two months on, while many countries begin to ease lockdowns for non-essential services, over 1 billion children in 144 countries are still not in their classrooms.”

At 10:45 a.m. EDT on Thursday, Aug. 27, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform, Fore will deliver a lecture titled, “How to Help Children Reach Their Full Potential,” bringing together her expertise with the international issues that plague children and her experience as a leader and speaker. Her lecture is part of the Week Nine Chautauqua Lecture Series theme, “The Future We Want, The World We Need: Collective Action for Tomorrow’s Challenges,” a week in partnership with the U.N. Foundation.

“We’re honored to have Henrietta Fore provide critical insight on the challenges facing children around the world, particularly during COVID-19, and how our prioritizing children is critical as we address the world’s most pressing problems, now and into the future,” said Matt Ewalt, vice president and the Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education.

A subset of children who are particularly vulnerable are young girls, Fore wrote, in part because when they remain out of school they’re at high risk for sexual exploitation and abuse. 

“During the 2014 West Africa Ebola outbreak, for example, pregnancy rates among teenagers in Sierra Leone doubled and many girls were unable to continue their education when schools reopened,” she wrote. “And we cannot forget the millions of children, particularly those living in rural areas, from poorer families or with special needs, who rely on schools as a lifeline to meals, support in times of distress, health screenings and therapeutic services.”

Fore said that there’s still much to be done to improve health safety in schools, especially in poorer communities.

“For example, handwashing stations, disinfection and physical distancing,” she wrote. “However, the evidence is clear: Investment in safety protocols yields high returns. It may never be business-as-usual again. We need safer and better schools. We need innovative approaches to learning. We need better access to technology for every child to bridge the digital divide. But it’s time to put children back on the learning track. It’s time to reopen schools.”

This program is made possible by Week Nine “Program Sponsor” Erie Insurance and The Foglesong Family Lectureship Fund.

United Nations Association of the USA Executive Director Rachel Bowen Pittman to speak on Americans role in solving global problems for Week Nine Lecture

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On Oct. 24, 1945, in San Francisco, delegates from 51 different countries gathered with a goal to promote international human rights, social progress, and to never again see the horrors and destruction of a world war. With that, the United Nations was founded.

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Seventy-five years later its goal remains the same. This January, the organization launched its UN 75 campaign, with a mission to, in the words of Secretary General António Guterres, “host the biggest-ever global conversation on the role of global cooperation in building the future we want.”

In service of this goal, the United Nations Association of the USA recently held 80 virtual consultations with more than 1,800 particants, representing all 50 states, Washington D.C. and Pureto Rico.

“We answered three big questions,” said UNA-USA Executive Director Rachel Bowen Pittman. “Are we on track to secure a better word? What kind of future do we want to create? And what action is needed to help us build a brighter future?”

Pittman will be speaking as part of Chautauqua Institution’s Week Nine Lecture platform, “The Future We Want — The World We Need: Collective Action For Tomorrow’s Challenges,” in partnership with the U.N. Foundation. Her talk, “Americans’ Role in Addressing Global Problems at a Local Level,” will air at 10:45 a.m. EDT Wednesday, Aug. 26, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform.

The UNA-USA is a grassroots organization with a mission to raise awareness of and mobilize support for American participation in the U.N. There are more than 200 chapters in the U.S., with over 20,000 members nationally.

“The most important thing, I think, that we do is we advocate for strong U.S. leadership at the U.N. and U.S. funding at the U.N.,” Pittman said. “We galvanize our members throughout the year to take different advocacy action, be it through petitions or social media or going to (Capitol Hill).”

In the midst of the global pandemic, when the efficacy of current health, economic and social structures have been regularly thrown into question, the results of the UNA-USA’s consultation captured a snapshot of an America in the process of re-evaluation.

“There are all these issues that are coming to light that we need to address — how people reacted to the pandemic, and with that in mind, what they think is needed to have a brighter future,” she said.

For her talk, Pittman will take Chautauquans through the findings from the UNA-USA’s consultations, and explain what individuals can do to work toward the U.N.’s Sustainable Development Goals, a set of 17 goals the U.N. adopted in 2015 that seek to eradicate global poverty and hunger, reduce inequality and increase sustainability — and more — by 2030.

“We have 10 years (left) to work on these goals, but it requires civilian society, businesses and individuals like you and me to participate,” she said. “Anything from living a sustainable life to supporting a homeless shelter, to encouraging more gender equality around the world (can help).”

Pittman said that now, more than ever, Americans can see that from climate change to COVID-19, problems rarely stay contained to one nation’s borders.

“We have to work together because the pandemic has no knowledge of shores, it’s not going to stay in one place,” she said. “That’s just another example of why all of these issues are interrelated. People (need) to take note, and where they can, take action.”

This program is made possible by Week Nine “Program Sponsor” Erie Insurance, the Arnold and Jill Bellowe Lectureship and the Kathryn Sisson Phillips Memorial Lectureship Fund.  

United Nations Under-Secretary-General Fabrizio Hochschild to tackle global threats in Chautauqua lecture

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This year, 2020, marks the 75th anniversary of the United Nations, the founding of which forever strengthened the bond between the nations of the world.

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Fabrizio Hochschild, the under-secretary-general and special adviser to the secretary-general of the United Nations, will be coordinating the commemoration of the U.N.’s diamond anniversary through reflections on the role of the U.N. in advancing international cooperation. 

He will discuss these reflections during his lecture, “How to Reinvigorate and Rejuvenate Global Cooperation to Tackle Global Threats,” at 10:45 a.m. EDT Tuesday, Aug. 25, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform. The lecture is the second in the final week of the 2020 Chautauqua Lecture Series, “The Future We Want, The World We Need: Collective Action for Tomorrow’s Challenges” in partnership with the U.N. Foundation, honoring the U.N. and the work it has done. 

In Hochschild’s lecture, said Vice President and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education Matt Ewalt, he “will frame how the United Nations is using the 75th anniversary of the organization to look to the future — rather than the past — and engage the world in public dialogue on what must be our shared priorities to address global threats.”

Prior to his appointment as the under-secretary-general, Hochschild served as assistant secretary-general for strategic coordination in the executive office of the secretary-general from 2017 to 2019. He has also served as deputy special representative for the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in the Central African Republic, U.N. resident coordinator, humanitarian coordinator and resident representative of the U.N. Development Programme, director of the Field Personnel Division in the United Nations Department of Field Support, New York; and as chief of field operations and technical cooperation in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. 

Since the beginning of his career in 1988, Hochschild has worked to promote coherence and peace-keeping among the member nations of the U.N., and has stood for issues across the spectrum, from global development to the protection of human rights.

Hochschild’s decades-long career with the U.N. gives him a wealth of experience and knowledge from which to draw, and provides to him a unique perspective for his lecture on Tuesday. 

This week, the Chautauqua Lecture Series has partnered with the U.N. to discuss the issues of tomorrow and what the world may look like in the coming years. Hochschild will speak on these issues and explain the necessity of interconnectedness between nations in order to continue to evolve and survive as a species. 

“Future generations will judge whether we seize the opportunities of this unprecedented moment,” Hochschild wrote in an article for Al Jazeera. “As we emerge from the current crisis, there needs to be a global, collective, responsibility to build back better, on a safer and more equitable technological foundation. The time to act is now.”

This program is made possible by Week Nine “Program Sponsor” Erie Insurance and the William and Julia Clinger Lectureship.

‘The fate of our world:’ As pandemic proves dysfunction, Elizabeth Cousens makes her case for international cooperation

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The COVID-19 pandemic is helping Elizabeth Cousens make her case.

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With an economic collapse, rising death tolls and breakdowns in supply chains, the absence of a certain necessity has come into focus: global cooperation. 

The need can’t be ignored any longer, she said. But will citizens rise to the challenge? The jury’s still out. 

“There are too many issues on the global agenda that require global cooperation, and I think the real challenge for all of us is whether we can summon the kind of resolve to recognize that,” said Cousens, president and CEO of the United Nations Foundation

Cousens’ lecture, “This is Not a Test: Collective Action in the Age of Covid,” will open the Week Nine Chautauqua Lecture Series theme, “The Future We Want, The World We Need: Collective Action for Tomorrow’s Challenges,” in partnership with the United Nations Foundation. Her lecture will air at 10:45 a.m. EDT Monday, Aug. 24, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform.

Cousens has been at the forefront of global policymaking and innovation for over 20 years. From 2012 to 2014, she served as the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Economic and Social Council and Alternate Representative to the U.N. General Assembly. Cousens joined the foundation in 2015, starting as its deputy chief executive officer. 

It wasn’t until January 2020 that Cousens stepped into her role as the U.N. Foundation’s president and CEO, yet she still managed to raise almost $200 million for the U.N. Foundation’s COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund, which benefits the World Health Organization

Cousens said she is eager to pull from her experiences to “exchange views and ideas about the turning point we are in as a country and as a world.”

“It doesn’t take a leap of imagination to realize what an unprecedented moment we are in right now,” Cousens said. “We are in it in terms of our collective health, we are in it in terms of the future of our democracy and we are in it in terms of our ability to work together at scale on issues that are analogous to this (pandemic), like climate change or inequality.”

Countries cooperate when they are presented with two things: a set of common interests and goals they can’t accomplish as easily or efficiently on their own, according to Cousens. 

When COVID-19 is the crisis in question, both boxes are checked — instantaneously. 

“You look at a challenge like a global health crisis of the kind we are in, and you easily realize we cannot solve it without working together and recognizing the degree we are mutually dependent, mutually vulnerable and mutually capable of helping each other climb out of it,” she said. 

More importantly, Cousens said, “we aren’t beating this (pandemic) anywhere if we don’t beat it everywhere,” so there is an exigency for partnership, especially across borders.

“Some of those borders are internal borders; you look at the challenges we are facing as a country, just trying to figure out how to enable a country to recover, or you have a patchwork of different plans and approaches across states and cities — that alone is a challenge,” she said. “But the pandemic isn’t the only issue that confronts us with it.” 

Decisive moments are nothing new; Cousens said they appear in nearly every international issue from global warming to disparities in access to education. But the pandemic, in its “unprecedented severity,” has fostered a “recurring and deep belief”: The choices people make as individuals, whether that be as citizens, employees, or members of a community, can impact the “global course we end up on.”

“I hope (Chautauquans walk away) with a deep sense of the consequence of the time we are in,” Cousens said, “(and) a deep sense of their own ability to impact the outcome. Some of that is about voting, some of that is about the choices you make as an individual in your own behavior.”

Individual choices and decisions matter disproportionately in the United States, a country Cousens believes has a profound impact on the decisions made by the world around it. But it’s not as daunting as it sounds. In fact, she said this is a time to feel energized by potential, the potential to impact, “very decisively, the fate of our world.” 

“This is not an insurmountable crisis,” Cousens said. “We actually know a lot of the steps that we need to take and that we need our government to make — the challenge is to organize ourselves to do it. That’s the kind of challenge we should be able to rise to.”

This program is made possible by Week Nine Program Sponsor Erie Insurance and the Oliver and Mary Langenberg Lectureship Fund. 

Presidential historian Jon Meacham to speak on the endurance of the Constitution, closing Chautauqua’s Week 8

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First, he spoke to the world at the 2020 Democratic National Convention, where he addressed the people and endorsed Joe Biden for presidency. 

“This is a grave moment in America,” Jon Meacham said in his speech.

Now, Meacham will bring his words directly to the screens of Chautauquans in his lecture “How the Constitution Will Endure” to close out Week Eight of the Chautauqua Lecture Series: “Reframing the Constitution.” The lecture will air at 10:45 a.m. EDT Friday, Aug. 21, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform.

Meacham, in delivering the 2018 Governor’s Lecture in the Humanities as part of the E.N. Thompson Forum on World Issues in Lincoln, Nebraska, placed the challenges of the year in perspective.

“The Constitution was written for this time and moment,” he told his audience then.

In answering audience questions, he encouraged his listeners to “engage someone with whom you disagree.”

“Bear witness,” he said. “You can join the arena.”

Meacham is one of America’s leading presidential historians and scholars as well as an award-winning writer and a contributing editor at Time. One of several bestselling books authored by Meacham, American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House won the Pulitzer Prize in 2009. His most recent book is The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels.

Meacham is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a fellow of the Society of American Historians, and chairs the National Advisory Board of the John C. Danforth Center on Religion and Politics at Washington University, qualifications which will shape his Friday lecture, where he will share his reflections on the lasting power of the Constitution, and on the nation’s future. 

The five-minute speech at the DNC was ample time for Meacham to spread his message. He invoked the words of Martin Luther King Jr. to call of unity in a time of unrest. 

“In his final Sunday sermon days before his death, Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘We are tied together in the single garment of destiny.’ This is the way God’s universe is made, this is the way it is structured. A single garment of destiny,” Meacham told the virtual DNC audience. 

Meacham ended his speech with his endorsement of Biden and a call for people to use their voices and their votes for justice.

“The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice. Bending that arc requires all of us. It requires ‘We the People,’” Meacham said. “… With our voices and our votes, let us now write the next chapter of the American story; one of hope, of love, of justice. If we do so, we might just save our country. And our souls.”

Meacham has spent his entire career studying the history of America, specifically, the history of American Presidency. A graduate of The University of the South, Meacham is a Distinguished Visiting Professor of History at The University of the South and a Visiting Distinguished Professor at Vanderbilt. 

This program is made possible by The Susan Hirt Hagen Lectures Fund.

New York Times Magazine journalist Emily Bazelon to discuss voting rights and the Constitution

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In Emily Bazelon’s estimation, the separation between politics and law has always been foggy.

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Historically, it’s been judges who are the ones that have professed to sharpen it.

“In July 2013, Aimee Stephens wrote a letter to her co-workers and her employer at a funeral home in the Detroit area, where she had worked for six years,” wrote Bazelon — a journalist, author and activist — in “How Will Trump’s Supreme Court Remake America?,” a cover story for The New York Times Magazine. “After four years of counseling, Stephens explained that she was transitioning from being a man to being a woman, and so, at the end of an upcoming vacation, she would come back to work as her ‘true self,’ wearing women’s business attire. Stephens’ boss told her that her self-presentation would harm his clients and business, and he fired her.”

Stephens’ case eventually ended up before the Supreme Court, where an exchange between Stephens’ lawyer and Justice Neil Gorsuch ended up playing a key role.

“Gorsuch, who was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Trump in 2017, asked (Stephens’ lawyer David Cole), who is the national legal director for the A.C.L.U., how judges should now interpret an ‘old’ law, written in a different era,” Bazelon wrote. “This question is of particular importance to Gorsuch, who says he uses a method called textualism for deciding cases that involve a statute like Title VII. He believes that judges should focus only on the plain meaning of the text.”

At 10:45 a.m. EDT Thursday, Aug. 20, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform, Bazelon will give a lecture on “Voting and the Constitution” to a virtual audience as part of the Week Eight Chautauqua Lecture Series theme, “Reframing the Constitution.” She’ll discuss how voting rights are — and are not — protected in the U.S. Constitution, and what challenges to mechanics of voting lie ahead for the 2020 election. In addition to being a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine, Bazelon is the Truman Capote Fellow for Creative Writing and Law at Yale Law School, the author of Charged: The New Movement to Transform American Prosecution and End Mass Incarceration and a co-host of Slate’s “Political Gabfest” podcast. 

“We’re honored to have one of the country’s leading legal journalists join us during this week for a far-ranging conversation in the U.S. Constitution, from issues around voting rights and what is and is not explicitly stated and protected in the Constitution to the potential for amendments in our near future,” said Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education.

Among her numerous stories covering legal issues from the Supreme Court, to mass incarceration, to voting rights, is a May cover story for The New York Tiimes Magazine that posed the question: Will Americans lose their right to vote in the pandemic? 

“Before the coronavirus, the 2020 election was already vulnerable to disinformation campaigns, foreign interference and the country’s increasing polarization. The pandemic creates other challenges,” Bazelon wrote. “In a nightmare scenario, officials could use the virus as an excuse to shut the polls selectively, to the benefit of their party. Or state legislatures could invoke the power the Constitution gives them to choose the electors who cast votes in the Electoral College, and thus actually select the president. (The states turned this power over to the voters in the 19th century, but they could try to take it back.) Any move like that would surely land in the Supreme Court, which has its own deepening groove of ideological division — and the dubious history of Bush v. Gore, the case in which the court intervened to effectively decide the outcome of the 2000 election.”

In her February cover story for The New York Times Magazine, Bazelon examined that “deepening groove of ideological division,” and wrote that since the 1960s, conservatives have often derided liberal judges as “activists” who bend the law to make big changes.

“Until his departure in 2018, Justice (Anthony) Kennedy held the Supreme Court’s swing vote and (like Sandra Day O’Connor before him) restrained his fellow conservatives by forging a kind of national compromise on abortion rights, marriage equality, gun laws, the regulatory powers of federal agencies and the scope of the death penalty,” Bazelon wrote. 

According to Bazelon, Gorsuch, along with Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, have become the next generation of conservatives who aren’t afraid to alter laws.

“The more that conservatives on the court want to overturn precedents and strike down laws, the more useful it is for them to claim a coherent philosophy that seems to merely follow the dictates of the Constitution or a statute,” she wrote.

This program is made possible by the Richard Newman Campen Chautauqua Impressions Fund and the Donald Chace Shaw Fund.

Cato Institute Chairman Robert A. Levy to discuss the founding fathers’ vision of limited government for Week Eight Lecture

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Robert A. Levy knows that Americans have a lot of misconceptions about libertarianism.

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“Most people think libertarianism is synonymous with conservatism, which it is not,” he said. “Libertarians tend to be conservative on some issues, and they tend to be the fiscal issues: taxes, regulations, spending — but we are very liberal on other issues, things like marriage equality, drug legalization, liberalized immigration policy, civil liberties and, certainly, a non-interventionist foreign policy.”

While these party-crossing beliefs lead critics to call libertarians ideologically inconsistent, Levy argues the opposite.

“Conservatives want less government, except in your bedroom, and the liberals want more government, except in your bedroom,” he said. “Libertarians are quite consistent in wanting small government across the board. We want a government that stays out of our wallet and stays out of our bedroom and stays out of foreign entanglements, unless our vital interests are at stake.”

Levy is a Constitutional scholar, former Georgetown University law professor and chairman of the board of directors at the Cato Institute, a liberterian think-tank headquartered in Washington D.C. He will be speaking as part of Week Eight’s Chautauqua Lecture Series theme, “Reframing the Constitution.”

His talk, “The Founding Fathers’ Vision” will air at 10:45 a.m. EDT Wednesday, Aug. 19, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform.

In a week centered around the Constitution and its potential reformation, Levy will argue that the reform needed is not further distance from, but a return to, the framers’ original limited-government intentions.

“I’m going to talk about how the U.S. Constitution should be interpreted,” he said. “And I’m going to argue that the Supreme Court has occasionally subverted the original design, and I will recommend a few steps that I think are necessary to restore Constitutional government.”

Levy will discuss the two main schools of thought when it comes to interpreting the Constitution: textualism, favored by conservative judges, and the living Constitution, more commonly used by liberals. Levy is a practitioner of textualism.

“The conservatives believe that the words in the document tell us how the document ought to be interpreted,” he said. “And the liberals believe that the Constitution is this evolving document and you can pretty much disregard the words and make sure that (it) conforms to changing cultural, technological, social (and) political happenings over time.”

Over the last 200 years, a succession of Supreme Court decisions have expanded the power and reach of the federal government, in what Levy calls a “bastardization” of the Founding Fathers’ original intentions.

“It did not happen in one fell swoop; it evolved over time as a result of a number of different cases and culminated with the New Deal under the Roosevelt administration and the Court at the time,” he said. “Now we have the federal government involved in everything from health care to education, to welfare to housing, to aid to the arts.”

For Levy, the Founding Fathers’ vision is most clearly laid out in the last two amendments in the Bill of Rights.

“The 10th Amendment specifically says the federal government only has the powers that are enumerated (in the Constitution),” he said. “The Ninth Amendment is just the reverse; it specifically says that individuals have a broad list of rights, those that are enumerated in the Constitution, … but also rights that are not enumerated, rights that we had before the (it) was written, before the government was even formed, and that we still retain.”

For this reason, Levy believes that through the libertarian view of government, Americans can most clearly see the America the founding fathers hoped for.

“That was the framing intention; that we would have a broad panoply of rights, but the government would have very limited power,” he said. “We, libertarians, believe in a very broad list of rights, and a strictly limited list of governmental powers.”

This program is made possible by the John M. Wadsworth Lectureship on Free Market and Libertarian Principles.

Johns Hopkins professor Martha Jones to speak on history of voter suppression, Nineteenth Amendment

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The average election day in the United States goes something like this: 

Assuming their work schedules will allow it, voters find their spot at the end of hours-long waiting lines at their polling location — given that the location was not shut down without notice. Once they reach the check-in point, they cross their fingers hoping their registration — filed ahead of time in accordance to varying state deadlines — was not purged without their knowledge. Once the voter has satisfied the ID requirements of their particular state, they enter the booth and hope that the machine is functioning and uncompromised

Voting — a right guaranteed by the government — has been guarded by hurdles at every corner. According to Martha Jones, the Society of Black Alumni Presidential Professor and Professor of History at Johns Hopkins University, this is just the newest chapter in a centuries-long tale of voter suppression in the United States.

Jones will return to Chautauqua Institution for the second time this season to discuss voter suppression at 10:45 a.m. EDT Tuesday, Aug. 18, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform with a presentation titled “The Onerous Process of Amending the Constitution” as part of the Week Eight Chautauqua Lecture Series theme, “Reframing the Constitution.” The presentation is a look at how Constitutional amendments regarding voting rights do not always ensure Americans the vote. 

“I want people to think hard about what it means when — whether it’s in Washington or it’s in your state legislature — lawmakers appear to be ready to stand by while we all struggle in many, many different ways to cast ballots in 2020,” Jones said. “I want people to appreciate that there’s nothing purely circumstantial about what we’re facing this November — that this country has a history of voter suppression, and it’s taken many forms.”

The presentation uses the 19th Amendment as a case study. The amendment states that no state shall deny someone the right to vote on account of their sex. But, it does not prohibit any other barrier to voting. 

What would it be like if we actually guaranteed to all Americans the right to vote if the burden was on the state to ensure that we could cast our ballots? We would not be having this debate about (voting) by mail and the like,” Jones said. “We would understand that the government was responsible for ensuring our ability to cast ballots. But, we live in a regime that leaves the individual states with a great deal of latitude.”

“I want to look at the ways in which the amendment prohibits the states from doing things, but doesn’t promise to any American woman that she will be able to cast a ballot,” Jones said. “Many things (kept) women from the polls after 1920, including state requirements related to age, residency and citizenship, state requirements related to poll taxes, literacy tests, and the Jim Crow facets of state level voting rights.”

In 2020, Jones pointed out that voters face another issue keeping them from voting: the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Of course, COVID-19 presents people with a profound dilemma: Do I risk my health and my well being in order to cast the ballot? That was (also) true in 1920 for Black women who knew they would face intimidation and Klan-style violence if they tried to go to the polls,” Jones said. “Today, some of us are going to be asked to risk our health and maybe our lives in order to get to the polls.”

With the fear of mass gatherings at polling locations, many are expressing interest in mail-in voting. But President Donald Trump admitted to cutting funds to the USPS ahead of the election to slow down mail-in votes which he fears will lose him the November election. Many have called this a blatant act of voter suppression

“What would it be like if we actually guaranteed to all Americans the right to vote if the burden was on the state to ensure that we could cast our ballots? We would not be having this debate about (voting) by mail and the like,” Jones said. “We would understand that the government was responsible for ensuring our ability to cast ballots. But, we live in a regime that leaves the individual states with a great deal of latitude.”

Jones will also lead a three-day scholar-in-residence seminar — from Wednesday, Aug. 19, to Friday, Aug. 21 — titled “The Right to Vote?: Why Constitution Amendments Have Never Been Enough.” In this, Jones will extend on her presentation’s subject, while looking at three specific suffrage narratives: those of Black men, white women, and Black women. 

“I wanted to underscore that even something as momentous as a 15th or 19th Amendment does not guarantee any American the right to vote,” Jones said. “Still here in 2020 we recognize that we have to remain vigilant, that there are many kinds of vagaries Americans encounter — some of them sinister, some of them not so sinister, that are still impediments to the polls.”

This program is made possible by the Edward L. Anderson Jr. Foundation, Inc.

Leading the charge: Jeffery Rosen and the fourth battle for the constitution

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Rosen

In a time of great political polarization and unrest, Jeffery Rosen has chosen his side: the Constitution. 

In what he calls a battle for the Constitution, Rosen leads the charge as the president and chief executive officer of the National Constitution Center, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization that seeks to educate the public about the Constitution.

Recently, the center launched a new project in partnership with The Atlantic called “The Battle For the Constitution,” intended to discuss the issues and controversies around the founding document from a Constitutional perspective rather than a political one. 

Rosen will explore this project in his lecture “The Fourth Battle for the Constitution” at 10:45 a.m. EDT Monday, Aug. 17, on the CHQ Assembly Virtual Platform. The lecture will open Week Eight of the Chautauqua Lecture Series; the theme for the week is “Reframing The Constitution.” 

A professor at The George Washington University Law School and contributing editor to The Atlantic, Rosen has authored six books, as well as had his writings featured in The New York Times Magazine and National Public Radio, among others. 

His newest book, Conversations with RBG: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life, Love, Liberty, and Law, was published in November 2019.

Rosen became the president of the NCC in 2013, and has developed the center’s Interactive Constitution, an online resource and platform which brings together top scholars, both conservative and liberal, to discuss areas of agreement and disagreement about each clause of the Constitution. 

The NCC, located on Independence Mall in Philadelphia, steps from where the Constitution was signed, places an emphasis on nonpartisanship and open discussion from all sides. 

“The more I participate in Constitutional conversations, the more convinced I am that the Constitution is a conversation — one where citizens of different backgrounds and perspectives can disagree respectfully and energetically about the Constitutional text and shape its meaning in the future,” Rosen wrote on the NCC website

In his Atlantic article “The Fourth Battle for the Constitution,” Rosen discusses what he believes to be the culmination of years of Constitutional debate as the Supreme Court draws closer to providing answers to what he calls “some of the most hotly contested questions of Constitutional law.”

“Our goal is to convene the leading Constitutional scholars in America — progressive, conservative, libertarian, or idiosyncratic — to write about the Constitutional debates at the center of American life,” Rosen wrote. “The stakes of this battle are enormous, and we hope that the essays in this nonpartisan project will provide readers with the context, analysis, and perspective needed to make sense of it all.”

Institution Vice President and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education Matt Ewalt believes that Rosen is the ideal speaker to open the week on the Constitution, as his experience with educating the public on Constitutional issues and discussions takes scholarly material and makes it accessible to any and everyone. 

“As he has done on the Amphitheater stage and throughout his tenure at the National Constitution Center, Jeff Rosen is able to guide us through this founding document, from historical context to interpretation to ramifications today like no one else in this country,” Ewalt said. 

This program is made possible by The Higie Family Lectureship.

International human rights attorney Flynn Coleman to alleviate AI, technology fears

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It’s only natural to fear the potential of rapidly advancing technology. By portraying artificial intelligence as the root of dystopian dangers and apocalyptic reverberations, science fiction has a tendency to leave its readers dreading the rise of self-aware robotic overlords.

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But Flynn Coleman, an international human rights attorney, said there is a more tangible reason people don’t trust algorithms. 

“These aren’t just outlandish future concerns,” Coleman said. “Algorithms are already racist, sexist, incredibly prejudiced and incredibly biased. We are way deeper into this than we realize.”

However, she added, “I’m working on it.”  

Coleman will deliver her lecture, “The Human Algorithm,” at 10:45 a.m. EDT on Friday, Aug. 14, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform, as part of the Week Seven Chautauqua Lecture Series theme, “The Science of Us.” Coleman is a writer, public speaker, professor, Harvard fellow and social innovator who has worked with the United Nations, the United States federal government, and international corporations and human rights organizations around the world. 

The premise of Coleman’s presentation is her 2019 book, A Human Algorithm: How Artificial Intelligence Is Redefining Who We Are, which examines the impact intelligent technology “can and will have on humanity.”

We are only as safe and healthy as the most marginalized among us,” Coleman said. “If we don’t build equity, empathy and justice into our societal structures and technological tools, we start to see that the fabric of our nation tears.”

“I am always thinking about how we can use human ingenuity and innovation to create a better world and imagine a better society for the generations that will be,” she said. “To talk about the future of technology, you must also include talking about these intelligent technologies we are creating that could be smarter than we are or could ever be.”

“Everything is intertwined and connected,” she said, so one also can’t talk about intelligent technologies without talking about reconfiguring economic and educational systems alongside them. 

“We are only as safe and healthy as the most marginalized among us,” Coleman said. “If we don’t build equity, empathy and justice into our societal structures and technological tools, we start to see that the fabric of our nation tears.”

The goal then becomes centering the most marginalized; the people most proximate to problems need to be most proximate to solutions.

“The technology we build will mirror its designers, so I knew from the beginning we needed more inclusion, representation and diversity at the table,” Coleman said. “We should all have a voice and a say in the future of tech, because it affects everyone. We need to build tools we would be proud to leave for the ages.”

To “wholeheartedly believe it’s for the best,” Coleman argues it is critical to instill values, ethics and morals into robots, algorithms, and other forms of AI. Equally important then is developing and implementing laws, policies and oversight mechanisms to protect people from “tech’s insidious threats.”

Avoiding that hard work is minacious, according to Coleman.

“Exclusionary practices in which our future is being built without that democratic process is incredibly dangerous,” she said. “These tools will be used no matter what; the only question is by who, and will we be using them for the good of all or only sharing the benefits with a select few?” 

Viewing artificial intelligence as a “partner for all” rather than a threat or a savior, Coleman said can serve as a “lens through which we can view humanity.” These machines, while challenging our personal beliefs and our socioeconomic world order, also have the potential to “transform health and well-being, alleviate poverty and suffering, and reveal further mysteries of intelligence and consciousness.” 

No matter what the problem is — from a pandemic to climate change — Coleman said the mission is to learn how to treat one another better in the process of solving it, regardless of whether or not technology takes part.

“When that small part of ourselves says that to feel better about ourselves we need someone else to feel less than, that’s the root of all danger that comes our way,” Coleman said. “You don’t have to be exceptional and the only center of the universe to be powerful and brilliant. Making room for other kinds of brilliance and living things? That widens our lens.”

This program is made possible by the Week Seven “Program Sponsor” Allegheny Health Network and The Charles and Gail Gamble Lecture Endowment. 

‘Race is not a science’: British science journalist Angela Saini to speak on racism and its continued effect in society

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In 2019, Angela Saini published her book, Superior: The Return of Race Science. But she’d like to clarify: Though the word resides in its title, Superior is not a science book, because there is no science to race.

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Superior, rather, serves as a historical guide, tracing the past, present and future of how notions  of inferiority and superiority “live on in people’s imaginations.”

“When you start to understand the history and the political elements of race and how this idea was constructed over many centuries, then you can begin to dismantle it in your head,” Saini said. “Slowly, as we start to do that as individuals, we can do that as societies and as institutions.” 

Saini, science journalist, broadcaster and author, will deliver her lecture, “The Return of Race Science” at 10:45 a.m. EDT on Thursday, Aug. 13, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform, as part of the Week Seven Chautauqua Lecture Series theme, “The Science of Us.” 

The classifications were so arbitrary that they had no biological meaning anymore,” Saini said. “That’s what finally broke the glass.”

In her presentation, Saini said she plans to explore propositions suggesting race has any kind of “biological validity, considering it’s something scientists tell us again and again is a social construct.”

“I want to dismantle the ways in which modern Western science constructed the idea of race and built upon that,” Saini said. “Then, I want to explore the way that the legacy lives on in medicine, genetics, DNA ancestry testing and also in the alt-right and far-right; how these ideas get used and abused in ethnic nationalism and white supremacy.”

Most find it hard to believe, Saini said, but before World War II, being racist was not seen as an unfavorable attribute the way it is currently. In fact, the concept of subspecies among the human race was “widely held” by many Western scientists across Europe and the United States.

“That view wasn’t seen as marginal at all — it was seen as something totally acceptable,” she said. “Somehow, even the concept of eugenics was tolerable; favorable, even. (Eugenics) was taught in universities and talked about by public figures on both the left and right.” 

Eugenics is the study of arranging reproduction within a human population to increase the occurrence of heritable characteristics considered to be most desirable. Because Nazis in Germany tried to biologize identity, Saini said eugenics was also the philosophy “partially behind the Holocaust.” 

The consequences of the Holocaust were so harrowing, mainstream science turned its back on race science.

“The classifications were so arbitrary that they had no biological meaning anymore,” Saini said. “That’s what finally broke the glass.”

Even though the global population appeared to come together in the wake of the genocide, Saini said for some scientists, it was already too late. 

“They couldn’t imagine a world where race didn’t matter,” she said. 

The scientists “at fault” weren’t solely responsible. According to Saini, the superiority complex lives on in citizens of societies that have experienced colonialism or slavery, or have been the perpertrators of either of those things. Two prime examples: the United States and United Kingdom. 

For example, during the Brexit “Vote Leave” campaign, Saini said the debate around the issue occasionally shifted into a racialized question about whether Brits wanted “more immigration or not.”

“Some people discussed their wish to return to some kind of British empire again, failing to understand that this is not seen as a good thing by historians,” she said. “Those ideas about what makes Britain special or what makes Britain great were playing out — underlying some of that was this idea of racial superiority.”

The most obvious difference between the U.S. and London these days is that race and ethnicity are “always a point of discussion in the States,” she said.

“If there is one thing I think I have found about the States that is different than London these days, it’s that my race and ethnicity is constantly being observed and commented on, and I think that speaks to how racialized the United States has become,” she said.

Racism has been a constant throughout history, Saini said, and clearly, it’s something that will take years to fully remove. 

“I don’t think we will see the end of it in my lifetime,” Saini said. 

What it requires is a “huge amount of reflection and introspection,” Saini said. People are exposed to norms and social constructs early on in life, meaning that looking outside of them, ultimately changing them, comes with a number of challenges. 

“I was raised with these norms and ideas just like everybody else in the society I live in,” Saini said. “I wasn’t even taught about Britain’s involvement in the slave trade. But, because of things like the Black Lives Matter movement, people are starting to educate themselves. In that process, the world will change.”

This program is made possible by the Week Seven “Program Sponsor” Allegheny Health Network and the G. Thomas and Kathleen Harrick Lectureship Endowment.

Investigative journalist, author Sheri Fink to discuss shortcomings in COVID-19 response

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Fink

In 2009, Sheri Fink published her investigative piece “The Deadly Choices at Memorial” in the New York Times Magazine. The article, which distilled more than two years of reporting, detailed the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina at the New Orleans Memorial Medical Center in 2005. It won a 2010 Pulitzer Prize and a National Magazine Award for investigative reporting.

She later transformed the 13,000-word article into a nearly 600-page book, Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital, which she presented at the Institution as a Chautauqua Literary and Scientific Circle author in 2014. It won a PEN/John Kenneth Galbraith Award and National Book Critics Circle Award for General Nonfiction.

As of April, Fink is once again being honored for her work recording history in hospital halls. This time, for a story with a global impact — the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Dr. Fink is able to look inside such a crisis to understand both the science and the humanity — from the gut-wrenching decisions of doctors and nurses at overcrowded hospitals, to the impact on individual families amid continued political debates,” said Vice President and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education Matt Ewalt.

Fink will deliver her lecture, “Inside the Science of and Response to COVID-19” at 10:45 a.m. EDT on Tuesday, Aug. 11, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform, as part of the Week Seven Chautauqua Lecture Series theme, “The Science of Us.” In addition to her work as an award-winning author, Fink serves as an executive producer of the Netflix documentary television series “Pandemic: How to Prevent an Outbreak” and a correspondent at The New York Times.

Fink, and her New York Times colleague Mike Baker, won the April Sidney Award for “It’s Just Everywhere Already: How Delays in Testing Set Back the U.S. Coronavirus Response,” a critical early scoop that revealed how state and federal regulators stymied a flu surveillance lab in Washington State.

“There were people getting sick and we didn’t know about it,” Fink said in an interview with the Sidney Hillman Foundation. “There were researchers who were ready and willing to (test) very early on. It’s very, very sad that that capacity couldn’t have been used.”

Fink and Baker’s investigation began in late January, when the first confirmed United States case of coronavirus surfaced in the greater Seattle area. Helen Chu, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Washington, and her colleagues had already been collecting nasal swabs from people in the Puget Sound region as part of their ongoing flu surveillance project. To repurpose their testing to monitor the spread of the virus, Chu and her team needed the support of state and local officials. However, according to Fink, they were denied for weeks. 

“I think the bottom line is that there wasn’t alacrity,” Fink told the Hillman Foundation. “There was this very dangerous virus and it was known many, many weeks before that it had two features that make scientists concerned: One, that it had the capacity to cause serious disease, and two, that it had the capacity to transmit effectively from person to person.”

In late February, Chu started testing the nasal swabs without government approval. The results established the coronavirus had been circulating in the community for at least six weeks. At that point, two people had already died. 

“It’s very, very sad that that capacity couldn’t have been used,” Fink said in that interview. “Here was a system that actually existed that had hundreds and hundreds of samples from people who were symptomatic with flu-like symptoms, which looks a lot like coronavirus, and they were sitting on this and not testing because of these obstacles.”

The United States, which accounts for less than 5% of the world population, currently leads all other countries in global coronavirus infections and deaths. The nation represents more than 22% of global coronavirus deaths and more than 25% of infections as of Wednesday, Aug. 5, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

“I think that’s very representative of this larger failure to roll out and significantly increase the capacity to test in this country, both in the private sector and in our public health labs,” Fink told the Hillman Foundation. 

Fink and Baker’s story, one of the first of many scoops that revealed aspects of the federal government’s mismanagement of the COVID-19 pandemic, exposed the beginning of a broader pattern still coming to light. According to Ewalt, that insight makes Fink a quintessential contributor to the Week Seven conversation.

“‘The Science of Us’ during the COVID-19 crisis, of what we know and don’t know, of what we choose to believe and how we respond, was clearly a topic we needed to explore this summer,” Ewalt said.

This program is made possible by the Week Seven “Program Sponsor” Allegheny Health Network and the Donald West King and Francis Lila King Lectureship.

 

Theoretical physicist Brian Greene to discuss his new book, Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe

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For the majority of the population, theoretical physics is just that — theoretical. Maybe it was studied briefly in a high school physics class, or maybe dabbled in during college, but oftentimes theoretical physics remains, for most people, a mystery.

Brian Greene is not one of these people. In fact, Greene is one of the world’s leading theoretical physicists, boasting degrees from Harvard University and Oxford University and currently serving as the director of Columbia University’s Center for Theoretical Physics, where he is also a professor of physics and mathematics. 

A Rhodes Scholar and best-selling author, Greene will open the Chautauqua Lecture Series week on “The Science of Us” with his lecture, “Mind, Matter and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe” at 10:45 a.m. EDT on Monday, Aug. 10, on the CHQ Assembly Virtual Platform.

Theoretical physics is a branch of physics which explains, rationalizes and predicts natural phenomena through the study of mathematical models and abstractions of physical objects and systems. 

Simplified, theoretical physics is an attempt to understand the world by creating models of reality, in contrast to experimental physics which involves actual interaction with whatever is being studied, from pushing a sphere down a hill to measuring the speed of light particles. 

Greene is well known for the books he has authored: The Elegant Universe, The Fabric of the Cosmos, The Hidden Reality and, his most recent publication, Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe. Combined, these books have sold over 2 million copies and have been translated into 40 languages, and have spent a collective 68 weeks on the New York Times bestsellers list. 

In addition to his work as an author and professor, Greene is also the co-founder of The World Science Festival, which, according to its website, seeks to “cultivate a general public informed by science, inspired by its wonder, convinced of its value, and prepared to engage with its implications for the future.”

The theme for Week Seven, “The Science of Us,” centers on discussion of the social and historical impact of 21st-century scientific developments, and the implications that new understandings of heritage and ethnicity have on community development and socioeconomic models moving forward. Greene’s lecture will touch on these topics, as well as giving an overview of his new work, Until the End of Time: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe, which explores deep time and humanity’s search for purpose. 

Vice President and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education Matt Ewalt said that Greene will offer a unique perspective on the week’s topic. 

“In a week in which we consider how 21st-century science is shaping how we think of ‘us’ as a species, Brian Greene begins at the very beginning and looks to the end of time as we know it, examining how we came to be, our role in the vast universe and humanity’s continued search for meaning,” Ewalt said.

Ewalt said he was excited to collaborate with Greene’s production team at the World Science Festival, who have produced a 50-minute program with “exceptional graphics and animations” to accompany Greene’s lecture.

This program is made possible by the Week Seven “Program Sponsor” Allegheny Health Network and the Barbara R. Foorman Science Literacy Endowment.

Moriah Balingit, national education reporter at ‘The Washington Post,’ closes Chautauqua’s week on public education

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When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, education beat reporters have two chances at “fresh starts” to the year — the calendar year, in January, and the academic year, in August.

Moriah Balingit, the national education reporter for The Washington Post, didn’t have a set list of resolutions per se when it came to her work, but in a January episode of EWA Radio, the Education Writers Association’s podcast, she shared with host Emily Richmond a list of stories she hoped to be seeing more coverage of in 2020.

That list included topics like food stamp rules impacting the number of American students on free and reduced meals, and resulting stories about “lunch-shaming” told from the perspective of the lunch workers who have to employ such policies, and the students and families being impacted by them. Balingit also wanted to see coverage on school safety, and classroom conditions.

But the big topic, she said, is equity.

“One of the principles I’m trying to think about more as I move into the new year, and I’m going to try to do it with more intention, is that the U.S. education system is supposed to be, as Horace Mann put it, a great equalizer,” she told Richmond. “And anybody who has covered schools or attended schools knows that that is absolutely not the case. In fact, in some cases, it seems to have the opposite effect. It creates greater gaps, greater barriers for children who are already growing up in challenging circumstances. In some ways, it would be easy to get complacent about the system we currently have … and accept it as the norm, but that’s not the principle the system was built on initially.”

Balingit, who was a finalist for her beat coverage in the 2019 National Awards for Education Reporting, will participate in a special installment of the Chautauqua Lecture Series at 1 p.m. EDT Friday, Aug. 7, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform, closing the Week Six theme of “Rebuilding Public Education.” Matt Ewalt, vice president and Emily and Richard Smucker Chair for Education, said Balingit will “share her learnings as a journalist covering education at the national level, speaking with teachers, administrators, students and parents at a time of great anxiety and fear.”

Balingit started working at the Post in 2014, as a graduate student fellow from American University, where she earned a master’s degree in journalism and public affairs while covering Virginia schools. Prior to joining the Post, she covered crime and city hall for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where she earned fellowships from the International Center for Journalists and the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting to report on the rise of labor unions in Bangladesh’s garment industry and on Nepal’s Bhutanese refugees.

Her work lately has centered on schools reopening amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and districts cutting ties with police and school resource officers following Black Lives Matter protests.

“We’ve heard the issue of equity from all of this week’s speakers on public education, and Ms. Balingit brings particular interest and insight as a journalist on how the great challenges within public education are tied to systemic failures in other sectors of our economy and culture,” Ewalt said.

This program is made possible by Dorothy M. Wissel Lectureship.

Mississippi state superintendent to speak on historial educational gains

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When Carey Wright began her position as Mississippi state superintendent in 2013, she was met with a culture of low expectations for student performance. She knew that had to change.

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“Children can do and will do what you tell them they can and will do, and support them in doing it,” Wright said. “That’s been my foundational belief my entire life as an educator, and we’ve proved that possible here in a state (where) I don’t think they thought it was possible.”

In the seven years since she started in her position, Mississippi public schools have made massive gains in education. In 2020, Education Week’s Quality Counts ranked Mississippi second in the nation for improvement in education. Student participation has doubled in Advanced Placement classes. Student achievement on the National Assessment of Education Progress improved at a rate faster than the majority of the country. 

At 10:45 a.m. EDT Friday, Aug. 7, on the CHQ Assembly Video Platform, Wright will present the story of Mississippi’s education reformation as part of Week Six’s Chautauqua Lecture Series theme, “Rebuilding Public Education.”

“The major theme (of the lecture) is really about the historic education achievement gains that Mississippi has made. It’s really the story of how this came to be, and the policies and processes that we put in place, belief systems that we used to drive our work, etc.,” Wright said. “This is really kind of a detailed story of Mississippi before and Mississippi now.”

Wright spearheaded many initiatives responsible for these gains, including several key pieces of legislation. 

In 2013, the Early Learning Collaborative Act was established, providing Mississipians their first public pre-K program funded by the state government. The same year, the state passed the Literacy-Based Promotion Act which required third-grade students to pass a literacy test before advancing to the fourth grade. Along with this, tests were mandated for new elementary teachers to ensure they understood the foundation skills and science of reading.

“For me, the classroom has always been my heart. I started out as a teacher, then was an elementary school principal for a number of years. I just really believe that the magic takes place in the classroom. So, if we could do the best that we could to build teacher capacity in order to teach what we knew they needed to be teaching, … it would pay off for us,” Wright said. “I really invested in teachers and in their professional development. We more than doubled down on the amount of professional development we have been providing teachers across the state.”

During this process, Wright reached out to the Region Education Laboratory, an educational research center, to observe the classroom consequences of Mississippi’s new legislation. After observing hundreds of teachers across the state, REL and Wright found that teachers felt more secure in their understanding of the science of reading after their professional development. 

At the same time, Wright and the public school system also wanted to bring reform to high schools. 

“We found that not all high schools were offering Advanced Placement — so we had an Advanced Placement initiative and it more than doubled the number of kids not only enrolled in Advanced Placement, but it also took our pass rate to an all-time high,” Wright said. “So, it let me know that there were a lot of kids out there that needed that access, but weren’t getting it.”

Wright’s expectations were set by her time as an educator across the country. She began her career as a teacher for second through sixth grades, and moved onto an elementary principal position in Maryland. Wright then moved to Washington D.C. to work in an education administration position before moving to Mississippi in 2013. 

In her time as an educator, Wright has learned to use a research-based approach when setting standards and reforming education. She urges other educators to look at the research, base their policy around that and then stick to it, no matter how tedious the journey is. 

Above all else, Wright believes that educators should stress the importance of literacy at an early age. 

“Reading is the gateway to every other subject in the world. We need to ensure that all of our children are strong readers,” Wright said. “That, to me, is … the big essence of my presentation, that you’ve got to focus first (in literacy).”

This program is made possible by the George and Julie Follansbee Family Fund.

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