Housed in The Academies’ complex at 17 Norton Hall, the History Department has been leading weekly discussions about contemporary debates since early February. Some of the previous weeks’ topics have included “Refugees, The Electoral College, and other Constitutional Mysteries Explained,” “It’s Complicated: Why the Obamacare Law Had to be One Thousand Pages Long,” and “Voting Rights and Civil Rights: Lessons from a Century of Resistance.” This week’s lecture and discussion was titled “Historical Fascism and the New Populist Right in Europe in America: Definition and Comparison.” It was led by professor Sasha Pack, who received his Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin in 2004 and has been studying the history of Modern Europe at the University at Buffalo since, especially Spain and the Mediterranean in the 1800s and 1900s. He has researched and written about different authoritarian regimes of the recent past, and how these regimes have affected international relations, which further influences travel, tourism, and international perspectives.
With all the recent public discussion over charter schools, school choice, etc. that have been brought into the spotlight by Betsy DeVos’ appointment, I’ve been trying to catch up on some recent news in education policy.
This week, a New York Times article entitled “Want to Fix Schools? Go to the Principal’s office” caught my eye. The article reminds us that principals have, for the large part, been left out of the national debate on what should be done to improve education, which is silly, because every other institution focuses on efficiency and innovation at all levels of leadership.
Sensationalism in the media is not a new thing. It has been prevalent for decades, after the Nixon administration kind of shattered the tentative good will that kept reporters from trying to dig up any dirt they could on political candidates or office holders. What’s new is the speed with which they can communicate this dirt – spreading it to thousands of iPhones in record time, notably, record time during which no one is able to refute or double check the claim, thereby increasing the number or unsubstantiated rumors which can turn into fact very rapidly, whether intentionally or unintentionally crafted.
The title of this article is an alternative fact. Something I could have stated more accurately, though it was not an intentional misrepresentation of reality. The best thing I read this week only had about 30 written words, and I didn’t actually take the time to read them. The lack of words actually enhanced the experience, because what was portrayed could not have been so wondrously represented by written word alone. I got to step into the closet of Yves Saint Laurent. Virtually, of course, but the New York Times 360 videos give the viewer so much power that it feels as though you’re actually there.
Last week, I covered the Chris Collins protest as an assignment for Keith McShea’s journalism class. This was my first “official” reporting experience, where I went to an event with the explicit purpose of observing without participating, and sharing unbiased details of the demonstration. I have interviewed people before (one time, for my Creative Nonfiction Writing Class last semester, if we’re being exact), and it was intimidating even though it was someone I already knew. I interviewed my old math professor, who had grown up in communist Romania, and was a wise, take-no-shit kind of person. I was nervous to interview him. I didn’t want to pry or ask things that were too personal, and I wasn’t sure if the memories and experiences from the Romanian revolution would be hard for him to discuss. I also didn’t want to seem ignorant, or like I was in some way ostracizing him, which were both likely to happen as my educational background (in American, adamantly pro-capitalist school systems) gave me no context in which to view a communist regime except that of a kind of estranged horror, like watching a lion eat a baby. It seems like such a strange concept I can’t imagine it really happened, and if you tell me it did happen part of me won’t believe you and the other part will be completely baffled and horrified by the notion. But the interview was easy. He was willing to share information, and he talked openly about his life. I barely had to do anything.
The epigram that has been taught to every 2nd grade American child since the Revolutionary War made its way back into the public discourse on Monday as citizens celebrated Presidents Day by protesting Congressman Chris Collins’ lack of receptivity to their requests for open discussion. These people of the 27th district of New York State feel they are being unjustly represented, as Christopher Collins has refused to hold a town hall meeting to speak with his frustrated constituents. He has refused to do so on the grounds that large meetings are not the best use of time, claiming instead to prefer personal conversations or discussions with small groups as more useful means of listening to people’s concerns. The protesters laughed when speakers brought up this point, shouting that Congressman Collins need only tell them a time and a place and they would gladly meet with him. Their outrage stems from the fact that though he claims to value small group meetings, this is a method he does “not actually seem to be implementing,” as stated by his neighbor and an organizer of the protest, Jenna Wozer.
My favorite piece of the week paid homage to an unsung hero of the early 1900s, introducing him with this phrase: “Meet Santiago Ramón y Cajal, an artist, photographer, doctor, bodybuilder, scientist, chess player and publisher. He was also the father of modern neuroscience.” If the writer of my obituary doesn’t get to have that much fun playing with dynamic adjectives and a snappy punchline to describe my life, I will be severely disappointed.