Maryvale students pose questions to congressman
Higgins first spoke to students about his job representing New York’s 27th Congressional District and the issues he has met throughout his career. Among those issues of importance were healthcare reform, education, and the struggles in Washington due to partisan disagreements.
Before his political career, Higgins was a professor of history and economics at Buffalo State College. Because of his concentration in both areas, he eventually created a course that merged the two: The History of Buffalo and WNY, which addressed the economic rise and decline of the region.
He told students about Buffalo’s most prosperous times, when the region had a strong economy, good jobs, and was a production hub of the northeast. This “rapid rise in Buffalo’s economy” lasted nearly 75 years before it turned into a rapid decline.
After learning a bit about Western New York’s past, students asked the congressman questions about the present and future of the region.
And so began the impressive question-and-answer session.
“Do you think there is still a need for the Department of Education?” asked one student. “In the Constitution, education is supposed to be run by the states.”
“The federal government has a role, and that’s funding education, not really to the extent that the states do,” Higgins answered. “I don’t know that there’s a need to abolish it, but there is a need to change a lot of it. I think that the bottom line is that teachers have a responsibility primarily in the school system, and they should be supported – financially and otherwise – as much as they possibly can. Because their job is just not through growth and learning, but also to instill in you a curiosity about the world. And that’s a tough responsibility. I think the solutions for educational problems are less about the state and local governments and the federal government – they should all be coming together.”
The congressman was next asked about his motivation for developing the waterfront.
“Because everybody talked about it for 50 years and nobody did anything about it,” he quipped before explaining the waterfront’s decline and current endeavors to reverse it. “The idea here is to eject economic activity into an area that’s been economically dead for 50 years. It aims to change the image of Buffalo and Western New York. Our view from the outside [is that] it’s old, declining, industrial – because that’s what the waterfront looks like. The backyards, the front yards, the whole region – if you change that to new, vibrant, youthful optimism, people need to look new at Buffalo and Western New York. When people look at Buffalo differently, that drives their investment decisions. That’s why I decided to take on the Buffalo waterfront. We’ve made more progress in the past 48 months than we’ve made in the past 75 years, and the next three years will be a period of incredible progress.”
Another student asked about efforts to combat cyber bullying, which has been a growing concern among students, parents, teachers, and the general public as a whole.
“Bills are pending,” Higgins explained. “It goes back to the educational system. It’s not only about science and math and history and reading; but it’s also about respecting each other. Our kids are not treating other kids with respect, and the one thing that is part of the educational system is to learn from each other and to learn from kids who are different. So as opposed to ridiculing them for being different, we should try to learn from their differences.”
Higgins then answered a question about healthcare and explained the importance of providing affordable healthcare to everyone because, the congressman said, at some point, everybody needs medical care. He also answered students’ questions about his views on “Race to the Top,” the Bush-era tax cuts for the rich, and the differences among Republicans and Democrats in Congress.
Students and faculty thanked Higgins for his involvement in the assembly, but for the congressman, participating was particularly satisfying.
“Their questions were insightful, thoughtful, and sophisticated, and they varied from foreign policy to domestic policy, and which is obviously a great tribute to all of their teachers,” he said.
When asked about the importance of getting kids engaged in politics, Higgins told The Source:
“Well this is when you shape what they do in the future through the educational process,” he replied. “This is an important part of education, is dealing with an assembly like this and interacting with these kids individually to see what’s on their minds and to answer their questions and curiosities.”