LeMieux Center Fellow Analyzes Public Education, Common Core

Last fall, as the national debate about the Common Core state standards for public schools sparked a fervent dialogue locally, Palm Beach Atlantic University senior Peter Copan found himself wanting to know more.

As a graduate of a public high school in Palm Beach County, Copan felt invested in the topic. So when the honors student heard about the opportunity to apply for a new research fellowship at PBA through the LeMieux Center for Public Policy, he decided to apply for it and to study the Common Core.

Recent Palm Beach Atlantic University graduate Peter Copan was one of the University's first LeMieux Center Fellows. During his senior year, he researched education and the Common Core. PBA is a private, Christ-centered college in West Palm Beach, Fla., USA.
Recent Palm Beach Atlantic University graduate Peter Copan was one of the University's first LeMieux Center Fellows. During his senior year, he researched education and the Common Core.

“I came into PBA thinking I knew what education was, but as I see things now, I was in fact a clueless freshman who had reduced education to a means to an end. I now see education as a laudable end in and of itself,” said Copan, a graduate of Suncoast High School.

He said the thought-provoking discussions he participated in as a student in PBA’s Frederick M. Supper Honors Program, in combination with public town hall meeting on education he attended last fall, solidified his interest.

In November, he was selected to be one of PBA’s first two LeMieux Fellows, which enabled him to do an independent study project on his chosen topic and to receive guidance from retired U.S. Sen. George LeMieux. He also had a faculty mentor, Associate Professor of Political Science Dr. Francisco Plaza.

Through his research, he explored the benefits and drawbacks of the Common Core, its implications for the state and the impact on education and its purpose in the nation.

“I found that there are serious issues with how we understand education,” said Copan. “There is a lot that is driving education,” including consumerism, utilitarianism and other factors, he said.

Dr. Plaza said that Copan's work provides a balanced and objective assessment of the practical and political points of controversy surrounding this educational policy.

"The unique value of this work, however, is that it extends toward the philosophical perspective, a dimension often overlooked in the analyses of politicians, educators and journalists," Dr. Plaza said.

“Peter uncovers the utilitarian underpinnings of the Common Core Standards and identifies those elements in this policy that represent a worrisome departure from an understanding of education that aims at the moral and spiritual growth of the human person. By moving beyond matters of implementation toward a philosophical reflection of the hidden paradigms that these standards embody, Peter offers a perspective that is indispensable for a meaningful analysis of this educational policy, and a valuable contribution for the participants in this debate to recognize its wider implications and, ultimately, most troublesome aspects.”

Copan completed his paper earlier this month, shortly before his graduation from PBA with a degree in cross-cultural studies with a double minor in Spanish and philosophy.

Even before graduation, Copan had an opportunity to present some of his early findings at Palm Beach Atlantic University’s Interdisciplinary Research Conference, held in March.

During his fellowship, he met on a regular basis with Sen. LeMieux, who now serves as chairman of the Gunster law firm. “It has been an honor working with him,” Copan said.

Copan hopes to teach English overseas, possibly in Latin America. During his time at PBA, Copan traveled to Costa Rica and also visited South Asia three times. Later, he plans to attend graduate school.

Some of his other campus and community activities included working in the Workship office and taking part in the choir and worship team at his church.

He also was invited to be a part of the President’s Lyceum, a speaker series in which visitors who have distinguished themselves in various professions come to present their insights and experiences in a discussion with PBA students.

Sen. LeMieux was a recent Lyceum speaker, along with former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, national political analyst David Gergen and Washington Post columnist George Will, among others.

Copan grew up the second of six children, and he comes from a family of educators. Both his father and uncle are professors at PBA.

“We all love learning,” he said. “Growing up in that ethos has played a part in a desire to see education done well.”