The two Palm Beach Atlantic University honors students chosen as the inaugural LeMieux Center Fellows proved on Thursday that they not only know their research material, but they also know how to think on their feet.
In the Helen K. Persson Recital Hall in Vera Lea Rinker Hall, Emily Hardman and Peter Copan gave the first public presentation of the projects they completed last spring for the LeMieux Center for Public Policy at Palm Beach Atlantic University. The event was open to the public and was one of the opening activities of this year’s Family Weekend.
Afterward, the LeMieux Fellows took questions from a panel consisting of their faculty mentors, PBA President William M. B. Fleming Jr. and former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux. Members of the audience also had a chance to ask questions.
Hardman, a senior from Sarasota who is double majoring in music and political science, chose as her topic American exceptionalism, the notion that the United States is “qualitatively different from other countries” as defined by Alexis de Tocqueville. Her faculty mentor was Dr. Roger Chapman, associate professor of history.
In Hardman’s findings, she noted that there are two kinds of American exceptionalism: Classical exceptionalism, which dates back to the Puritan era, and activist exceptionalism, which involves spreading the country’s democratic ideals to the rest of the world, sometimes by force.
Some examples of activist exceptionalism include the Manifest Destiny movement of U.S. history, the Mexican-American War and the Spanish-American War, she said.
She concluded that classical exceptionalism, encompassing the use of “soft force” when necessary, is the more effective of the two.
This semester, Hardman is completing an internship at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C.
Asked on Thursday if her perspective about American exceptionalism has changed since her internship began, she said her experiences confirm her original postulation. “Soft power is often times more useful than hard power,” she said.
She noted that in the case of ISIS, the Muslim group that seeks to rule Syria and the Levant region of the Middle East by jihad, hard power on the part of the United States would not work because ISIS is not a state.
“It would require a lot more force” that the U.S. is willing to expend, she said.
Focusing on issues closer to home, Copan selected the Common Core standards for public education as his research topic. His faculty mentor was Dr. Francisco Plaza, associate professor of political science, who announced that Copan's paper will be published in a peer-reviewed journal.
A product of public schools in Palm Beach County, Copan graduated from PBA in May with a degree in cross-cultural studies and a double minor in Spanish and philosophy. He presently is pursuing graduate studies in California.
Copan said that in his research, he found that there is a great deal of confusion surrounding the Common Core. Also, the debate has been splintered and doesn’t fall along traditional party lines, he said.
He interviewed several people last spring, including several schoolteachers, and many admitted they didn’t know much about it at that time, he said.
Although college and career readiness are the goals of the Common Core, Copan believes the standards will fail to achieve those outcomes without major societal changes. He noted that the main source of values for many young people has shifted away from parents and toward peer groups.
Even if the Common Core does succeed, it misses the point of education by churning out workers to compete in a global economy rather than developing individuals with a true love of learning, he said.
In this regard, the system is simply “sacrificing students on the altar of economic utility,” he said.
Copan concluded by noting that this vision of education is progressive, always looking toward the future rather than the past. “We are missing out if we neglect the wisdom of those who have come before us,” he said.
Among those in attendance at the event were the families of both presenters, as well as students, faculty, staff and alumni.