By Stephen E. Lipken
The New Rochelle Fund for Educational Excellence introduced a 2017 Civics Symposium, “Ideas to Make a More Perfect Union,” featuring five Student Presenters from New Rochelle High School (NRHS) teacher Deborah Minchin’s Advanced Placement (AP) Government and Political Science Class, Mikaela Brecher; Brandon Guizar; Ever-Maat Mack; Elijah Pomerantz and Andrew Sorota at NRHS Linda Kelly Theater on Thursday, December 7th.
Moderated by College of New Rochelle Professor Dr. Amy Bass, panelists critiquing the student presentations included Mayor Noam Bramson, NRHS ’87; Leslie Demus, Board Member, New Rochelle Public Library, New Rochelle Council on the Arts and Billy Strayhorn Foundation; former City Councilman and Iona College Professor Alex Eodice; Westchester County Legislator Jim Maisano and Iona College Political Science Professor Jeanne Zaino.
The pupils submitted essays which were selected by a committee for presentation. The first topic, “Gun Control” was disseminated by Jared Ochacher, substituting for Guizar, nevertheless rebutting Guizar’s view that stricter gun control was not necessary.
Eodice called for a “cultural and transparent debate about the 2nd Amendment.” Bramson pointed out that gun control is a “political failure due to the extremely well-financed gun lobby…We should not knuckle under to the National Rifle Association.”
Next, Pomerantz discussed “’Gerrymandering,’ a victory for incumbents.” Acknowledging that the Constitution mandates mapping Districts through the Census, Zaino advocated sampling as a more accurate count. “You don’t have to drink the whole vat of soup to see if it is salty.” “Censuses systematically undercount lower income people, people of color, immigrants and minorities,” Bramson stressed.
Sorota addressed “The Perils of Political Correctness.” “My paper focuses on the emerging culture of Political Correctness on college campuses which has led to various conservatives having…offers rescinded for them to speak at colleges across the country.
“Overall, my paper endorses what is called the ‘Counter Speech Doctrine.’ This says that the remedy to counter divisiveness is continued discussion and speech, not in the silencing of opposing viewpoints…First, for a college to qualify for Federal funding, that school must satisfy certain requirements…to uphold First Amendment rights. I also propose an incentive to provide more controversial speakers by offering increased funding to the schools that do so.”
Ever-Maat Mack wrote, "Police Officers Are Not Racist, They Are Just Dangerously Biased" and Mikaela Brecher wrote, "Drug War or Race War".
Since 1998, the New Rochelle Fund for Educational Excellence has been proud to partner with the NRHS AP Government, AP Macroeconomic and AP Human Geography teachers to provide students an opportunity to focus on and discuss issues of citizenship and governance with a panel of distinguished guests including public officials and community leaders.
The following quotes are from anonymous online student evaluations:
"I found the program very enjoyable and worthwhile. The topics were fascinating and important, and the conversation was stimulating and engaging. It was very interesting to hear the various view points of the panelists along with those of my peers."
"I think the topics alone were very interesting, but I thought the panel was amazing. All panelists had something interesting and unique to contribute and it was even more interesting that they disagreed with one another and argued their own points. It expanded my own point of view on all the topics and made me look at things differently. I think it was a very worthwhile event."
"It was so rewarding! The Symposium became an environment for tons of educated conversations. To see my friends up at the podium speaking on issues they care about and are relevant to today's world, really jumped out to me."