EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ — Dr. Alan Brodman admits to spending many hours preparing, and then coming back and revising, the speech that the retiring teacher will give online to the 2020 graduating class of East Brunswick High School on Wednesday, June 17.
Brodman, a Civics, World History and Constitution teacher for the last 28 years at EBHS, will be retiring at the end of this academic year. He teaches the Institute for Political and Legal Education (IPLE) class and also is the teacher of the Model U.N. Program at East Brunswick.
"I wrote the speech and then came back two or three days later to review it and to ask myself, does it really say what you wanted?" said Brodman, a graduate of EBHS who spent five years as a lawyer before joining the faculty in the district in 1992. "It took me four or five hours to prepare. I had written it before the George Floyd protests, but I felt I needed to add something about civic engagement after that. They (the protests) focused it in a much clearer way about the importance of getting out, protesting and speaking your voice."
Among his many achievements, Brodman counts the success of the schools IPLE program among his proudest.
"That IPLE class competes in a competition on the Constitution organized by the Center for Civic Education, and the students do an in-depth study of the Constitution and its underlying philosophy, its history, its application today and what the future may hold," Brodman said. "They prepare responses to a series of multi-part questions and they then present those to a panel of judges at the state level. If they win at the state level, they get a whole new series of questions and compete at the national level. East Brunswick has competed 31 out of 32 years at the national level, and has won four national championships. I was the teacher for three of those (national titles)."
Brodman gives the credit for those successes, though, to the students he has guided.
"I think there are a whole series of 'proudest accomplishments'," he said. "These are students who are exceedingly bright, but they are working not at a high school or even a college level, but at a first-year law school level in terms of what they have to address. That they do this without any issues or problems is testament to their abilities, and it also shows them both the civics end of this and it provides them skills that are so important, including the ability to work with other people and to craft and support a series of arguments. They have to respond to questions and support these positions. These are skills they will need in whatever field they go into. This is their accomplishment. I guide the ship, but I can't call time out once we start. I have to sit their stoically and just 'beam' ideas at them, if you will."
Brodman, who graduated from the University of Delaware, studied law at Quinnipiac University and earned his master's in education from Rutgers, said that one of the ideas he hopes to impart is the importance of the Constitution and the tendency for many citizens to take the document for granted nowadays.
"It is taken for granted. I think that it is exceedingly important that people are aware of the Constitution and their own role in our government," Brodman said. "It starts with 'We The People'. It's our document, our government, and we have a responsibility as citizens to make sure our representatives are making sure they do what we want to do. The bottom line is we have to take that responsibility and hold those representatives responsible for what we want them to do.
"Part of what this class is about is inculcating in students the importance of civic engagement," said Brodman, recipient of the East Brunswick High School Educator of the Year Award in 2020. "Make sure that the people are in charge--volunteering, speaking up to their representatives. In East Brunswick, our representative is Bonnie Watson Coleman, and my job as a citizen is to say, 'Ms. Coleman, this is what I need you to do and why you need to do it.' Speaking isn't enough. My generation's flaw was not acting enough. They need to not just speak, but they need to act. Put people out on the streets, write that e-mail, follow up on it, and then vote."
Brodman said that the lack of involvement from the large majority of the public, many of whom are in the center of the political spectrum, runs the risk of enabling those at either extreme end of the spectrum to control the narrative with their actions.
"We all as citizens have to take that responsibility to be involved," Brodman said. "That's what makes this thing work. We complain so much that government is not functioning at its optimum. Well, that's partly because we all aren't doing our job. Representatives are going to do what the people they represent want them to. When we don't speak and educate ourselves, all of us aren't involved. Then that allows other voices at each end of a spectrum to be much louder. We have a responsibility to make representatives aware of what we think. When I teach world history I talk about the Middle East. Those at either ends of the spectrum, they blow something up, and then everybody moves away from the center. What we are seeing today makes it clear it is important for us to be those voices, and to be heard."