Leaders to students: Machiavellian not all that bad
Elizabeth Fisher Correspondent
It was the freshman class of School Lane Charter High School’s turn to ask the questions, and local leaders needed to answer. The topic: Nicolo di Bernardi dei Machiavelli.
The class entered the school’s Leadership Summit on Thursday after reading Machiavelli’s “The Prince,” then asked local leaders and members of the Bensalem Business Association to discuss whether any of Machiavelli’s tenets applied to leadership in today’s world.
Machiavelli (1469-1527) was a Florentine historian, author, politician, philosopher and writer during the Renaissance. He held important posts after the Medici family, rulers of the Florentine Republic, were deposed, and lost his position and prominence when the Medicis returned to power.
“The Prince,” which endorsed his own philosophy that kings and other rulers must be harsh with their subjects and, in political matters, “the end justifies the means.” The summit was divided into four sessions, each led by representatives from government, education, technology, police and school officials.
Using “The Prince” as background, students asked their table leader what, if anything, they could adopt — or reject — from Machiavelli’s philosophy. One student asked Bensalem Mayor Joseph DiGirolamo about Machiavelli’s premise that it is better to be feared than loved, concluding that the reaction of fear is more predictable.
“You don’t make everybody happy. You start with the majority, and if you’re keeping the majority happy, you know you’re successful,” the mayor answered.
Stephanie Joseph posed a question about whether it takes patience for a leader to be successful. DiGirolamo’s response focused on a mayor’s responsibility: safety and welfare of constituents, and that he makes his most difficult decisions based on what best serves the community.
During the panel discussion, one student startled participants by asking Karen Schade, CEO/principal of School Lane Charter High School in Bensalem, about her goals for the school.
“Our own (school) model is so successful that I look to expand it in suburban areas. I’d love to take what we do and find a few more places to make that happen,” Schade said.
The high school, located on Tillman Drive, opened with a ninth-grade class in 2014.
School student President Sidney Verghese said her favorite session was with Thomas Topley, executive director of the Bensalem Rescue Squad.
“I thought he was down to earth and could relate to us, good signs of leadership. He presented information in a way that we could understand,” Verghese said.
Classmate Krina Patel thought Machiavelli did live up to his reputation for evil, but wasn’t all bad.
“Politics today is all about maintaining power and I disagree that all of his theories are bad. Some are good. You can be loved, but sometimes you can be feared,” she said.
Other leaders who took part in the summit included: state Rep. Gene DiGirolamo; Sean Schafter, chief of staff for state Sen. Tommy Tomlinson; Robert Sponheimer, battalion chief of Bensalem Fire Rescue; and District Magistrate Joseph Falcone.
Also participating were Sgt. Robert Race II, Bensalem Police Department; Robert Wetzel, vice president of development and alumni at Holy Family University; Mark Galgano, vice president of information technology, Holy Family University; Beth Terrell, vice president of enrollment services, Holy Family University; Ken Kilpatrick, president of Sylvia Marketing & Public Relations, the Public Relations Agency of Record for School Lane Charter School; and Paul Bencivengo, vice president of Visit Bucks County.
At the end of the final session, Wetzel said he was impressed with the students’ understanding of the material and incisive questions.
“I didn’t read Machiavelli until college. These freshmen picked up the negative about “The Prince” but were able to absorb his positive views on leadership,” Wetzel said.