Mayor Presides Over Students’ School Debate
Nov. 16 was no ordinary Monday for Nea Community Learning Center’s junior class. Instead of their regular morning routine, they headed to Alameda City Hall, dressed to impress and ready to conduct a mock school board hearing.
For the hearing, learners were assigned a side to represent and had to work together to build and present their cases based on legal precedent and testimony from witnesses — even if they didn’t personally agree with their assigned side. Half the class presented a case to the “school board” arguing for the inclusion of Intelligent Design (Creationism) in the science curriculum, and the other half opposed it as unscientific.
“Many students across the country study the separation of church and state and the legal precedent for subjects that can be taught in school curricula, but few are able to reenact the famous Scopes Monkey Trial,” said Madeline Eustis, Nea humanities facilitator. “This experience was made richer through the opportunity to hold the hearing at City Hall, where our school board meets.”
The hearing was presided over by Mayor Trish Spencer, who donated both her time and the use of the City Council Chambers for the exercise. Also present as members of the mock school board were Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Maffei, and Nea administrator Jana Chabre, among other community members.
Despite initial nervous hesitation, Nea learners launched into their arguments, called witnesses, cross-examined each other and responded to difficult questions from the mock school board. Both sides presented strong arguments and crafted persuasive responses. After much deliberation, the “school board” ultimately decided that the proponents of Intelligent Design had presented a stronger case and won the hearing.
“The outcome came as a bit of a shock, especially to our biology teacher. But luckily, this decision will not affect Nea’s science curriculum!” said Eustis. “We are grateful to Mayor Spencer and other participants for the invaluable lessons this real-world experience provided our learners.”
The school is still abuzz with tales of courtroom triumphs, missteps, tough questions and the unexpected outcome of the hearing.