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Newsletter - Animal Writes © sm
3 December 2000 Issue

THE GREAT APE TRIAL
By probonobo@sprynet.com
http://gat.lrhs.swlauriesb.qc.ca/index.html

WHO: The project was designed for Grade 11 students.

WHAT: The project is a mock trial in an actual courtroom. Although a real “great ape trial” is still somewhere in the future, the case these students will be arguing is as realistic as it comes. It is based on a hypothetical brief to the U.S. Supreme Court written by Lee Hall, a Washington, D.C. animal rights lawyer. The plaintiff in the case is Evelyn Hart, a 9 year old chimpanzee, represented in court by a guardian ad litem. She is asking the court to recognize her as a “person” under the law, thus making it unlawful to confine, torture or deprive her of her life without due process.

WHERE: Both the high school and the courtroom are in Lachute, Quebec

WHEN: The trial is December 5, 2000 from 9:30 am to 4:30pm

WHY: As a teacher of a course for which there are no texts, I am constantly on the look-out for intellectually and morally chewy tidbits to toss into the cauldron of my classroom. When I recently came across an article on the Great Ape Project I immediately sensed that it was an exciting opportunity to enter a new and contentious arena of social debate. After 15 years of putting on mock euthanasia trials I knew that such a project would require rigorous inter-disciplinary investigation of science, law, medicine and ethics to move students from their initial emotional response to an informed, intelligent opinion. Along the way they would probably end up questioning some of their most fundamental assumptions about what it means to be a person, the value of human life, and our role in the natural world.

THE PROJECT began in September with a general introduction to the subject. After about 6 weeks students were assigned specific roles to play. These included lawyers for the defense and plaintiff, witnesses, judges, jurors and journalists. Using actual medical, ethical and legal texts, students began to narrow and deepen their investigation in order to find answers to specific questions defined by their roles.. Doctors for example, have had to learn about the pros and cons of using animals in medical research. Bioethicists have had to read about speciesism and the meaning of personhood. The primatologist has had to become an expert on chimpanzees. Simultaneously, in a separate section of the course, the jury has had to learn how to disagree skillfully, listen to, and reason with people whose views differ from their own, and practice reaching a decision by consensus. Perhaps their greatest challenge has been to rise above their personal prejudices in order to make decisions based on relevant laws and actual testimonies.

On December 5, 2000 both groups will come together in a real courtroom and spend from 9 am to 4:30 pm putting on their trial. All of the roles, from judge to jury, witnesses to press, will be assumed by the students.

This project would not have been possible without the support of many adults who have acted as mentors, provided concrete information for the students, and given me the knowledge I needed to create the project. Their generosity, combined with the incredible linking power of the Internet, has transformed The Great Ape Trial Project from an ordinary mock trial to a true example of 21st century education. It linked the lawyers and witnesses to their mentors, and the journalists to their readers. The creation of our own website has truly created a window to bring the world into our classroom, and take us outside these concrete walls.

To all of you who are visiting our web page, thank you. Your genuine interest in what these students feel and think about this issue demonstrates in a very concrete way that the voices of young people matter. They are ready and able to assume an important role in exposing, discussing and resolving serious social issues.

Source: Reenie Marx, teacher of Moral and Religious Education, Laurentian Regional High School

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