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