Mock congressional hearing in We the People elective

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When most of us hear the words, “congressional hearing,” we think of lawmakers in crisp suits, standing up and speaking like the lawyers we watch on TV shows. However, phrases like, “Objection your honor: hearsay!” or “I plead the fifth!” did not make their way into the mock congressional hearing that the We the People elective held. 

Although lacking the typical “Law & Order” terminology, the elective has been covering the concepts behind these words for months now, and they had the chance to present their findings before three elected officials during their class on Monday, Nov. 14.

State Representative Jillian Gilchrest, state Senator Derek Slap, and Deputy Mayor Liam Sweeney listened in to members of the We the People elective, arranged in groups of three or four, as they presented responses to a series of questions that had previously been assigned to them. There were three groups, and each was assigned to one of the following inquiries: how the right to vote has expanded since the birth of the Constitution, how political parties developed and grew in the United States, and why James Madison’s idea of electors representing the “great body of America” took over two centuries to come to pass.

The presentations from the groups were all around four minutes long, and after they finished speaking, the elected officials were able to ask questions about the material they presented for an additional six minutes. The judges assessed the students based on things like the application of constitutional knowledge, the use of historical or modern examples, and thoughtful or accurate responses to questions. 

“They were so much harder on you than I thought they were going to be,” history teacher and We the People teacher Stephanie Sperber remarked. “I thought that they would just ask easier questions, but they dug real deep. They asked some really detailed questions, and I was very impressed with how well you guys held on.”

On top of the six-minute questioning period that the judges were allowed after every presentation, there was a period of time after the hearing was finished in which the students and the officials were able to discuss and interview each other. However, due to the limited time allotted to the class, students weren’t able to ask as many questions as they would have liked. “I think that a lot of the Q&A session was them asking us questions and us answering,” senior Tess Chapman commented, “which I think was really valuable in its own way, but I would have liked to hear a little bit more from them.”

Nevertheless, the Q&A, as well as the mock hearing in general, was a way for the students of the class to interact and learn from the officials that represent us. Ms. Sperber commented that it is important for us to put faces to the names that shape our schools, jobs, and many of our lives.