Today in History: Monkey Trial Ends

| July 21, 2016

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What is it about the courtroom that lends itself to both theater and education? I note the connections: our foreperson is an actress, on and off Broadway, with a command of audio books; another juror, a TC instructor of English education, specializing in theatrical performance; a third, an acting teacher who conducts workshops throughout the city, and me, a research librarian, anticipating the Learning Theater and its myriad possibilities for educational programming.

We pour through evidence and examine the facts, noting the brilliance of the prosecution’s reference to the old Indian fable, The Blind Men and the Elephant, and Ed Young’s newer Caldecott adaptation, Seven Blind Mice, which surface a range of truths and fallacies. Telling is the Mouse’s Moral: “Knowing in part may make a fine tale, but wisdom comes from seeing the whole.” There is actual blindness, yes, but, also the number seven, reflective of real crimes on different days. Some comment on the drama we have experienced: vivid storytelling, courtroom sidebars, expert witnesses, sudden dismissal, surveillance footage, defendant identification, inconsistent statements, even the violent pounding of walls by an unknown detainee from outside our jury room. And others pose larger unresolved questions: Is our case a small piece of a more insidious puzzle? What if anything, can be done to help court-involved persons (recalling Professor Lalitha Vasudevan‘s work with youth)? We contemplate the relationship between criminal and social justice, and ponder the import of the sentence, after reaching a verdict through six hours of deliberation.

On July 21, 1925, Tennessee schoolteacher John Scopes was convicted of teaching evolution and ordered to pay a $100 fine. The trial, known as the Scopes Monkey Trial, began 11 days prior and came to represent the trial of the century, in that it questioned fundamental Christian belief, so strong in the South, in Divine Creation. William Jennings Bryan, Democratic presidential candidate served to prosecute, while Clarence Darrow, leader of the American Civil Liberties Union, defended the case which drew national and worldwide attention and greatly affected public opinion, including interpretation of the First Amendment.

The following articles are drawn from Proquest Historical Newspapers which serves to inspire research, as well as classroom learning and teaching.

Tips:  Check out ALA’s story from June 2, 2016, Program Model: Library Theater for Fun and Profit, which describes the reenactment by the staff of Rockaway Township Library, New Jersey, of the murder trial of Benedict Shidecker, as it is interpreted from original transcripts of the early 1880’s.  slide design-Monkey Trial Ends

Also see Theater and Education and Law and Education for descriptions of relevant, featured research resources.

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