Alamogordo Daily News
By Joan E. Price, For the Daily News
Article Launched: 05/04/2008 12:00:00 AM MDT
Mountain View Middle School eighth grade civics and history classes brought constitutional history alive during an evening dinner featuring colonial era dishes prepared by the culinary class.
A series of debates between historic figures such as Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Adams were presented by more than 25 students, followed by current issue debates between the Republican and Democratic parties.
Finally, a taste of political campaigning was brought to the event by Earl Greer, candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, and Doug Post, candidate for the New Mexico House of Representatives.
Details of colonial life, such as button styles of different classes and popular lemon tart desserts provided the historical context. Often, a muffled cheer or comment came from the audience when an issue was introduced. Modern issues were woven into the historical beginnings of the writing of the U.S. Constitution. Later, students responded to questions from the audience.
History teacher Curtis Crane, on a tour of historic Washington, D.C., under a grant from New Mexico State University Project 1776, spoke of stepping into a tavern–style restaurant and recalling where the writers often gathered in the evening after debating.
"It was completely authentic," he said.
"They didn't even have electricity in this tavern and the waiters wore costumes of the time," he said.
He brought pictures to his class while they were trying to come up with fund raising ideas. The classes chose to broaden the debate issues they were studying within the cultural setting of those times.
Several of the students have experience in performances and public speaking. George Washington was portrayed by Isabella Acevedo, president of the student council and editor of the school magazine. She said she "practiced for two weeks" for her part and introduced each personality with sometimes mischievous commentary.
"There has been a lot of bickering today at the convention and there still is today!" she would confide to the audience, who laughed appreciatively at this likely interpretation of Washington's mild irritation.
Odette Gutierrez, 14, was fresh from a role in "The Magic Chalice," a production at the NMSU–Alamogordo.
"I never cared for history until I took the class with Mr. Crane," she said.
Gutierrez, 14, summarized six presidents and famous members of the Democratic–Republican Party of the early days of the American Republic, after weeks of research and consultation with Crane.
"I am trying to get them away from reading and really into the historical context. I showed them pictures of the tavern where those guys went to relax, have a beer and discuss the constitution and the students choose to do it," Crane said.
Prior to the dinner he checked the lighting and sound, the food preparations in Annette Joiners' culinary class, made arrangements for costumes and answered questions from students just moments before the doors opened.
"I learn from their questions," he said, adding some students "wanted to stir the pot with alternative views. Although they lack worldly experience, they shock me on a weekly basis with their awareness."
Finally, two current candidates for public office carried out the tradition of floor debate. Earl Greer, Republican, took the microphone, criticizing candidates who complain about the United States. Bringing the students and Crane onto stage, he called for a hand for the veterans who have served the country.
Doug Post, Democrat and a middle school history teacher, talked about his love of history. Then, he reviewed a number of issues at the state level that he said he will work to reform if elected.
Students said they thought they received a balance view between the candidates.
Jasmine Hernandez, who spoke in opposition of abortion earlier in the evening, said she had only one concern.
"Greer showed appreciation for us. He didn't really tell us his views like he had in class (earlier in the year). We argued with him then, but my thing is anti–abortion and his is, too," Hernandez said.
Kirsty Ramirez, who represented presidential hopeful John McCain during the program, felt it was a balanced presentation.
"Post expressed his views more; we haven't heard him before," she said.