By Olivia Godfrey
The morning of Friday, Feb. 8 was abuzz as students rehearsed their impassioned argument speeches and took their seats in both the Kofman auditorium and media center in anticipation of the day’s events—Alameda High School’s fifteenth annual Mock Congress. Senior government students clad in business attire took a break from their usual schedules to partake in the educational simulation that mirrors the processes of bill writing, committee collaborating and voting.
The senior activity is a daylong event that is often one of the most memorable experiences that remains with students long after they graduate from high school. “It’s pretty experiential,” said AP Government and Economics teacher Allison Goldberg. “Everyone gets involved. It brings the entire senior class together.”
Tony Manno, another government teacher, said that he was impressed by the amount of dedication that he saw in this year’s Congress. The amount of emotion around the bills provided for stronger debates, Manno observed. He found students to be increasingly more attached to their topics and thus more involved in the entire process.
“It’s different from the usual abstract learning,” said Goldberg. “[Government classes] are generating everything: coming up with the idea, formulating the bill, expressing the ideas [and] voting the day of.”
The plethora of bills, written entirely by Alameda’s students, addressed critical and controversial topics such as the war on drugs to gay marriage to affirmative action. Manno agrees that this experience is valuable in that it gets students to “seriously talk about the country’s and the world’s issues for two weeks straight.”
“[Students] talk about what they think is right,” emphasized Manno. “That’s the most important thing.”
Goldberg believes that giving seniors the opportunity to lead contributes to the ability for them to be engaged and focused. “Hopefully kids come from it being more interested in [Congress’s] activities and have values of living a civic life.”
The process causes students to develop opinions of their own and actually take a stand on the ideas that they may or may not support. “It gets [students] thinking about politics,” said Manno, going on to say that this brief high school event could help students relate their experiences to other opportunities in their future. “Some students finally get it by doing stuff,” Manno said.
Mock Congress is not only an opportunity for students to learn about government processes, but it also allows students to volunteer and take more of a leadership role should they so desire. There were over a dozen positions in both Senate and House to campaign for as well as a multitude of opportunities to argue for and against bills.
Senior Kevin Chen presided over the House of Representatives with gavel in one hand and an intent look on his face as he carefully managed the presentation of bills. After weeks of campaigning, he was elected as Speaker of the House by his fellow seniors in the House.
“My favorite part was the day of Mock Congress,” said Chen when asked about what he thought of the entire process. Chen said he enjoyed the privileges of being Speaker, such as getting to decide the final fate of a bill. “I had the pleasure of shutting down people’s silly notions of having the right to extra time for their arguments,” said Chen.
Chen’s firm hand was certainly necessary to control the contention between the advanced placement students in the House. Seniors Aakash Sastry and Kevin Rankine’s dynamic speech supported Brian Wong’s “End of Marriage” Bill and their argument that polygamy should be embraced simply boils to one phrase alone: “incest is win-cest.” Another interesting twist in the day’s events was when senior Matthew Fullmer stepped up to make one speech in support of a bill, took a moment to swipe on a pair of sunglasses and then proceeded to argue against himself.
“The arguments for and against [bills] were really strong,” said Goldberg, “everyone did a strong job which made it a quality year.”
Manno believes that the House of Representatives tends to have “more fiery-ness” because the advanced placement students “bring something extra.” However, in all his years as a government teacher–this year being no exception–Manno prefers the Sante where memorable debates occurred as well.
In the Senate, the rules of debate tend to be more relaxed, including the ability for students to filibuster, or speak continuously in order to delay voting on legislation. Boyan Tzevtkov claimed the title as longest filibuster this year with 25 minutes of rambling.
“You could put a book in front of him and he would read it,” laughed Manno at the thought.
Goldberg believes that this project is based on learning from example. As important as it is for students to have fun with the simulation by putting humorous twists on their speeches, seniors do learn and come to understand the significance of law-making and voting in the United State’s Congress.