BHS students get hands-on lesson in U.S. democracy | AspenTimes.com

BHS students get hands-on lesson in U.S. democracy

John Colson

Students in three Basalt High School classes will take the witness stand at simulated congressional hearings this week, where constitutional experts acting as members of a congressional committee will grill them.And, just as at certain real congressional hearings, the public will be allowed to sit in the gallery and hear the responses to the questions, judging for themselves whether the political future of the United States is in capable hands.The mock hearings, which will take place in the high school library, are at 12:20 p.m. Wednesday and at 10:20 a.m. and 12:20 p.m. Thursday. According to a statement from the school, questions the students will face include: What are the consequences of America’s lower voter turnout rates? Why do we need a government? And, should police have more power to prevent terrorism?The exercise is part of the school’s “Fundamentals of American Democracy” course.The idea, said teacher Ben Bohmfalk, is to impanel individuals, ranging from area attorneys to representatives of Colorado’s congressional delegation, with a level of expertise in constitutional issues. These experts will then use their knowledge to challenge the young scholars.”They’ve shown me breadth on the quizzes and things,” Bohmfalk said, adding that the mock hearings represent a significant part of the students’ grades. “Now they can show me depth.”The committee members will ask a total of six questions per hearing, one apiece to six groups of students, that address particular parts or precepts of the Constitution. The group will be scored on its response.To the public at large, Bohmfalk exhorted, “Come support local young citizens and see what they have learned about our government.”The hearings are part of a nationwide instructional curriculum called “We The People – the Citizen and the Constitution,” which Congress funds annual. In some areas and for some schools, it also is part of a regional and national competition.Although this is the third year Bohmfalk’s classes have participated in the course, Basalt kids do not go on to regional and national levels of competition. Bohmfalk said this is mainly because of logistical difficulties of the 3rd Congressional District, which is one of the largest in the United States.But for the first time this year, Bohmfalk’s classes and those of teacher Hal Templeton at Roaring Fork High School will square off in an all-star hearing in mid-January at the Eagle County Community Center in El Jebel.”It’s not competitive, but it is a chance to see who knows their stuff,” Bohmfalk said.The judges at this week’s hearings will select the best group to represent BHS in mid-January. Templeton, who is participating in the program for the first time this year, said his students will have their preparatory hearings in early January.John Colson’s e-mail address is jcolson@aspentimes.com

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