High school produces award-winning Scopes films

High school produces award-winning Scopes films

September 9th, 2009 by Joy Lukachick Smith in News

When Scott Strainge planned a trip to produce a documentary on the Scopes Trial in Dayton, Tenn., his main goal was to show that what most folks think of as the history of the trial is pretty much wrong.

Most people don't realize what the trial was actually about -- a struggling community trying to draw attention to itself, not a science teacher wanting to teach evolution, Mr. Strainge said.

"The play ("Inherit the Wind," also a film) is not accurate," said Mr. Strainge, a teacher and curriculum coordinator at Timberlane Regional High School in Plaistow, N.H. "The play dramatized the actual event. ... People accepted it as what happened in the Scopes trial."

Mr. Strainge began working on the film with a group of New Hampshire students about 18 months ago. He contacted Bryan College, a private Christian school, to set up interviews with experts and people involved with the trial, college spokesman Tom Davis said.

"These folks were very specific," Mr. Davis said. "They wanted their students to understand the history."

Mr. Strainge said Dayton "just welcomed us with open arms." College officials set up 12 interviews with people who were part of the trial.

With the help of the college and Pulitzer prize-winning historian Edward Larson, four New Hampshire teachers and several students produced three documentaries about the 1925 "Monkey Trial."

The finished product won the Association of State and Local History National Award of Merit, Mr. Strainge said.

The Tennessee premiere of two of the films is set for Sept. 20 in the Rhea County Courthouse, Mr. Strainge said.

The documentaries are geared to a high-school level, said Dr. Larson, a Pepperdine University professor who won a Pulitzer for history in 1998.

"They decided to go beneath the surface," Dr. Larson said. "They put together a quality documentary."

Mr. Strainge said the project began when a senior class began planning a production of "Inherit the Wind."

The class explored the history of the play and interviewed experts on the trial, he said, then assembled a documentary called, "Of Sound and Fury."

They produced a second film, "The Right to be Wrong," which is about the play itself and how it became a part of history despite its historical inaccuracy, he said.

Then the students began to ask such questions as, "What about the larger issue of teaching evolution in the classroom?"

To put the evolution debate in context, the students interviewed and filmed prominent figures including biologists, priests, rabbis, atheists, writers and historians, he said.

And the third film, "What a Piece of Work is Man," was made.

The high school group consulted the college throughout the making of the films to ensure they were historically accurate, Mr. Davis said. Bryan College is a major resource for research about the event, he said.

"This one play led our school on this amazing journey," Mr. Strainge said. "A small school in southern New Hampshire that is now working with a Christian ... school in East Tennessee and a Pulitzer prize-winning author ... in California, these three entities come together to produce these documentaries."


State of Tennessee vs. John Thomas Scopes is one of the most famous court cases in U.S. history. The trial took place July 10-21, 1925, in Dayton's Rhea County Courthouse with America's most famous criminal lawyer, Clarence Seward Darrow, defending Scopes against a charge of violating state law by teaching evolution in biology class. The special prosecutor in the case was William Jennings Bryan, for whom Bryan College is named.

Source: Bryan College