Before I say or write anything else, I want to preface this with the fact that I am most definitely not a lawyer.
If you read my blog regularly, you might have noticed that it’s been a while since I last posted either a review or a general contemplative essay-update. If you’re new: Hello! It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything. Again, I do want to get my posting frequency up (do I ever not?), but it might end up being a once a week, Friday afternoon/Saturday morning schedule. We’ll see how it works. The main reason for this is because I’ve been teaching a mock trial course to middle school-aged summer camp attendees.
My previous teaching experience has been with 11th through 12th grade; this is a different ball game, but so far, I like it. I’m not an expert in law, so I’ve been approaching this like a pre-rhetoric class more than anything else, since that’s what I know. (I whipped out the rhetorical triangle today, even.) One student caught onto me (“You’re teaching us how to make an argument, aren’t you?”) but I think it’s working out alright (“I love this class!”). Admittedly, I wasn’t sure going into this how well I’d work out. It’s my first time not only taking control of a class of middle school students (I’ve never taught fourth graders before), and while rhetoric is considered an essential part of an English major’s content, law really isn’t. Right now, I’ve been spending a lot of time teaching them how to just ask questions.
People don’t generally have great questioning skills, to be honest; it’s a lot easier to want to say, “Well, I think this,” than to ask something that might prove a point about your opponent. It’s hard. It’s tough. You want to state your opinion and your thoughts, but you need to use evidence and witness answers to show that whatever “opinion” you hold is valid. This is scary! Some kids went into it and said that they think they’re pretty good at arguing, only to find that they’re struggling now because it’s really a course about active critical thinking and asking the right questions to reveal the truth. Listening (and listening actively) is tough for adults, never mind fourth graders. And sometimes, even knowing how to ask a good question can take years to learn.
That said, questioning is an important skill for kids and adults alike to have, and I think it leads them to be more critical and active in their opinion-forming process. Teach someone how to ask the right questions and you teach them not to accept things like the news or tabloids or political pundits at face value. You get people thinking about how to find the truth.
My ultimate goal in teaching is always going to be leaving the world a better place than it was when I came into it. I want to protect kids; things like debate and mock trial help give them a little stronger armor against the world besides the obvious academic benefits that those extra-curriculars offer.Yes, my approach to mock trial is in some ways preparing them for the academic arguments that they’ll be expected to start making once they get into high school and hopefully later on college–can you get someone on your side firmly without any evidence? Do you know how to present that evidence? Can you disassemble an a counterargument without knowing what that counterargument might ask? These are all serious considerations that come up in school and academia.
But there’s another huge thing and it involves the world outside of school. We’re living in an often dangerous and frightening world where fascists are on the rise, where individual rights are at risk, and where there are innocent people being murdered by the same folks who are sworn to protect them. These kids live in a world of actively changing history, and soon enough, they’ll be involved in making those decisions. You want them to be able to make informed choices, and right now, they’re vulnerable to the choices that we currently make. They’re smart, probably smarter than a lot of people give them credit for, and if you give anyone the ability to ask the right questions, the truth will prevail. Most of the students who’ve signed up for my course don’t want to defend bad guys or prosecute the wrong person–they want to do the right thing. Do you know how much optimism exists in kids? Do you know how important it is that adults not let that get extinguished?
I’ve been trying to pick topics and trials that matter to them, things that are going on today. We’ve done discrimination trials this week that got progressively more blurred, since it’s not always going to be clear-cut cases of, “Well, obviously she wasn’t promoted because she’s a woman.” We’re moving onto the law and the Internet. They’ve never lived in a world where they didn’t know the Internet existed, which might seem as absurd to people in my generation and before as the idea of growing up pre-TV life must boggle the generations who lived before the television was invented. With this new media, laws are going to change. Without telling my students the specifics (they’ll still probably find them), we’re starting with H3H3 versus Bold Guy.
At the same time, they all want a murder trial, something I’ve been shying away from. My predecessor covered OJ with students, but that feels far away, even if the story feels the same. But OJ’s part of the American collective conscience now. What are current murder trials? What are the ones that are going to impact their generation the most? Probably cases of police brutality. That shouldn’t be the case, but it is. Are these kids learning that the only people who determine who’s guilty should be judges and juries of the United States? Yes. Is that what they’re seeing reflected when there are officers who decide to be judge, jury, and executioner? Possibly not.
Whether you’re a teacher or a parent, you should be making the kids in your care better citizens. Teach them the country’s law’s–and show them that there are avenues for making our country safe for everyone.
It’s only been a week, so I don’t know yet if I’ll change my mind and get my middle school certification too. (It would make it easier to get a job…) But I do feel like i’m doing something worthwhile and something important–and that’s kind of the point, right?