Recent events in the news, including the Castile and Sterling shootings and the attack on police officers in Dallas, are challenging teachers to find ways to help students navigate what these events mean in the context of law and the US justice system. Foundations in Law, Unit 5 (“Equal Justice Under the Law”) and Foundations in Criminal Justice, Units 2 (“Responses to Crime”) and 6 (“Engaging Youth in the Law”) can help teachers provide focused conversations on these difficult topics, and provide structured opportunities for students to become agents of change in their communities. Complete a free registration and click on each course to download these free curriculum units and resources for discussion.
Recent court decisions in Ferguson, MO and Ne York City have sparked protests across the United States. Consider using Foundations in Law, Unit 5 to help students explore the role civil disobedience plays in defining what is lawful and unlawful. Use stories like the ones below to help students explore protest, advocacy, and the role of law enforcement in establishing a just society.
"Ferguson protest blocks traffic near Harvard Square." http://www.bostonglobe.com/metro/2014/12/01/ferguson-protest-blocks-traffic-near-harvard-square/iwMb00svayolzMxnk2Eu9H/story.html
"NYC chokehold, Ferguson cases spark national protests." http://www.ydr.com/crime/ci_27071772/nyc-chokehold-ferguson-cases-spark-national-protests?source=rss
New York teenagers are now allowed by law to serve on city community boards. 16 and 17 year old representatives may hear and vote on pressing community issues. Learn more about how teenagers are becoming increasingly influential participants in the life of their communities here:
Our partners at Calamari Productions recently aired a thought-provoking special on ABC's Nightline focusing on the controversial sentencing of four teenage defendants in Elkhart, IN. To learn more about the story, visit:
EDC and the Open Society Foundations (OSF) will co-host Youth and Justice: Joining Forces to Strengthen Innovation and Impact, an international forum to discuss approaches to improve the justice system and its nexus with youth. The forum, which will be held September 10 - 12 in Istanbul, Turkey, will bring together youth agencies, educational institutions, NGOs, social justice and human rights groups, and other organizations from around the world. For more information about the youth and justice forum, contact Gustavo Payan at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow the forum on Twitter (#osfyouthforum).
The National Council for the Social Studies has published a framework to guide states in their development of standards related to College, Career, and Civic Life (C3). The framework is consistent with and supported by the Law and Justice curriculum. Check out the new framework here: http://www.socialstudies.org/c3
A new resource is available that may be of interest for those teaching "Unit 4: Youth Justice: Exploring the Juvenile Justice System" in the Foundations in Criminal Justice course. The Vera Institute of Justice has launched the new online Status Offense Reform Center (SORC). This site, designed for policymakers and practitioners, has tools and strategies for promoting community-based alternatives to the courtroom. The site can be accessed at http://www.statusoffensereform.org/. Wonderful new resource that supplements available course materials.
The students in Kristen Almquist’s Law and Public Policy (LPP) program have a complex relationship with issues of justice and equality. Alongside the familiar pressures of adolescence, many of them have confronted the stress of poverty or the sting of a family member lost to the criminal justice system. Authentic experiences—positive and negative, fair and unfair—color classroom conversations.
But these seniors at Chelsea (Mass.) High School do not expect to discuss these issues with people in positions of power during the school day. So it was a special occasion when, at a school forum about bullying and school safety last December, community leaders, police officers, and social workers sat and listened to what these 18 year olds had to say.
The idea for a school forum came from EDC’s innovative Law and Justice curriculum, the foundation of Chelsea’s LPP program. In more than 15 districts around the country, Law and Justice is helping students learn about law, social justice, and what it means to be a citizen.
“I think the forum was a huge growth moment for the students,” says Almquist. “It was adults in the community looking at them as adults, not as kids.”
Soon afterward, Chelsea High School’s “Respect Week” was born. And many of the students who attended the forum found themselves working on anti-bullying campaigns in the city’s middle schools.
EDC’s Eliza Fabillar and Jessica Juliuson are pleased to hear about the program’s success with students.
“I think the curriculum enables students to see that they are active agents in a democratic society,” says Fabillar, who directed the development of Law and Justice. “There’s a rule of law, and there’s a way to change laws that are not working.”
Funded through the James Irvine Foundation and developed with input from educators, legal professionals, postsecondary faculty, and partner organizations, the Law and Justice curriculum consists of two year-long programs: Foundations in Law and Foundations in Criminal Justice. Lessons on fundamental concepts in the legal system—such as how laws are passed, enforced, and changed—are punctuated by unit projects that require students to both build academic skills and challenge each other. In addition to holding a community forum on public safety, students write persuasive letters, create advocacy campaigns, lead mock trials, and hold debates.
The curriculum ultimately seeks to boost student achievement through improving critical thinking, reading, and writing skills. Juliuson, one of the authors of the materials, believes that looking at issues through the lens of law may appeal to students who have become disenchanted by standard high school offerings.
“We think that implementing this curriculum could reduce performance gaps for at-risk students, students who haven’t been in school, and students who are not engaged,” she says.
But there is a more practical aspect as well. The curriculum educates students about what it takes to pursue careers in law, advocacy, and criminal justice, giving them a compelling option as they consider what path to take after high school.
This aspect of the curriculum appealed to Kariana Sipple, who graduated from Chelsea’s LPP program last year.
“The program broadened my horizons as I thought about what to do in the future,” she says. Now a freshman at Denison University in Ohio, she is considering a career in forensic science.
Sipple also credits the Law and Justice materials for pushing her—and her peers—to think deeply about issues of morality and justice. She says that these conversations have stuck with her and influence how she thinks about political events she sees on the evening news.
She remembers one heated class discussion about a complicated legal topic: whether a court of law should treat companies as individuals. She found herself on the opposite side of the issue from her cousin, who was also enrolled in LPP.
“It was interesting to test ourselves to find out what we thought was right,” she says.
At Chelsea High School, the curriculum is part of the LPP program’s interdisciplinary alternative pathway to graduation for seniors. In math class, students see how surveys, data, and statistical interpretation impact the formation of new laws. And in English class, they learn how to write persuasively, using facts to back up their opinions.
The context-based approach seems to be working. Last year, 94 percent of students in LPP graduated, well above the school’s four-year graduation rate of 54.6 percent. Forty-four seniors are enrolled in the program this year.
Students are motivated to succeed—and they have taken a real interest in the law.
“A lot of the kids have taken advantage of what they have learned and are going into criminal justice programs in various school systems,” says Almquist. “And even if they are not interested in criminal justice as a career, they are interested enough in the materials to come to school.”
This article originally appeared on edc.org.
As the nation moves on following the recent events in Newtown, Connecticut, teachers of older students may wish to respond to public discussion of gun ownership and access. High school teachers of civics and law may want to consider using or adapting Unit 2: The Legal System in Action in the Foundations in Law course. The unit focuses on school safety and the creation and impact of the Gun-Free Schools Act of 1994, which ultimately led to sweeping zero tolerance policies in schools across the nation. Students prepare for and host a community forum that brings together a variety of stakeholders around the issue of school safety and choosing responses that will be most effective. Teachers may find some of the resources both relevant and compelling in the wake of recent events.
The curriculum is free, but registration is required.
California teachers in law- and law-enforcement themed academies are participating in a two-day Law and Justice Professional Development Institute hosted by ConnectEd at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles on June 28-29, 2012. Many thanks to all the teachers who are attending!