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To dream of a better world (Let's talk about law in elementary school).

Several years ago, the American Bar Association published a book called Daring to Dream. The inspirational forward includes these words: "We must have the vision to imagine a world far more equitable, just, and humane than the one we know. We must have the courage to develop and implement ways of creating that world - both for ourselves and for our children. We must dare to dream of a better world. It is a premise of this book and the project out of which it grows that creative law and humanities programs in elementary schools are one possible means of realizing that dream." In the pages that followed, teachers, administrators, lawyers, college professors and directors of law-related programs shared their vision of how this dream might take shape. Now, almost twenty years later, a similar book, Let's Talk About Law In Elementary School., based on a similar premise has been published in Canada. In this article I will describe the contents of this collection, and mention some other recent publications of interest to teachers of law-related themes.

Let's Talk About Law In Elementary School has an extremely important role to play in motivating educators to consider law-related education. The law-related education movement in Canada began almost 30 years ago, and some of the earliest and most successful programs were aimed at elementary students, such as the puppet shows delivered by the Legal Resource Centre in Edmonton. Nevertheless, most people, including teachers, remain skeptical about the concept of teaching law to anyone below high school age. Those of us who worked full-time to promote law-related education in the schools found that we tended to spend most of our time with high school law teachers, where the courses were already in place. There are exceptions, such as the courses for teachers developed at Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia (which attract a large number of elementary teachers). However, somehow the number of elementary teachers in Canada who make a conscious effort to incorporate law-related education into their lessons remains small. This collection of articles gives teachers, lawyers, government employees, administrators, and funders a better idea of what is meant by "teaching law in elementary school". Such an important, yet practical, book warrants a full review.

Let's Talk About Law in Elementary School

Edited by Wanda Cassidy & Ruth Yates, Detselig Enterprises Ltd., Calgary, AB 1998

Introduction Filling a Gap - Let's Talk About Law

by Wanda Cassidy & Ruth Yates

* gives the rationale for why more is needed, why the high school electives in law are not enough to prepare youth to assume their roles as active citizens in a changing democracy

* describes the gap that this book is aiming to fill. Elementary teachers need a practical book, one that shows them how to address legal themes, concepts, and processes. Usually elementary teachers have been forced to adapt law-related materials aimed at older students. They have had to modify the reading level, introduce different strategies, and sometimes change the content. What content is appropriate will become clear by reading through these articles.

* lists organizations across Canada to contact for support and some valuable Internet sites

Chapter 1

Why Teach Law in the Elementary Classroom?

by Wanda Cassidy

* gives a more thorough explanation of the rationale for law-related education at the elementary level

* outlines some fundamental understandings about law that should be considered when planning law-related curricula for elementary-aged students

Chapter 2

Educating for Civic Participation: Law-Related Education in the United States

by Mabel C. McKinney-Browning

* relates the evolution of law-related education in the US (The term law-related education or LRE was coined in the US) A movement that began with the call to improve the teaching of the US Constitution and Bill of Rights is now responding to pressures demanding an improvement of the quality of the workforce.

* gives a very concise description of the American LRE movement, which is relevant because we in Canada have borrowed more than the term LRE. Materials, concepts, and program ideas have been freely shared across the Canadian-American border.

* states that current LRE programs focus on mediation and conflict resolution, cooperative learning and the building of community, community service, and human rights.

Chapter 3

Resolving Conflict in the Elementary Classroom

by Michelle LeBaron & Victor Robinson

* explains why schools are embracing alternate methods of conflict resolution (negotiation, mediation and arbitration). Educators believe it is important to give children the skills for handling conflicts so they do not always have to rely on an adult in authority for solutions.

* argues that all students need to learn these skills and unfortunately some peer mediation programs are limited to certain students

* states that conflict resolution incorporates not only cognitive skills but also relationship skills and certain attitudes. Therefore role plays and simulations are important instructional strategies for developing and practising these skills.

* gives suggestions on how to incorporate such learning in the classroom, although there is no one cookie cutter approach that will work for everyone.

* warns teachers that conflict resolution is, by design, a non-authoritarian process. Classrooms will be noisier. Teachers must be prepared to guide students through a process, rather than impose a solution.

Chapter 4

Affirming Democratic Principles in the Classroom

by Ruth Yates

* the ideas in this chapter will appeal to teachers who are supporters of experiential learning and who believe strongly in teaching and promoting democratic principles. Many of the ideas support those expressed in the previous chapter.

* a step-by-step plan helps the reader understand how a classroom might be organized. The first four steps are similar to those established in many existing classrooms (creating a feeling of equality, establishing a sense of individuality, identifying the purpose of school, establishing classroom rules). The remaining steps, however, are quite unique. Classes are divided into four groups and these groups essentially govern the classroom. They have both academic and social responsibilities and all but the most serious conflicts are handled by students via a class conflict committee.

Chapter 5

Looking at Law Through Story Drama

by Heather Gascoigne

* this teacher/administrator has had great success in using drama (the Dorothy Heathcote, David Booth kind of drama) to help young children "know and understand how laws are created, how they work and why they are necessary."

* a story is used to entice students into the activity. The author illustrates the process by describing how The Pied Piper of Hamlin -- a wonderful, fictional example of breach of contract -- can develop into a student-led drama. "The joy of using this strategy is that instead of simply reading stories, we live them, and through them we can experience important principles that the children will not soon forget."

* the chapter concludes with a list of stories containing legal issues. Suggestions on where to stop the story and commence the drama are also given.

Chapter 6

Managing Peer Pressure Through Law-Related Literature

by Margaret Ferguson

* this chapter begins with a quick look at some concepts which are commonly examined in law-related lessons - concepts such as conflict, authority, diversity, responsibility and justice. The information is conveyed in spider maps, thus providing a quick visual reference.

* demonstrates, using 7 stories (4 picture books, 3 chapter books), how discussions about these law-related concepts can evolve quite naturally while reading children's literature. A number of suggested activities accompanies each selection.

* explains how the theme of friendship and peer pressure lends itself to a law and literature approach. A teacher who is concerned about negative peer pressure could combine an appropriate novel with LRE simulations. Students who are confident in expressing opinions, evaluating information, and managing conflict may be better equipped to resist negative peer pressures.

Chapter 7

Making Law in the Primary Classroom

by Lois Klassen

* a very practical chapter, organized as a teaching unit made up of 9 topics

* uses a variety of teaching strategies such as direct teaching, guided exploration, cooperative group work, large group discussion, story drama and resource people

* topics achieve learning objectives in a number of different subject areas: Language Arts, Fine Arts, Physical Education, Math and Science. Thus this unit illustrates how one primary teacher weaves legal concepts into traditional subjects.

Chapter 8

Experiencing Law Through Games and Simulations

by Ruth Yates

* this chapter contains some teaching ideas that should be studied carefully because they have proven, over the years, to be very successful in law-related education.

* mock trials - discusses why a teacher might want to do a mock trial, and how this might be done.

* simulation games - outlines, in detail, "The Constitution Game". will appeal to teachers of government units to students in Grades 5-7 (and maybe higher).

* role play - in this activity, called "The Justice Circle", students proceed to sentence a Grade 6 student who has been caught vandalizing the school.

* case study - cases, or scenarios, are listed on chart paper at different stations. Student groups rotate from station to station to complete the charts. This case study carousel is a novel adaptation of a method that has always been prominent in legal education.

Chapter 9

Facing an Issue Through Critical Thinking & Decision-Making

by Shelby L. Sheppard

* describes how a law-related component entitled "Facing an Issue" was incorporated into a Grade 5 Social Studies unit on the building of the Canadian pacific Railway. The specific issue: whether or not the Blackfoot Chief, Crowfoot, should allow the CPR access to previously-designated reserve lands.

* author claims that "the original Social Studies program lost nothing due to the addition of the law-related elements. Rather, the new lessons made it significantly more meaningful and added a new dimension to the students' understanding of the historical events."

* students learned a process for assessing issues and making decisions that stayed with them long after the unit was over.

Chapter 10

Exploring Law Through Forensic Science

by Allan MacKinnon & Peter Williams

* this chapter contains the materials necessary to conduct a theme study in forensic science and crime detection. Designed for upper elementary students but also suitable for junior secondary students, the unit has gone through a long developmental process.

* the unit begins with students viewing a crime scene (can be video-taped) and proceeds through the processes of gathering evidence, drawing conclusions about whodunit, charging the suspect, and then conducting a mock trial. It is most interesting, after the conclusion of the trial, to see if students tried the right culprit!

* the jigsaw strategy is used, with students in 4 groups. Each group becomes an expert on a different facet of forensic science and these students, in turn, teach the other students.

Let's Talk about Law in the Elementary Classroom can be ordered through your local bookstore (ISBN 1-55059-156-8) or from the publisher's marketing agency:

Temeron Books

1220 Kensington Road NW, Unit 210

Calgary, AB T2N 3P5

ph (403) 283-0900

fax (403) 283 - 6947


The cost is $24.50 including GST and postage.

Some other publications that may be of interest to readers are

* Understanding Parole: A Simulated Parole Hearing Kit published by PLEA Saskatchewan (1998)

Secondary and post-secondary law teachers will welcome this kit on parole, a topic that is often misunderstood by the public. So often our mock trial exercises end with the determination of guilt, and little attention is paid to sentencing. Even if students decide on a term in prison, what happens next? How many types of early conditional releases are available? What is the rationale for conditional releases? These important topics will arise as students participate in a mock parole hearing.

The kit will be available in the fall of 1998 and will cost $15.00. For ordering information, contact the Public Legal Education Association of Saskatchewan.

115-701 Cynthia Street

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan S7L 6B7


* The Canadian Anthology of Social Studies: Issues and Strategies for Teachers

Editors: Roland Case, Penney Clark

Faculty of Education, Simon Fraser University (1997)

ISBN: 0-86491-171-8

Many teachers of law, at both elementary and secondary levels, have an interest and background in the social sciences, and for that reason they will be interested in this collection of articles. This anthology of 41 articles by 27 educators across Canada is a resource that will be welcomed by education students at Canadian universities who are taking methodology courses in social studies. For many years, students were reading an eclectic collection of articles gathered by the professor, sometimes included because they could be copied without infringing copyright! They may not have been the best articles on the topic. Many were written by American educators, for an American audience. Now the situation has changed, and those working in the field of social studies -- practising teachers and curriculum developers -- should have a copy of this anthology as part of their professional libraries. As one of the contributors (Law-related education in elementary and secondary schools), I can vouch for the fact that these editors demanded articles that combined theory with practical suggestions for teachers.

In conclusion, thanks to the following book, along with the enormous efforts of those who work in this field, the dream of law-related education in Canadian schools continues to thrive:

Daring to Dream: Law and the Humanities for Elementary Schools
COPYRIGHT 1998 Legal Resource Centre of Alberta Ltd.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1998 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Ferguson, Margaret
Date:Oct 1, 1998
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