Thursday, June 28, 2012

Civics as it should be taught

This spring Fiona and I have been attending a series of workshops led by a lawyer and homeschooling dad focused on exploring the principles of law and government. They're free. They're held largely out of doors, but with occasional use of indoor spaces where helpful. There are about twenty-five kids ranging in age from 4 to 15. Mostly unschoolers. A huge range in ages and interests. You'd think it would be an exercise akin to herding cats, with the teaching going way over the heads of the younger kids and offering little of interest to the older ones. I had visions of my chaotic multi-age-multi-level violin group classes with twice as many kids and no "common repertoire." I remembered with concern the challenge of trying to make our year-long experiment with a homeschooling science club relevant and interesting to more than one or two of the kids.

The Law & Government workshops have been something wonderful to behold. On the first day, Dave told the kids they would start by having a movie. A 3D movie. Live. "There was a queen," he narrated, and gestured to a girl to come forward. "Queen Henrietta ruled over a country filled with people ...." And pretty soon almost all the children were laughing and acting and reciting short lines he fed to them, pretending to be the police enforcing the laws, the tooth-picker who made jewelry from the teeth of children who didn't want to brush and didn't have to, or the farmers whose fields were being trampled by people celebrating their religion, or the crowd singing all night long with joy, or the nefarious nephew of the queen buying votes to elect himself to the House of Laws.

It only took moments before everyone was into it.
One day they explored the benefits of order and chaos in playing sports, playing music, building and cooking pizzas. Another day they went through a totalitarian-style "processing" complete with confiscations, body scans, finger-printing, stamping of identity codes on the hand. They've discussed their ability to shape the way the world works, the nature of fundamental rights and freedoms, the role of the judiciary, the legislature and the executive branches of government. They worked together to discuss models of social order, to create lists of fundamental rights and freedoms, to brainstorm various ideas about limits on police powers. And every session concludes with some open-ended social and play time, often anchored by some shared food.

King Fair proclaims the laws the people have chosen in "Constitutional Monarchy," the sequel to "Absolute Monarchy" while the deposed Queen Henrietta sits on the stairs, and the chief of police and chief justice look on.
The 3D Live Movie continued into sequels. At our recent workshop, the chief of police (played by Fiona) got a little heavy-handed, spying on the people, breaking into their homes, arresting and detaining them indefinitely on suspicion of having anti-governmental ideas. We were meeting under a huge tree in a park, and there were curious onlookers, but by now the kids were comfortable with the whole format and launched into their roles with delight and all the dramatic flair they could muster. I'm sure some of the onlookers were quite amazed! From the park we went to the region's police detachment, met some of the officers, toured the jail, checked out the inside of a cruiser, looked through the office and meeting space and then the kids got the chance to ask some curious and pointed questions of the police about the rights of the accused, the use of lethal force, conflict of interest and habeas corpus.

Coming up this summer and fall: the accusation, the legal representation, the evidence, the jury and the mock trial. Can't wait!


  1. Wonderful! Can I borrow that dad for a few months when you're done with him? ;)

  2. That sounds incredible. I wish my class had been like that (back in the day!)


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