Learning About Liberty
In US Government & Civics, eighth grade students study the evolution of American democracy from colonialism to today as they develop a deeper understanding of what it means to be a citizen of the United States. Through assignments and projects, students build on their effective research, writing, public speaking, presentation, and critical thinking skills.
To bring to life their study of the Bill of Rights, students participated in a mock trial. Faculty member Matt Kingston developed four hypothetical cases which revolved around the First, Second, Fourth, and Eighth Amendments. Working in small groups, students were presented with a set of facts for their case and assigned a side to represent. Some groups represented those whose rights may have been violated and others represented the business establishment, school, or government agency that was being sued.
“Understanding the Bill of Rights is one of the most important things in terms of understanding the meaning of liberty in America,” said Mr. Kingston. “I focused on the First, Second, Fourth, and Eighth Amendments because they are accessible for eighth graders—they can see the relevancy in their lives. While the processes in our mock trial are similar to those of an actual trial, the bigger emphasis is on helping students gain an understanding of the meaning of the Bill of Rights.”
Although students could not alter the facts of their assigned case, they had the opportunity to show their creativity as they developed and presented opening statements, arguments, and cross examinations. Some groups also introduced and questioned fictitious witnesses to support their arguments. Playing roles such as lawyer or witness, allowed students the opportunity to evoke their theatrical skills in addition to public speaking, presentation and logical argumentation skills.
“Participating in the mock trial was a challenging and fun experience that helped me learn about the Bill of Rights,” said Samriddhi Patankar ’24. “The cases were about contemporary topics and we had to do a lot of research to prepare. I want to be a lawyer or a person working in government after college, so this was really fun for me because I want to do this for a living.”