Week9 Reflection: Authentic Applications

While reading about Authentic Applications, a reflective assessment strategy, I was reminded of a science fair in which I participated as a grade school student.  The topic of my report was Solar Eclipses, and the event made such an impact on me at the time that I can remember clearly many minute details around the science fair and other exhibits that were there besides my own.  My own exhibit was comprised of a bright light, a globe, and a small foam ball mounted on a bent coat hanger.  I can remember the written report which I had made as well detailing all the notable total eclipses prior to that date.  In particular,  the 1974 total eclipse for Madagascar stands out in my mind (see table below).

image

Thus, I believe I am proof that this assessment strategy, in my case a science fair, caused serious learnings and impressions that lasted far beyond the event.

Now to bring this assessment strategy forward and apply it to some of our readings this week, I can’t imagine a more powerful way to teach landmark Supreme Court cases then to re-enact them, in public, in a moot court style.  Students could be selected to portray the sides of the case as well as the justices.  They could be asked to review oral arguments for the case and to present or read them (in an interpretive/dramatic fashion if appropriate).

For instance, this week we were asked to read a couple of historic Supreme Court decisions:

Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) and
Brown v. Board of Education (1954)

One could imagine that a systematic analysis of the Decision and Dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) would be catalyst to a whole host of interesting conversations.  Not the least of which would be germane to current understanding of race relations in this country.  In choosing which parts of the decision to read or set forward in a public portrayal of the trial, a discussion of the merits of the argument would naturally come forth, and a lesson on how to read/write legal decisions would be in order.  This would have immense educational value.  Consider this from Justice Harlan in Dissent (Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896)

The white race deems itself to be the dominant race in this country. And so it is in prestige, in achievements, in education, in wealth and in power. So, I doubt not, it will continue to be for all time if it remains true to its great heritage and holds fast to the principles of constitutional liberty. But in view of the Constitution, in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law. The humblest is the peer of the most powerful. The law regards man as man, and takes no account of his surroundings or of his color when his civil rights as guaranteed by the supreme law of the land are involved. It is therefore to be regretted that this high tribunal, the final expositor of the fundamental law of the land, has reached the conclusion that it is competent for a State to regulate the enjoyment by citizens of their civil rights solely upon the basis of race.

What student would not find their hearts stirred upon reading this document, if not to read it publicly and with a fuller understanding and emotion?

Now consider Brown v. Board (1954), reading the court’s opinion written by Chief Justice Warren, where he comments on the extension of Plessy v. Ferguson which involved railroad conveyance to Brown v. Board which handled education thus:

Today, education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments. Compulsory school attendance laws and the great expenditures for education both demonstrate our recognition of the importance of education to our democratic society. It is required in the performance of our most basic public responsibilities, even service in the armed forces. It is the very foundation of good citizenship. Today it is a principal instrument in awakening the child to cultural values, in preparing him for later professional training, and in helping him to adjust normally to his environment. In these days, it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education. Such an opportunity, where the state has undertaken to provide it, is a right which must be made available to all on equal terms.

Suddenly I could imagine the students in a classroom would realize that their very education is a right and a duty upon which the whole of free society rests.  Equality in that venture is of utmost importance.

References

Plessy v. Ferguson.  163 U.S. 537. (1896).  CornellLaw

Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.  347 U.S. 483 (1954). CornellLaw

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Comments

  • Iris McClead  On November 29, 2010 at 3:43 am

    Hello John,

    I really enjoyed reading your post this week and love the idea of the mock trial. Having the students demonstrate the mock trial of the two Supreme Court decisions we read about this week would be an excellent way for the students to not only become familiar with the material, but also, allow them to demonstrate their knowledge in a different way while giving them exposure to the legal process. It will give students an opportunity to be creative and demonstrate their strengths in public speaking, persuasive argument, and organization of thought while becoming aware their own rights to education. It would also provide some positive intimidation to help them prepare for their performance and offer a chance to use their studies in real world applications. I took Street Law in high school and I loved it! It was a fun engaging way to learn about the legal system and this lesson could be used as interdisciplinary studies as well.

    -Iris

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