After having done extensive research for my Family Law unit, I find that there are many extraneous factors which make the enforcement of children’s rights difficult. The laws that pertain to “children” seem especially controversial due to the many conflicting opinions regarding who constitutes a child, what rights a child should have, and what is best for each individual child.
In the eyes of the law, a “child” is someone who is at risk, dependent, and unable to decide what is “best” for him or herself. While I do not entirely agree with this definition of a child, I do feel that it is important to understand laws pertaining to children’s rights so that the policies established by our government can be justified. If a law is found to be inappropriate or “out-of-date,” then we, as active citizens, will have the knowledge and insight to encourage our legislators to change the laws.
I want to help my students understand their rights as citizens and the limits on their rights as children. During current events discussions held in my classroom each Doming, my students often ask thought-provoking and challenging questions that I simply cannot answer. Throughout the past few months, I have done much reading about this topic and I now feel even more in the dark than before. The law, in theory, tries to protect children from parents and other adults who are not able or willing to safeguard them against certain dangers or risks but the enforcement of the law seems so subjective at times that the state may not always offer children something better; lawmakers may unintentionally create a worse situation. When parents’ and children’s interests conflict, the child’s well-being should be paramount because in my opinion, children need to be sheltered and nurtured. Adults are supposed to be able to care for themselves.
For my curriculum unit, I will have my class focus on four legal issues and debate several as if they were legislatures in Connecticut’s government. I will teach the legislative processes of our government and the hierarchical system of our judiciary branch. It is essential that my students understand the proper channels that must be followed in our legal system. Since my students will be studying the legislative process as part of their traditional 6th grade curriculum already, I feel that the idea of introducing them to “mock legislative debates” will be a creative and intriguing focus of this unit for the first 3 legal issues. We will be visiting the state capitol and thus, observing actual state representatives discussing real issues currently under debate. Each student will then become a state representative responsible for adequately representing the constituents from their region. Each child must research his/her geographic location and present an oral and written report detailing the statistics and pertinent data from their region (i.e. population, # of men, women, children, schools, etc.). Then, as we prepare to discuss the legal issues, students will have the opportunity to read actual cases which I will have copied from casebooks. They will read these cases and write short essay responses as to their feelings and/or opinions. I will then guide my students through the debating process and will incorporate several lessons on public speaking before the actual legislative session begins. I will be copying cases from the Yale Law Library and the Library of Social Sciences. It would be too lengthy for me to include them in this unit but some of the cases to be copied are mentioned throughout this unit.
Throughout this “legislative session”, I am going to try and not reveal the actual rulings and decisions pertaining to each issue. I would like to see what the children’s opinions are without tainting their findings with already established laws. Cases which I feel would be of high interest for my sixth graders include: juvenile curfews, refusal by parents to authorize medical care, children’ rights from inadequate parents, and compulsory education.
After studying the final legal issue, compulsory education, the class will extensively read about and study the case Wisconsin v. Yoder. They will then produce a “mock trial” based on that case in particular. Students will “perform” the various roles which are essential to our judicial system: attorneys, jurors, judges, defendants, plaintiffs, witnesses, experts, etc. Since the typical classroom has about 24 students, there should be plenty of “extras” to serve as witnesses and courtroom observers. If possible, I would like to perform this mock trial in the school gymnasium or cafeteria in front of the other sixth grade classes. The process of producing a “mock trial” will be explained in greater detail during the latter part of this unit which focuses on compulsory education.
After reading the article, “When Children Take Action”, I discovered that not only can this educational unit work in a classroom, but it can have dramatic effects on students’ willingness to take action and actually change ineffective laws. As Colleen Foye Bollen states in her article, “The children now care what laws get passed. They also recognize that what goes on in the state capitol affects everyone in the state.” That is my goal for my students. Hopefully, this unit will show children that if they take an informed and intelligent approach to our society’s problems, maybe they can be the generation who “makes a difference” in our laws and in our lives.
Before beginning with the legal background part of the unit, I would just like to enclose the following poem which I read in
The State of America’s Children
( 1992) . Having worked with children for several years now, I have found that they are by nature, risk talkers. Sometimes we adults could learn much about life if we just watched children’s behaviors. This poem will hopefully provide inspiration to children, adults, and especially lawmakers who hold so much power in their decisions.
To laugh is to risk appearing a fool,
To weep is to risk appearing sentimental,
To reach out to another is to risk involvement,
To express feelings is to risk exposing your true self,
To place ideas and dreams before a crowd is to risk their loss,
To love is to risk being loved in return,
To live is to risk dying,
To hope is to risk despair,
To try is to risk failure,
But risks must be taken
because the greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing,
The person who asks nothing, does nothing, has nothing,
They may avoid suffering and sorrow,
but they cannot learn, feel, change, grow, love, live!
Chained by their attitudes, they are a slave.
They have forfeited their freedom.
Only a person who risks is free!