Yesterday I was a volunteer juror for Kids in the Court, a nifty little program that HLS sponsors. Law students go to local elementary schools and teach 8th graders a little about the law, and then help them put together a mock trial. At the end of the semester, the different classes have a mini-trial, and a side "wins" the trial. I was a teacher for it last year, but was too swamped this year. So I agreed to be a juror.
In file the super-serious 8th graders, followed by the super-giggly 8th graders. Some are wearing their sunday best, and everyone has on a tie. Even most of the girls. Very Avril Lavigne. It seems one boy borrowed all of his dad's ties and distributed them to his classmates. Anyway, the case is about free speech in high school, but is so lopsided that if the plaintiffs had only bothered to show up they would have won. But we watched both sides examine witnesses and giggle their way through an hour long trial. There were two baseless objections, but the kids objected like they meant it. And that's what counts.
Anyway, we jurors left to "deliberate" and quickly agree that the plaintiff side has the winning argument. And by argument we mean raw facts. So to waste a little time (we don't want it to look like a landslide) we start talking about how unfair it is that the case was so lopsided and that whoever runs the program should have evened out the facts a bit. Then we return and deli ever our verdict. One side cheers, the other side calls the whole process "lame", the usual. Then the teacher of the classes (the social studies teacher, I think) stands and says (in an incredibly condescending way), "well, the plaintiffs might have officially won, but I think it's clear that the respondents did the better job here today. You can't always trust a jury." Cue in-fighting by the students and general umbrage in the juror box. We jurors are dismissed and file out. As we leave, the teacher pulls us aside outside and says, "the losing side had a lot of special needs students in it. I hope this verdict hasn't crushed them too badly..." Then she sighed dramatically and swept away back into the classroom. We all stood there and stared at each other. Guilt trip to the neutral jury aside, WHY DIDN'T THEY GIVE THE EASY WIN TO THE SPECIAL NEEDS STUDENTS?!?! I mean come on. If you are worried about their self-esteem, give them the winning side. Why set them up with an impossible side to defend and then blame the jury?
And by the way, the so-called special needs kids did just as well as the others. I couldn't tell any sort of difference in their preparation, presentation or attention. They just had an uphill battle from go. Perhaps the teacher shouldn't constantly remind them that they aren't on equal footing with everyone else. I bet that would do wonders for the ole' self-esteem.