The case of the stolen gavel was tried during eighth grade social studies class Monday afternoon at Smith-Cotton Junior High.
While the case was made up for the sake of class, SCJH social studies teachers, along with help from Pettis County Associate Circuit Court Judge Paul Beard, created a hands-on learning experience about the Constitution and America’s three branches of government, said Jeremy Brownfield, who teaches seventh and eighth grade social studies at SCJH.
“Currently we’re covering the three branches of government, checks and balance, separation of powers, and how each individual branch of government works,” Brownfield said. “We’ve done activities in class to show how the president could veto a law Congress made and the idea behind this (activity) is to put it into action so it can be a little interactive and it engages critical thinking because they’re put on the spot a lot of times and they have to think what would this branch really do.”
For the duration of their class period, the students created their own nation and elected a president, who then appointed a Supreme Court judge, while the rest of the students became the legislative branch. It was suggested by Beard that the nation create its first law, to not allow anyone to take someone else’s possessions without permission. Later, Beard discovered someone “stole” the gavel he had brought for the mock trial, breaking the new law. The defendant selected an attorney, the president hired a police officer, and the two groups chose a three-person jury.
While the bell rang before the trial could conclude, the students were able to question witnesses and learn about the process.
“They learn a lot and they love it,” Brownfield said. “After (Beard) does this, they ask for more opportunities like this. We as teachers try to do our best to be as interactive as possible, but it’s nice to bring in someone who’s an expert in their field, bring an actual judge in who can go over the judicial branch in particular, as well as all three branches. … It gives them a hands-on experience rather than traditional lecture.”
Beard has participated in the mock government activity in previous years and he said it’s important to help educate students about the government process and what it means for them as citizens.
“It’s easy to take our free government for granted, we’ve had it for so long, that unless people remember why we have it and what is it about it that makes it successful in preserving our freedoms, then they’re likely to have those freedoms eroded, so it’s important to keep talking about those principles,” Beard said. “… I think it’s good how this exercise breaks it down so they can see where each branch is represented and how all that works to preserve freedom.”
Overall, Beard said he thought the students did well with the activity and he could see they were understanding the concept of U.S. government.
“I think they could see when injustice was happening, when someone was being voted for for an improper reason or they felt one of their elected officials was acting incompetently,” he said. “I think they really get a feel of what it’s like to be represented by government.”
Nicole Cooke can be reached at 660-530-0138 or on Twitter @NicoleRCooke.