Didn’t you write a legal brief?

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Maybe it was because I had just praised the whole class about how well they did on the last assignment, better than any class had done before. Maybe it was because the challenge was actually very engaging. Maybe it was that the stars happened to be aligned.

But today, after struggling through reading Earl Warren’s opinion on Brown v Board of Education of Topeka Kansas et al (1954) yesterday, the students in my classes, in groups of three, wrote legal briefs of this case. That’s right. 8th graders were focused and engaged in writing a legal brief. Now I haven’t seen what they have produced yet (they almost finished in class today and will need about 15 minutes tomorrow), but it almost doesn’t matter. They were focused, interacting in conversation, asking great questions, on task, genuinely engaged with the material and constructively with each other.

I had posted on the board the structure of a legal brief (thanks to a colleague who is a JD) and as a class we talked about how to use Warren’s opinion in their response (see photo above). This was a challenging but not impossible task for them to do. I circulated around the room helping them here and there but for the most part felt like they had a good handle on the whole project. I kept calling them “lawyers” and “law clerks,” teasing them that after this they would definitely have the chops to be hired by any law firm or even the Supreme Court itself. Somehow they absorbed this with more enthusiasm than I have seen from them so far this year.

We are presently reading Warriors Don’t Cry which is an autobiography of Melba Patillo Beals who was one of the Little Rock Nine. This memoir describes her experiences inside Central High School as part of the first group of African-Americans to integrate the school. Examining the Brown decision is part of the context of her story.

As the gray and cold days of winter roll in and the students begin to complain about the papers they have to write or the assignments they don’t understand or how the work is way too hard, now I get to say to them, “But a few months ago, didn’t you write a legal brief?”

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