Tuesday, September 23, 2014

People I Do NOT Want On My Jury

I mentioned recently that I had jury duty this month. While I was not chosen, I did spend 8 hours in jury selection for a murder trial.

While I was there, I had a conversation with one of the sixty others in my jury pool that blew me away.

I didn’t learn her name. She was an older woman with an indeterminate accent. She was tiny, with  child-sized legs and feet but with the mouth of Estelle Getty from Golden Girls. She was furious that she had to show up that day. She didn’t drive and complained loudly about her need for a ride that was waiting outside. She made a fuss about the possibliity of being chosen for the jury and needing a ride for multiple days.

Outside the courtroom, in one of the sleek, marbled halls, she grumbled during a break. “I don’t know why we need to be here anyway. I know the law says “trial by jury” and all but really, they should just throw the guy (the defendant) in jail and be done with it.

My jaw dropped a little and I struggled to balance my “social studies teacher” side with my “this is an adult and I am not necessarily here to teach her” side. I looked at her and said “It IS a pain, but I hope that if I am ever accused of a crime, that the judge and lawyers will be careful choosing MY jury some day.”

Um. Wrong thing to say, I guess?

The woman got a little agitated and said “Of course he did it! Why else would he be here? Everybody knows he did it. Just throw him in jail and let us all go home!”

The social studies teacher inside me had a heart attack.

The polite person inside me tried one more time. “People are wrongly accused of crimes all the time. I hope this guy (the defendant) gets a fair trial like everybody else”.

It was hopeless. She came back with “I don’t care. I’m sure that guy did it. Just look at him! This is BS. You only get a fair trial if you didn’t do it. We should all go home.”

Oh. My God.

I do NOT want that woman on MY jury.

I think I just heard the best argument in a while to explain why our kids need to learn SKILLS as well as CONTENT.

That woman knew her content. She knew that we, as citizens, are guaranteed a trial by jury. But she didn’t have the historical or civic skills to USE or APPLY that info to real situations.

And I freaked out, relating this to the Civics EOC. Linda often says “every kid’s vote will count the same”. I think that we have to raise that to a new level. My new real-world pressure is that “every kid could potentially be on my jury.”

Yes, even THAT kid might be on a jury. Could be MY jury some day.

And I want him or her to have the skills necessary to give me a fair trial.

One of the MAIN arguments behind the Civics (and HS US History) EOC exam(s) is that our kids need to be informed and skilled in using civic and historical information to make choices.

The reasons those tests are so tough is because they are of higher complexity. They ask kids to analyze, apply, and use those historical, geographical, civic, and economic skills. The tests don’t just ask for recall. One of our colleagues once told me “I don’t mind an EOC if they would just TELL me what set of trivia they’re testing.”

But those tests aren’t trivia tests. They aren’t solely fact-based. They’re based on skills.

What kinds of skills? Reading skills, writing skills, and historical thinking skills.

“Be more specific, Trace” I hear you saying.

Ok. Take a look at your course benchmarks in two places -- yes, even elective courses!

Here’s how.
  1. Click “Course Descriptions” along the top
  2. Click “Grades PreK-12 Education Courses”
  3. Click your level (grades 6-8 or grades 9-12)
  4. Click “Social Studies”
  5. Click the subcategory and find your course under that.
  6. Click the blue box with a number and the words “Course Standards”
  7. Now, look at the LAFS (LAFS = “Language Arts Florida Standards”, the Standards Formerly Known as the Common Core). Those will tell you the reading and writing standards assessed. Those are a big part of the EOCs, the district-developed EOCs, and the FSA (the test replacing the FCAT)
  8. Now, scroll through your standards until you come to the ones that start with an SS (Social Studies).
    1. The coding should say SS and then your grade level (like SS.6 for 6th grade or SS.912 for grades 9-12).
    2. After your grade level should be a letter. A=American History, E=Economics, C=Civics and Government, W=World History, G=Geography, and P=Psychology.
    3. So once you have the “SS”, the grade, the topic, the next number should be a “1”. That number one corresponds to SKILLS standards. Economic thinking, historical thinking, geographic thinking, historical thinking, civic thinking. For example:
SS.6.W.1.1 or SS.912.E.1.10
  1. Take a close look at those skill benchmarks. Here are a couple of examples:
    1. SS.912.A.1.2Utilize a variety of primary and secondary sources to identify author, historical significance, audience, and authenticity to understand a historical period.
    2. SS.6.W.1.5Describe the roles of historians and recognize varying historical interpretations (historiography).

When we dig into our “skills” standards, we can get a better idea of how to teach those skills in our social studies courses. Those skills are not one-time lessons but they are topics and abilities students should tackle throughout the year.

I want skilled citizens on my jury, not just citizens with a bunch of Google-able facts. And I definitely DON’T want that woman on my jury. I might be in big trouble if she is.

Your students need skills in addition to content. Check out the ones related to your course and tell me -- which ones do you already focus on? Which ones are “duh” skills? Which ones are you less comfortable teaching? Which ones do you need help with? As always, I love to hear your thoughts! Email me at newmantr@pcsb.org

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