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Date Created: 12/21/15
SKILL SHARPENER 1.800.973.1177 Law Students Learn By Teaching in Washington College of Law’s Mar- shall-Brennan Program [by Erica Winter] Marshall-Brennan fellows have their work cut out for them. The fellows--law students at American University’s Washington College of Law (WCL)— teach Constitutional Law to students in Washington, DC, and Maryland high schools. The law students take a corresponding year-long advanced law school seminar to learn simultaneously how to interpret and also teach the Constitution. The vast majority of high school students with Professor Jamin Raskin and Professor mine, education and working with students,” surveyed in a study released January 31 said Steven Wermiel, who head up the Marshall- he says. they thought flag burning was illegal. The Brennan program. study, “The Future of the First Amendment,” Constitutional Law is important for high was commissioned by the John S. and James The Marshall-Brennan program is “incred- school students to know, says Amarillas. L. Knight Foundation and was conducted by ibly rewarding,” says Amarillas, adding that “What better things to teach?” When he was researchers at the University of Connecti- many law students who participate say it is telling his high school class about the First cut. Answers from the 100,000 high school the best thing they have done in law school. Amendment study, they responded that those students surveyed demonstrated the general Amarillas teaches the elective course to a di- students would have given different answers lack of understanding of the First Amend- verse group of 10th-12th graders at Woodrow if they had taken this class. m ent in the United States. Wilson High School in the northwest section of Washington, in the same neighborhood as Starting out, most of Amarillas’s students Nearly 75% of the students said they do not American University. had a cursory knowledge of Constitutional know how they feel about the First Amend- Law, such as the names of certain land- ment or admit they take it for granted, ac- Teaching high school students is as he imag- m ark cases. Now, they are very interested cording to a release summarizing the study. ined, Amarillas says, “and better.” Constitu- in Supreme Court cases that relate to high Half of the students think that the govern- tional Law is difficult and dense, he says; he school students, such as Fourth Amendment m ent can censor the Internet. And, possibly thought it might be a hard subject to teach to issues in searches of student lockers and most disturbing, more than one-third think high school students. His students have been their persons. the First Amendment goes too far in the “engaged, receptive, and ready to learn,” he rights it guarantees. says. Melissa Rifkin’s students are also most interested in Fourth Amendment issues, she The survey suggests that First Amendment Amarillas teaches on a full schedule, work- says, perhaps fittingly concerned, like many rights would be universally known if they ing at the high school from 10:30 a.m. to teenagers, about their personal privacy. were classroom staples. noon, alternating weeks between a Monday- Rifkin teaches 45-minute classes five days Wednesday-Friday schedule and Tuesdays- a week on a semester system at Kennedy “These results are not only disturbing; they Thursdays, with the same group of kids High School in Silver Spring, MD. She had 19 are dangerous,” said Knight Foundation for the whole year. Most of his law school students last semester and 25 this term. Her President and CEO Hodding Carter, III, in classes are in the afternoons and evenings. students are “very fired up” about privacy the release: “Ignorance about the basics of That dizzying schedule is actually manage- issues, she says. this free society is a danger to our nation’s able, Amarillas says, as long as he sets aside future.” enough prep time for teaching. Rifkin’s students are less concerned, however, with issues surrounding prayer in Marshall-Brennan fellows Fernando Amaril- While an undergrad at UCLA, Amaril- schools, which is surprising, since there is las and Melissa Rifkin are working to change las worked with Los Angeles students to so much emphasis put on the issue in law that. Both are second-year WCL students increase their competitiveness in the college school, she notes. Possibly, high school teaching Constitutional Law courses in area admissions process; he worked with them on students do not like to think that their values high schools. They also take the concur- SAT preparation and with the college admis- would be changed by the actions of others, so rent advanced Constitutional Law seminar s ion process. “It’s always been a passion of prayer is no big deal, since it would do noth- PAGE 1 continued on back SKILL SHARPENER 1.800.973.1177 ing to change their beliefs. Law “helps them understand their country and the world around them,” says Rifkin. Knowing Rifkin had tutored children in reading skills that there are limits on what authority figures before becoming a Marshall-Brennan fellow are allowed to do also empowers the kids, she but had not taught in a classroom before. says. And so far, while none of her students The experience is honing her public speaking have expressed desires to become lawyers skills, first and foremost. “There is no better yet, she has been asked if she would be able way” to learn public speaking than to get up to teach Con Law II. in front of a group of teens and start to teach them something, she says. The second thing she is learning from teach - ing, says Rifkin, is how to translate the law for non-lawyers. Some say that law school teaches students “a new language,” says Rifkin. Teaching high school kids allows her to translate that new language back into plain English, she says. One fascinating thing about Constitutional Law that she teaches her students is what it is, exactly, and what it is not. Constitutional Law deals with fundamental rights, but it does not relate to whether the action being taken is good or bad. For example, there is a section in the program’s textbook (We the Students: Su - preme Court Cases For and About Students, written by Professor Raskin) on the juvenile death penalty. Constitutional Law is not about whether or not the death penalty is an effective deterrent or justifiable punishment. Constitutional Law looks at whether or not the death penalty violates the Eighth Amend - ment’s provision against cruel and unusual punishment. Another example, also covered in the text - book, is flag burning. Possibly, Rifkin says, society is not well served by burning the flag; but still, we cannot have a law against flag burning because that would violate the fundamental right of free speech. The same goes for marches by the Ku Klux Klan—unac - ceptable to the vast majority of people, but fundamentally protected nonetheless. Teaching high school students Constitutional PAGE 2
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