Friday, October 5, 2012
Every March, the 11th grade students in my U.S. History and Government courses spend five weeks working in teams on a “Moot Court” project that has become the seminal academic experience of upperclassmen at our school. The teams read & research real First and Fourth Amendment Supreme Court cases and then develop arguments and present in front of guests “justices.” After eight years of Moot Court at our school, 11th graders – almost without exception – take this project VERY seriously.
Two years ago, there was Moot Court team of four young men who requested specifically to be together, arguing that they were prepared to rise to the occasion and wanted the opportunity to be a good influence on one another and “prove everyone else wrong.” This group of young men – Ivan, Jon, Ricardo & David – may have been a risky assemblage, but it was working. By week four, they were still excited, focused and committed -- to editing and re-editing their briefs, to staying after school to read pieces of the Constitution to one another, and to telling each other how to make the best kind of eye contact when at the speaker’s podium.
But, just at the end of week four, only one week before the final presentations of their cases, three of these young men were pulled into a nasty, violent, inter-school fight with students from a middle school with whom we share a school building. The fight had been developing over several weeks and was the result of out-of-school turf tension around the two sets of projects across the street from our school. All of the young men involved – about 10 total – expressed feeling little control in the events that led to this violent confrontation and appealed to the adults in the building to help preemptively mediate tension like this in the future.
Ivan, Jon & Ricardo never got to present in Moot Court. They were each given a 60-day suspension at an alternate site. David was left to present with a group that was not his own – a group that had never worked with him late into the evening on making the perfect eye contact. Moreover, Ivan, Jon & Ricardo were never again as engaged at school as I’d seen from them during that Moot Court March: Ricardo, who was in line to be our senior basketball captain, felt forced to transfer to a school without a basketball team; Jon’s aunt sent him to live in New Jersey with distant relatives; and Ivan spent his senior year openly mistrusting every adult (and student, for that matter) in our school building. Even David, while not involved directly in the fight nor the suspensions, was listless for months, wondering about the hole in his life and his classes that was Ivan, Jon & Ricardo.
So, as educators, what did we give to these young men? A 60-day suspension and some transfer forms? We could have done so much more for this risky-but-working team who wanted so badly to prove themselves.
- EEM, 11th & 12th grade U.S. History & Government teacher in a small, public, non-charter school in the South Bronx