This past week, our homeschool support group held our third annual mock trial at the lovely courthouse pictured here. Well, it used to be a courthouse. Now, it’s mostly a local history museum, with a few lawyers’ offices, and a beautifully restored courtroom. Around three years ago, our group toured the museum on a field trip. When the kids saw the historic courtroom, they pretended to hold a trial, but they didn’t really know what they were doing. As we parents observed and chatted, someone suggested that we ought to teach them how courts really work. Before long, we had reserved the courtroom for a mock trial.
The parents planning the mock trial had little courtroom experience, but online we found free scripts for mock trials, written as educational tools by legal organizations. Scripts made it easy as we were basically planning a play. We might not be lawyers, but we could have our students read through the script in advance and come ready to play their roles. We encouraged them to come in costume. Our lawyers came in suits. The bailiff dressed in khaki and came with toy handcuffs. Our judge wore an old graduation robe. The rest took their places as witnesses or jurors.
Our first mock trial was based on a nursery rhyme. We thought this would make it understandable for even our youngest members as they already knew about Humpty Dumpty and could understand determining if one of the king’s men was guilty of causing his fall.
The first trial was a success. We had more members in attendance than for most other field trips. The museum loved being able to report an educational use of their facilities and the kids learned a great deal about trials, public speaking, and putting on a show. So we held another scripted event the next year and it, too, went well as the kids acted out a scripted (adapted) version of a real trial in which the courts considered whether a tomato was a fruit or a vegetable. (It seemed odd to me that such a case went all the way to the Supreme Court until I read that the government was trying to charge a vegetable tariff on tomatoes that an importer claimed were fruit. The government wasn’t likely to let anyone avoid paying a tax if they could help it.)
This year, we became bolder. Or more accurately, I wanted to make the event more appropriate for my now high school-aged teens. I wanted to make it part of a speech “class” for them as well as part of their Civics/Government curriculum. I had interested kids come together monthly throughout the school year to learn about public speaking, debating, and courtroom procedure. Then, using information found online, we held an unscripted mock trial. The eight students who played the parts of lawyers, two teams of four lawyers per side, wrote their own speeches, devised their own questions, and learned to make objections if the other team seemed to be breaking rules. They learned not only to speak well to the audience but to speak to jurors at a level they could understand without being condescending, and deal with witnesses who were nervous and couldn’t always keep their stories straight. A homeschool parent who is a lawyer shared advice along the way to help them polish their presentations and reassured them that the problems they were encountering are typical issues in real trials.
This year, eighty people were present for our mock trial. Lawyers told us that the kids did better than many law school students. And I’m already thinking of how to improve on it for next year because I think it’s been such a great learning experience, in so many ways, for all the kids. Isn’t it great what a bunch of parents, who aren’t experts, can figure out and put together when they see what their kids need to learn and they pool their efforts together? To me, that’s one of the reasons that homeschooling can work so well, especially when a few homeschoolers join forces.