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Friday, December 10, 2004

Teaching Law to School Kids


It's a hallmark of adulthood. A rite of passage. Somewhere along
that measuring line of life, you find yourself extremely unsingle.
With a family. In one blink of an eye, the party conversation
changes from favorite bands to more mundane topics, like which
schools your kids attend.

That's not to say I pine for the single days. To be sure, I don't
miss the Herculean efforts to engage a beautiful-but-vapid vixen in
conversation merely for the sake of the eventual but unlikely reward
of sexual satisfaction. It was just too much work. And the truth is
that I love having kids and all that goes with them.

I think that what tires me out the most is that everyone at parent
parties talks about how horrible schools are, yet they do nothing to
solve the problem. Fortunately, I think I've found the cure for our
school systems and society in general: Teach law in grade schools.
In fact, law course should be compulsory at every grade level, from
kindergarten through senior year high school.

It's not as nutty as it sounds. Here's why:

If you know anything about American law, it's that everything is
based on the concept of "reasonableness." That means people are
supposed to act in a way that's most reasonable. Reasonableness
means you have to think about what you do before you do it, which in
turn means that if you think about it and still do it, you're
responsible for what you do.

What a great foundation upon which to build a human being.

How many times have you heard some idiot before a judge claiming he
didn't know his actions constituted a crime, only to hear the judge
proclaim, "Ignorance is no excuse"? Well, unless you teach every
citizen the law, how can they be anything but ignorant? How is an
individual supposed to learn the law? Where is he supposed to learn
it?

Sure, we bemoan the fact that Johnny can't calculate the area of a
triangle at the age of 16, but which would you rather live among: a
reckless math wiz or a law abiding, responsible illiterate? I'll
tell you this much: if more people knew what was legal, what wasn't
and the consequences of both, we wouldn't be voting on police bonds
every two years.

If we taught law from the very earliest ages, kids would understand
that the rule of law isn't something that expires when the bell
rings. That same respect due classmates in finger-painting would
carry over to the dinner table at home. Those mean kids who tease
their shyer counterparts would finally be held accountable for their
actions by their peers, guided by their teachers. Throughout their
years, school kids would see our legal ethics, codes and practices
touch their lives every day. When they graduate, they'd enter
society with a far better idea of what is and isn't acceptable.

I know there are going to be those who insist that music and art are
more important than law. To them, I say it's time to take a long,
practical look at schools. Because before you can teach anyone to
appreciate art and music, you have to teach them to appreciate
themselves. You have to guide them to principles of self-worth and
self-respect before you can expect them to respect others and that's
what law is essentially all about.

Even the youngest kids have tiny moral compasses. We should be there
to assure they're accurately set from the first day of school.


9 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, of course, you know what most Americans in this day and age would answer to that, don't you, Rob?

"If you want to direct a child's moral compass, teach them the Bible/Torah/Koran!"

Of course, in this day and age, the obvious answer to that would be: "You mean, the way they do in Fallujah?"

I, on the other hand, agree with you. Law school should not be the only place where you get in-depth instruction in the law. Western civilization is based on the rule of law; early on, it was a revolutionary concept but one that has certainly withstood the test of time and practically everything else. If we aren't going to teach kids about the foundation of Western civilization, what's the point of teaching them anything else about it?

Besides, I find that talking to them in terms of what's legal and what's not seems to resonate better than many other things I might say. I often tell my kids they can't do something, not because it is dangerous or because it is immoral, but because it is illegal. I find it kind of astonishing how well that works. Maybe it's because they can argue about whether they'll get hurt or not, and they can argue about relative morality, but they can't argue with, "That's against the law."

Possibly that's why I have such trouble-free teenagers.

BTW, did you know that in the State of New York, you can't get a divorce on the grounds of "irreconcilable differences" but you can get one on the grounds of lack of nookie? The legal term for it is "constructive abandonment," and it reduces to a legal requirement that people who are married are required to sleep with one another at least once a year.

Marriage must be such a comfort to a guy! ;-D

Cheers!
Dawn

4:46 PM  
Blogger Rob Frankel said...

Dawn, I see a clear separation between religious and secular law. With the latter, you go to jail. With the former, you go to hell. And most of the time, there are no real life consequences to breaking religious law. Nothing that (at least in the United States) can land you in Pelican Bay.

Also, let's face it: religion carries with it so many passionate differences and interpretations that hardly anyone can keep track of which laws apply to what. Secular law, on the other hand, can be interpreted within a constrained degree of latitude.

Excepting, of course, that strange New York law you cited. There's absolutely no excuse there.

Thanks for posting!

4:59 PM  
Blogger Cannell said...

Practice Your Experience

On the surface it sounds like a plausible idea, but I doubt the reality, should it become a reality, will produce the desired results. Perhaps it might be useful to focus your imagination and play it out in everyday terms.

Suppose I’ve got a kid in grade 10 with quite a few years of law under his belt, but one day he comes home and finds that his dad has received an impaired charge. Alright, I confess, I was so loaded that I blew 2.4 in the balloon. There’s no way I should have been driving, but you know what? That reading was so ridiculously high that by all rights I should have been in a comma. My lawyer is going to get me off because he says there is no way I should have been able to drive – or else the reading was faulty. The school may have taught my son the law, but I’ve taught him how to manipulate the truth to fix my problem. Which of these two lessons will have the greatest impact?

We all know that there is a law for the rich and a law for the poor. We have politicians that salt their money away in offshore accounts where its safe from being taxed. Meanwhile the common labourer is taxed upwards to 30% or more - right off the top with no way to conceal a penny.

Equality in the law is not a fact it’s a fallacy. In order for the law to be equal and just it needs to be a matter of rote where any practitioner will get very similar results. But look, we all know that a strong emotional argument has more momentum than a reasonable assembly of the events. Lady justice is supposed to be blind so that she does not see the colour of your skin, the shabby clothes you wear, or the impeccable attire you’ve chosen for court. But, would you take a chance on wearing dirty old sweats for your day in court?

The problem is not with the law, or not knowing the law – it’s that justice is not equal in the practice of the law. As long as justice is a commodity that can be purchased then I see little hope for the idealism of teaching law to kids as a means of building moral backbone.

The point I’m making here is that laws are mostly rational and practical considerations, but there’s nothing like an emotional spike on the meter to move people toward a decision, and as long as the laws can be manipulated through emotions then the real issue is not that we all need to learn the law – we need to stop manipulating. Will I remember that if I ever get nabbed for a crime? I’m just an ordinary guy, but I can see myself trying to adjust the truth so I don’t look too bad. And I can see the prosecution adjusting the truth to make me look villainous. What’s a person supposed to do?

Consider this:
Maybe the wisdom and creativity behind life never meant that there should be a fix, a solution for everything. Maybe there is only supposed to be the experience.

Ed Cannell

1:34 AM  
Blogger Rob Frankel said...

Ed, law is law. It's always going to be contested and manipulated. But if you teach kids the law, at least they have a grounding in what a society expects from them as they grow into adulthood.

The main benefit of teaching law at every grade level, however, isn't about penalty. It's about accountability. If we taught more kids to think rationally and accept responsibility, there would likely be fewer criminal actions to begin with, and fewer instances for perverting existing law.

Thanks for a very thoughtful post.

7:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its a no brainer. I agree with you. It should be part of the curriculum beginning in the 7th grade. And while we are at it, lets teach them about the evils of credit, the power of savings, and the importance of chairity.

So what is the next step. How do you change a beuracratic, union driven, low bid mediorcrity institution that is the education system to actually provide children the tools that will serve them as adults?

Thats the tough nut to crack. Getting teachers onboard is the real challenge here...

Anonymous....

9:50 PM  
Blogger Rob Frankel said...

Actually, I disagree: I want law taught as early as first grade, not seventh. By seventh grade, it's too late. Anyone who's raised kids knows that if you don't instill a sense of responsibility into them at an early age, the cause is lost -- or at least an uphill battle -- once they get into pre-teen and teen years.

Also, although teaching them practical skills like credit is smart, that's off my point: if you begin with law, you build a whole framework on which the other practical skills you mention can stand. Without that foundation, the issue of "consequences for one's actions" are irrlelvant and meaningless.

Getting teachers on board is another matter. Where I live, most public schools leave very little to the individual teachers when choosing curricula. Unless it's a gifted program, average teachers are dictated as to what they can and can't teach, along with how to teach it. It's really awful. On the other hand, it makes it that much easier to switch curricula.

The problem isn't with the teachers so much as the administrators who have turned them into drones.

Thanks for your post!

7:07 AM  
Blogger realty said...

Rob-

This idea of teaching law to children in theory is terrific.

However, I shun to think that my child should take on the same attitudes that I have to in everyday life. CYA as they say.

Having been frivolously sued for merely leaving a place of employment, only to have it dropped. Did I get justice? Heck no, I got a big fat legal bill.

I don't aspire for my kids to take on the loss of innocence to fearing the repercussions that legalistic thinking breeds.

Encouraging a new generation of children to take on today's narcisstic/legalistic mentality is a mistake.

Legality does not equate to Morality. And contrary to anonymous' sarcasm to teach them the bible is ridiculous. However, at one time the foundation of our law was seeped in Judeo Christian "philosophy".

In the intention of shunning this philosophy, we have moved as a society to a narcissism bred by legalism.

Look at the ramifications: Most of our disruptions in free-markets at the end of the day are from lawyers.

Just look at health care as an example. That is the most screwed up non-market inspired industry.

Why do we have so called ambulance chasers? Because if these people had any moral compass it is dropped because as the only free market operating in health care is in the lawyer market.

Employers must pay a gawd Awful amount of tax to Workman's Comp, Social Security, etc, etc.

Interestingly enough our legalistic idealism now has us asking what kind of comp package are you getting?

That actually means something to a top exec. But to a $10/hr, hump it means the employer covers some sort of medical insurance. So now the  Employer is the defacto provider beyond the capacity of wage. And the masses sleep.

Slip and fall and 9 times out ten its your fault. Find a good lawyer and won't be.

I have heard there are more soon to be attorneys in law school than there are in the market.

Don't you think we have lost our moral compass when we have a bunch of names for murder as an example?

Murder 1, Murder in the first degree, etc. And now we have a specialized crime called hate crime. Each one, giving Mr. Attorney a chance to sell. Kill your average Joe, and the killer is charged for murder. Kill a
homosexual and he gets a special crime. In the name of justice Joe is being prejudiced against.

Where is the Reasonableness? That too is a great idea that I believe the schools do teach. And it is called political correctness.

Attitude breeds beliefs, beliefs breed actions. A legal attitude nor a legalistic society is what I wish for my kids.

12:15 PM  
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3:02 PM  
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