"KIDS DESERVE TO UNDERSTAND THEIR RIGHTS"
Teaching teens about the law gives them much more than a bedrock of legal facts; it provides a tool for self-advocacy and a shield against abuse. Take racial or sex discrimination for example. Incidents of being “arrested while black” or being mistreated for being different are unlikely to disappear completely in the near future, so why not train students on how to respond intelligently while preserving their legal rights to combat such injustices. Deportations and immigration enforcements are increasing. Helping a kid learn some of the basic rules of immigration law not only increases awareness, but it can help her down a path to learn more - to seek help, and perhaps to secure status for herself or a family member. In such a way, teaching the basic language of the law can have a profound impact. There remains a place for lawyers as experts, but legal training can help young Americans to know how to stand up for their democratic liberties.
TEACHING LEGAL BASICS MAKES THE SYSTEM LESS TERRIFYING
A judge recently told me that one of her former clients referred to her experience with the courts as “being thrown out of an airplane.” For many, our criminal justice and administrative systems can feel cold and daunting. Early exposure to law in an educational setting (rather than a judicial proceeding) can alleviate the fear and mistrust some students feel toward the justice system. Offering legal education in the public schools can also provide a much needed opportunity for young Americans to make a positive connection with the legal officers in their communities - police, prosecutors, and judges. For example, having local law enforcement do occasional duty as visiting “law enforcement experts” would not only provide real world training for students, but it can foster positive interactions between students and police officers, something much needed particularly in predominantly black and Hispanic communities.
IGNORANCE OF THE LAW IS NO EXCUSE
Since all Americans are subject to the law, shouldn’t we all have some basic understanding of it - particularly since ignorance of the law does not offer an excuse from punishment? In our complex, modern world, we can no longer pretend that understanding our society’s rules is self-evident. Laws today are complex and require skills and understanding far beyond norms like “pay your taxes” and “don’t harm others.” So let’s be real – a society where only elites and their attorneys understand the law is not a real democracy. America’s laws govern our lives, and our kids deserve to be taught.