#StreetLaw 3: Aliens and Human Rights

…or when I realised even kids hate lawyers!

For our third lesson we thought we’d be a bit more adventurous that we had one before and not use just worksheets and pens, but strips of paper with human rights (mostly according to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child) which the groups can move about themselves. It was a risk…but we were prepared to take it. It was even more dangerous since Ms. Hemming – the class’s usual teacher who was usually in the class with us – was off sick. We would have a cover teacher, but would she appreciate the Street Law approach? And, more importantly, would we be able to control the class effectively without our security teacher?

The Premise

Instead of any sort of introduction at the start of the class, we asked the class to wait outside the door while we prepared. When they did come in we told people where to go in the class, and this would split them into groups. This seems a tad authoritarian, but last week we suspected people weren’t really sticking to the groups – so we wanted to keep an eye on it. Once the groups were in, David asked for a some examples of human rights from the class and we got a good mix of the big hitters (speech, religion etc.) and a few smaller ones (education, movement etc.) which was a good start. The class, it seemed, were aware of what rights were and a few different examples.

The Execution

Without further ado, I took over. “Folks, I have to tell you…”, I said as I headed out small bundles of 15 paper strips, “…while you were moving between classes, aliens have taken over the planet”. I expected a few titters – but there were none. “The aliens are friendly. They don’t want to hurt us or kill us, but they do think that we humans have too many rights, so we have to get rid of some. In fact, they want us to get rid of 3 of the rights in the bundles I’ve given you.”
And without waiting all 5 of the groups got to work. I didn’t tell them to start, nor did I give them a time limit. They just got started looking out the rights they would ditch. We were surprised, but pleased. But the different ways the groups approached it was interesting:

  • One group decided to sort the rights into 3 columns of “Keep”, “Ditch” and “Maybe” and see where they ended up. By the end of that they had 2 in their ‘ditch’ column so had to think hard about the 3 or 4 in their ‘maybe’ pile and which one they would offer up to their new overlords.
  • Most groups generally put all the rights out in front of them, someone picked one out and made the case for getting rid of it and then the group discussed it. These groups were a bit slower than the one above, but it got the job done.
  • There was one group who, arguing that they wanted one particular member to keep quiet offered up the “Freedom of Speech”. I suggested that his wasn’t wise, so they reconsidered.

In the end, all the groups managed the group, but the only rights all the groups agreed to ditch were “Right to Bear Arms” and “Right to Work”. Most groups found this step quite simple, saying that there were rights you would obviously keep, and others you would like, but don’t “need”. 1 group (not the columns group) said they found this hard because there were 5 rights they were toying with for their 3rd ditch.

This process was repeated twice more. In the second round, each group had to get rid of 4 more rights and the most common casualties were “Right to Assemble Peaceably”, “Freedom of the Press”, “Right to Marriage and Family” and “Right to a Lawyer” – the reasoning being that most of these rights were ‘included’ in other rights (which we would come back to later). One group did get rid of the “Right to Life, Liberty and Due Process” – which the class felt was an interesting choice.
In the final round the groups had to cut their rights down to just 3. After all the class had made their decisions, the “Right to Life etc.”, “Freedom of Speech” and (somewhat surprisingly) “Right to Education” were the winners (i.e – had the fewest groups ditching them). The final interesting point here was that there were members in 2 of the groups who were very determined to get “Freedom of Religion” into the top 3. One of the groups had an equally determined voice that it wouldn’t, but the other required both myself and the cover teacher to step in and impose democracy (3 – 2 to ditch) on the group (despite them already having abandoned the right to vote). This was a slightly unexpected turn.

The Conclusion

Having taken the votes and struck of the rights that our extra-terrestrial overlords had removed, David lead an exploration of what kind of world we now lived in. Some said that many of the rights were kind of repeating themselves. For example, “Freedom of Speech” mostly covered “Freedom of Religion”, “Freedom of the Press” and “Right to Assemble”, but when it was asked whether going to church or the mosque would be “speech” this became less certain. Possibly our egos having been bruised, the class were asked why they got of the “Right to a Lawyer” but kept “Right to Life, Liberty and Due Process”. Most said that a lawyer wasn’t needed for a trial to be fair, and that the “due process” would protect them anyway – but when asked what would happen if the process didn’t include right to a lawyer, there was again, a bit more hesitation.
To wind the class up we introduced the idea that these rights do exists and asked a simple question: Where do these rights come from? Ask any Law Student and they wouldn’t hesitate before saying the ECHR. But the pupils said it was “The Constitution” and “The Bill of Rights”. This highlighted 2 things to us:

  1. The influence of American Legal dramas continues unabated.
  2. We forget that we probably didn’t really know what the ECHR was before we started our degrees. And now we’d forgotten that we’d forgotten that.

Overall, the class again enjoyed this lesson – and I’d like to do it again with a different group (or age range) to see how the answers differ.

Teaching Points

+ This time we were able to control things when strong opinions were being discussed and debated.
+ We managed to cope really well without our usual teacher and her authority behind us.
– Something we weren’t prepared for – he “aliens” scenario actually distracted a few people into focussing on ‘how to beat the aliens’ and not on the Human Rights task at hand.


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