Washington Lawyer - December 2017 - 25
coincide with election campaigns, adult voter
turnout averages higher than 80 percent.
JUDGES 'PICK UP
"We have to pick up the slack" on civics education,
says Magistrate Judge Kenia Seoane-López of the
D.C. Superior Court, challenging the legal community to get involved. Seoane-López participates in
the D.C. Bar's Youth Law Fair, an annual event where
hundreds of teens interact with attorneys, judges,
educators, and community leaders and discuss
relevant, topical legal issues (see sidebar). SeoaneLópez also serves on the board of the Spanish
Development Center, where she teaches citizenship
class. Citizenship education is a subject dear to
Seoane-López, who came to the U.S. as a Cuban
immigrant when she was 10, and was later naturalized as a citizen while in law school.
"One of the best ways to teach civics is to actually
watch it work first hand. My favorite part of the
Youth Law Fair is that the actual students take
part in the education process by participating in
the mock trials, and that experience is far more
enriching than being passive learners," SeoaneLópez says. "We are very fortunate to live in our
nation's capital where civics is all around us and
we have a lot of opportunities to see the process
play out daily."
That proximity to government and hands-on
learning is the genesis of Seoane-López's proposal
with the Spanish Development Center to teach a
citizenship class, which would break down the 10
citizenship test questions into visits to various D.C.
landmarks and monuments. For example, to learn
about the three branches of government, the
students would visit the U.S. Supreme Court,
Congress, and the White House. Seoane-López calls
the program Ciudadanos en la Capital (Citizens in
the Capital). She hopes to start tours soon.
Her colleague, D.C. Superior Court Judge Jose M.
López, is another advocate for hands-on civics education. López takes part in the Youth Law Fair,
where students participate in mock trials and
Superior Court judges lead courtroom and holding
cell tours, as well as offer an inside look at the
"Youth Law Fair is about having young people walk
in the shoes of those responsible for the welfare of
our community; that is the best way for them to
understand why we must care and preserve our
community," López says.
"One of the things we try to do is bring the youth
close to the cause and effect of certain behavior,
hoping to grab their appreciation for caring. So,
we have them play the role of the various participants, like the victim, the defendant, the police
officer, and even the judge. I find ways to impress
on them that the purchase of stolen goods may
seem innocuous enough between seller and purchaser; however, that activity encourages thieves
to continue their criminal enterprise to the point
that you and your family are the next victims,"
"Sometimes people seem to be too removed
from the negative impact that neglecting our
civic duty has on all of us."
THE RULE OF LAW
& BAR ASSOCIATIONS
Civics education should also be the work of bar
associations, says D.C. Bar President Patrick
McGlone. Without civics, how can people be
expected to understand the judiciary and a
society based on the rule of law?
"Lawyers by their training understand the principle
of the rule of law. Our society is supposed to be
organized around a consensus of legal principles,
a system that will serve everyone's needs equally,"
McGlone says. Yet there is a "dismal lack of knowledge on how our government works, on how our
judiciary works, if Judge Judy is on the Supreme
Court or not, or what the amendments are," says
McGlone, who has written about civics in his
"From Our President" column.
"The need to compromise is really fundamental to
how our government is intended to operate.
Better understanding of the balance of power, the
different branches of government, and representative democracy would help us part from this
polarized political environment that we're in,"
NOT YOUR MOTHER'S
Civics might once have been considered a pedagogical anachronism like Latin, but it appears to be making
a comeback in some quarters of D.C. Public Schools.
On a Sunday afternoon in late May, dozens of
eighth graders and their parents gathered at a
Busboys and Poets café to watch the performance
"Protest and Patriotism" - a Cornerstone civics
project of D.C. Public Schools. The kids rapped,
sang, and gave speeches on the topic: "What is
our moral obligation in times of great crisis?"
Student Demarrie Walker performs at the
"Protest and Patriotism" civics event presented
by D.C. Public Schools.
on the terms of impeachment. One by one, or in
small groups, students took the stage to protest,
among other issues, missing girls, discrimination,
police shootings, and Muslim stereotyping.
"We want students to think deeply about what
it means to be an active citizen in a democracy,"
says Phin Ramsey, a teacher at Cardozo Education
Campus who developed the "Protest and
Patriotism" Cornerstone curriculum. The program
began in a social studies classroom with a history
lesson about John Brown's raid on Harpers
Ferry. In essays, the students debated whether
John Brown's means (violent protest) justified
his attempted goal (the abolition of slavery).
They then translated that moral quandary to
a contemporary situation and crafted the
Although they may be just eighth graders, Ramsey
says his students "are citizens," and he encourages
them to think of their words as part of a "larger
The May event closed with Josephine Crittenden,
an eighth grader at Stuart-Hobson Middle
School, summoning her nerve to sing to the
Well, I came from afar, Mr. President
And I know many call this a precedent,
But have they seen the way you've treated me?
An immigrant, a minority too,
Would you like it if it were done to you?
The insults, the deportations, the Muslim ban
Tra'Don Bibb, an eighth grader at Cardozo
Education Campus, gave a thoughtful meditation
on the American Dream, which he believes is
achievable but is under assault. "It's about family.
[But it] is being prevented because of police brutality," he said.
What have you done?
We can fix this,
But only if we stand as one.
Oscar Garcia, also an eighth grader at Cardozo, took
a bolder approach with a PowerPoint presentation
Judge Hiram E. Puig-Lugo, courtesy of D.C. Courts; Demarrie Walker by Tracy Schorn
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