Teaching Law-Related Education
in Schools With the Internet


By Bradley J. Hillis, M.A., J.D.
Legal Analyst, Office of the Administrator for the Courts
P.O. Box 41174, Olympia, Washington 98504-1174
Telephone (360) 357-2128; E-mail, Brad.Hillis@courts.wa.gov
May 1, 1996

 

A. Elementary School Resources

B. Resources for Secondary School Students

C. Spanish Language Resources

D. Conclusion

 

 

 

 

In the modern classroom of today students are exploring the Kids White House to learn about how government works and how a bill becomes a law. Other students may be learning about the thousand year history of the Parliament of Iceland in as part of a project on how democracy has changed over history. There is a great deal of information on the Internet to assist in the teaching of law-related education. In the past, however, locating the appropriate resources has been problematic. New kids-oriented sites and court-education materials have helped make it easier to find and use educational materials.

This article summarizes some of the numerous kid-oriented law sites for secondary schools and somewhat fewer resources appropriate for elementary schools. Of particular usefulness are Spanish-language materials which, though located in Spain, Mexico and South America, are as close as a click of a mouse on the World Wide Web.

The term law-related education is quite broad. It includes law and government, history and political science. Materials on these overlapping but distinct areas are often included in the same site. For example, the British Parliament, Canadian Supreme Court, and French Ministry of Justice, all contain information on law-making, courts and legal history.

A. Elementary School Resources

The best place to begin a search for law-related educational materials for students in elementary school, grade 6 and under, is Yahooligans!, at the address http://www.yahooligans.com/. This is operated by Yahoo! of Palo Alto, California, which is one of the most popular Web pages. The Yahooligans site is designed specifically for children and lists appropriate home pages to visit in an effort to assure that inappropriate material will not accidentally show up in the classroom. New resources are posted frequently.

At the White House for Kids students are greeted by a friendly mascot, Socks the Cat. Socks gives a guided tour that provides a good historical background to the President and First Lady. In the regular White House home page, there is a rich historical section with portraits and biographies of each of the past presidents.

Another site with pages oriented towards school-aged children is CourtTV, located at http://www.courttv.com/. Perhaps best known for its gavel-to-gavel coverage of the O.J. Simpson trial, CourtTV has a large Web page, as well. There is information on how a case moves through the courts, the role of juries and the history of the United States Supreme Court. The site employs some of the most advanced technology used in law Web sites. In this vein, older students will enjoy the interactive mock trial.

B. Resources for Secondary School Students

The variety of law-related educational materials available for secondary school students is impressive. Essentially, the bulk of information contained in law Web sites aimed towards the general public can be utilized.

1. Learning About Courts

Several courts have Web sites useful to educators containing general information and history. For instance, Washington courts, have law-related education lesson plans for grades K-12. There is also a court history portion with portraits of 19th-century Territorial Supreme Court justices. The University of Arkansas court page includes a simple, easy to follow narrative description of how the court operates. The address is http://www.uark.edu/~govninfo/PAGES/JUDICIAL/judi.html. Similarly, a brief history of the California Supreme Court is found at http://agency.resource.ca.gov/gov/consoffs.html#supr_decis

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Are you trying to teach about the civil rights movement? Try listening to Thurgood Marshall*s oral arguments in Brown v. Board of Education, the case that ended lawful segregation in public schools. The audio files for Brown and several other historic U.S. Supreme Court cases are available at the Northwestern University Law School in Chicago. Using RealAudio*s software, which can be downloaded free from http://www.realaudio.com/, one can listen to gifted attorneys make their case to the nation*s highest court.

Oral arguments for recent U.S. Supreme Court cases are available at Cornell Law School, and for select Washington Supreme Court cases from the TVW cable network. In addition to the substantive benefits of oral arguments, the audio technologies inject some fun into learning about law.

2. Learning About Legislatures

The legislative process is an area with many resources to choose from. Three federal home pages are good starting points. First, the U.S. House of Representatives has one of the best Web pages in cyberspace, at http://www.house.gov/ Second, the Library of Congress site is excellent. Finally, the THOMAS service, named after Thomas Jefferson, is one of the best places to look for federal materials.

Also of interest are the historical documents from the American Revolution and other periods that are kept by Washburn University Law School, in Topeka, Kansas, at http://law.wuacc.edu/washlaw/reflaw/refhist.html.

Almost every state government operates a Web server. In Washington, this is located at http://www.wa.gov/. The legislature*s Web page will typically contain a description of how a bill moves through the House of Representatives and Senate, then before the Governor for approval or veto.

3. Learning About Other Countries

There are excellent Web sites maintained by courts of other countries that can help students learn about world cultures and history. The sites usually offer English language versions. In Switzerland, the Supreme Court has a tour in English (plus three other languages!) that is one of the best sites on the Web. The address of the Swiss Supreme Court is http://www.admin.ch/TF/E/INDEX.HTM.

Touring other European countries can be done through the British Library*s Gabriel gateway to twenty or so national libraries.

Two places standout as particular good starting points to look at United Nations information. The first is the United Nations Information Services, with links to many agencies. The second recommended site is the United Nations Web and Gopher Servers (UNICC), at http://gatekeeper.unicc.org/

The movement of Europe toward a more coordinated economic and legal system is under the European Union is documented at the Europa Web Server, and European Union Home Page.

C. Spanish Language Resources

On the topic of Spanish-language law-related education resources, there is some bad news and good news. First the bad news: To date there are few law-related materials to assist Spanish-speaking students in learning about law in the United States. Now the good news: There are many Web sites with law-related information about Spanish-speaking countries.

The University of Lima, Peru, has the Spanish translation of the United States Constitution. It has a large collection of Spanish language constitutions from around the world. This is a document that, because of difficult connections in long-distance Web pages, may be more efficiently copied and maintained on a computer in the classroom. Permission for this mirroring of information is often granted to schools even for copyrighted information.

The Organization of American States, maintains a comprehensive list of Web resources in Latin America, the Caribbean and South America. The OAS is a good Web site to learn about international governments, as well.

A valuable Spanish-language tutorial on how to use the Internet can be found at the National Library, (again, this is probably best copied onto a school computer, if permission is granted).

Spanish political and court information is found on the SiSpain site operated by the Spanish Embassy at Ottawa, at http://www.DocuWeb.ca/SiSpain/politics/menu.htm There is information in English and Spanish on courts and the constitution. By the way, the Spanish Constitution is found at http://www.ugr.es/~amunoz/Welcome.htm.

Finally, a general listing of Internet resources in Spain is at http://www.uji.es/spain_www.html. Two items that may prove too technical for most students, but are worth mentioning are the Boletin Oficial del Estado (BOE), which is like the Congressional Register, at http://www.boe.es/. Also noteworthy is a thesis on the governmental structure in Spain by a graduate student, at http://xs4all.nl/~lazarte/spain.htm.

D. Conclusion

In summary, the Internet is a helpful tool in teaching law- related lesson plans. In the hands of students, Internet technology is not a barrier but instead an exciting added dimension to learning about courts and the law. The facet of the Internet that brings distant countries into a "global village" permits access to Spanish-language information about law that was previously unavailable in most classrooms. In the past, problems in identifying sites appropriate for students has hindered use the Internet. The growing availability of sites with content designed specifically for children, such as Yahooligans and White House for Kids, will encourage teachers to turn to these materials.