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Civil Discourse: 16-Year-Olds and the Right to Vote

A federal judge facilitates this 60-minute distance-learning law school class for high school students as they balance rights and responsibilities.

What is the intersection of free speech and lowering the voting age to 16? In this virtual program, a federal judge leads high school students in a law school-style class in the distance-learning space. 

The judge employs the Socratic method to facilitate students’ exploration of the issues in the landmark Supreme Court case of Morse v. Frederick, popularly known as the Bong Hits for Jesus case.

Students apply this precedent to a realistic but fictional car parade in which a high school student sports a banner on his van that calls for granting 16-year-olds the right to vote using an ambiguous message.

In this highly interactive experience, all learning styles are involved, and all students participate as law students who grapple with legal issues with the assistance of a judge.

About These Resources

Start with the Activity Download (doc) to find the agenda and all of the resources needed to prepare for and conduct the virtual law school class.

Roles and Resources

This activity requires a federal judge presiding and no fewer than 25 high school or college students. The virtual program can accommodate up to 100 students.

  • Federal Judge: Facilitates the arguments, using the Socratic method (doc) of inquiry to involve all students, then opens up the program to take questions and comments from the participants. Resources for the judge are available in the Activity Download.
  • The Teacher and Students: 
    • In advance, they read the designated materials on their own (about 15 minutes). The teacher assigns students to two groups – Group #1 represents the position of student Julian Sampson and Group #2 represents the interests of the school. 
    • In the Law School Class, students work in their small groups to identify the arguments on the Arguments Worksheet (doc) that favor their position. They follow the judge’s Socratic line of questions to make their arguments during the virtual law school class (doc).
  • Methodology in Class: There are no designated spokespersons or debaters. All students have the opportunity to participate using the microphone function. The judge may require students to use the chat box to raise their hand, then speak. If the large group is more than 50 students, the chat box also can be used for student comments and questions if not all students who want to speak can be called on.

After the arguments, all students deliberate on the issues and come to a decision. Due to time constraints, the decision does not have to be unanimous.  Students should be prepared to explain the rationale for their decisions.

What’s Different About This Activity?
  • All students have the opportunity to offer their arguments and to explore the strengths and weaknesses of opposing positions before they come to a decision.
  • Every student has a voice and an opportunity to express their thoughts out loud or in the chat box.
  • The program wraps up with a candid conversation with the judge on any topic.

Time Commitment

Time Commitment for the Students: Reading the advance materials takes 15 minutes or less. Participants review the web materials posted in the Activity Download. There is no rehearsal, additional reading, or research. In advance of the event, teachers organize students into two groups of approximately equal number – Group #1 represents the position of Julian Sampson and Group #2 represents the interests of the school.

Virtual Law School Class Duration: The program is approximately 60 minutes – from introduction to adjournment.

Learning Objectives

  • Student evaluations show that the virtual experience exposes students to the judiciary and the judicial process in ways that counter entertainment stereotypes.
  • Students interact with the human face of the judiciary – a federal judge – and have the opportunity to ask about and discuss issues of importance to them.

What Happens in the Courtroom Program?

  1. Law School Class Simulation: Students serve as law students who follow the Judge’s lead in responding to the Socratic method of questioning as they develop and test their arguments in the virtual law school environment. They decide what the outcome should be.
  2. Q/A Session with the Judge: The program concludes with a candid conversation with the judge on topics of the students’ choosing.