Ten Things I Love about Mock Trials: Part II
In my last post, I discussed five traditional benefits of mock trials. They are a wonderful pedagogical tool, provide great practice for real-world situations, and help students learn to think and to express themselves more clearly. These are all good academic defenses of mock trials, but the mock trial structure also has some less traditional benefits.
6. Objections! The trial process is filled with rules and structure, as well as opportunities to challenge others who do not follow this structure. Learning how to challenge or contradict other people respectfully is one of life’s most important lessons. If practiced in secondary school, it will help these students in college (especially if they enroll in secular colleges), their careers, and even their relationships. While I don’t advocate shouting “Objection!” at a classmate, employer, or spouse, I do encourage my students to raise questions—and talk through the answers—not only in the mock trial process, but in all our English classes.
7. Pathos reigns supreme. Trial arguments require not only logos (clear logic) and ethos (appeals to standards), but pathos. The most persuasive opening statement in the world still must survive the emotional appeal of a bereaved witness pleading for the other side. Trials, of necessity, include all forms of rhetorical appeal, students must learn to identify (and respond appropriately to) whatever rhetoric the world offers them.
8. We study opposing views. Learning to understand differing schools of thought is an important part of the classical education, and both mock trial and debate allow students to anticipate and analyze differing opinions. My ninth graders are currently working on a mock trial of Creon (from Antigone), and at least two of them are annoyed that I’ve put them on the “wrong” side. Defending both sides of a given position is at the heart of the classical (Socratic) methodology, and it will also help us—as Christians—practice respect and discernment.
9. Trial preparations are frustrating. Life is full of unexpected complications, such as the closing statement that mysteriously deletes itself the night before a trial, the witness who does not remember key details, or the irksome lawyer who makes repeated objections. Learning to deal with frustrations with grace is an important part of life; it is an especially crucial part of Christianity. We are called upon to live our faith not only in the blessed times, but also during the trials, and the annoyances and panics that plague long and complicated projects (such as mock trials) offer safe opportunities to practice appropriate responses.
10. Trial preparations enable grace. Life is full of unexpected complications, and these also allow others to show us grace. Many of my students are (like me) fiercely independent and self-motivated. As Christians, we are expected to live in community, and in addition to serving others, we also sometimes need to allow others to serve us. During our Lancelot trial, one of my most independent students (who has many great skills, but is not the most accomplished typist) was driven by necessity to ask for last-minute typing assistance from a classmate. For her (and for me), learning to accept help with grace and gratitude is an important spiritual lesson.
As a teacher, mock trials require extensive (and sometimes exhausting) preparations and planning, but their benefits are tremendous. They are challenging and exciting in the moment, and some of these benefits will (I pray!) last these students for decades.