While the live-stream of Quincy District Court is the cornerstone of our project to open the court through digital technology, OpenCourt is in the process of expanding. One of our hopes is that the project will be used as a resource for high school civics classes.
I asked one high school social studies teacher we got in touch with, Jack Buckley at nearby Cohasset High School in Cohasset, Mass., how he would use OpenCourt in his classes. He teaches an elective called "Intro to Law" that he says is like a traditional civics class -- save for the fact that he brings police officers and legislators into the classroom and takes his students out on field trips to the local prison and court.
In the past, he's brought his students down to Quincy District Court to observe. With the live-stream, the court can come straight into his classroom.
After looking through our website, he also said that First Justice Mark Coven's interview was a "gold mine" for a public policy assignment he does during the second half of the course, after students have a basic grasp of the branches of government. He asks students to select a public policy issue and to research the government's response.
From his email (edited for clarity):
Students find the assignment to be difficult; I think I can now make it a heck of lot easier to understand by listening to Judge Coven's explanation of a district court as a place where needed human services can be accessed in balance with dictates of the law and the needs or considerations of victims. For students, he makes it pretty clear that the bulk of legal problems are rooted in social ills -- drugs, alcohol, violence, and financial problems. That's pretty easy for all students to understand, and sadly, for too many students, their personal lives are touched by these issues.
So, in short, my assignment on public policy and government response will be to listen to Judge Coven's interview, select an issue he mentions (or a related issue such as possession of a handgun) and research the problem as it manifests itself in our county, i.e., Quincy District Court! Then I ask students to begin to piece together local instances, MGL [Massachusetts General Laws] statutes, federal laws, acts of Congress, etc.
This is just what we want to hear. We'll be very happy if OpenCourt can make the abstract ideas of justice, public policy, and social services more real to local high school students. We are also working with the organization Discovering Justice, whose educational programs have reached almost 100,000 students.
If you have any ideas or feedback for our site on how we can be more of a resource for schools, please drop us a line.