Learning Law in Elementary and High School: Innovating Civics Education for a More Empowered Citizenry

Liberman, Ariel & Broyde, Michael | April 6, 2024

A principal objective of the public school system in a democracy is to promote societal cohesion by way of preparing students for civic engagement. There exists a founding belief that a democratic nation ought to be composed of educated activists, run by innovators, and kept in check by involved citizens. For, indisputably, the democratic experiment—our values, our institutions—can only be upheld anew with each generation on the backs of critique, reinvention, and reinvigoration. But, as so many have mentioned when discussing the civics education paradigm, the increase in educational opportunities and the marked expansion of our school system has not translated into higher numbers of “citizens”—higher levels of civic knowledge and youth participation. Here, we offer a partial solution addressing substantive improvements to the civics paradigm. We argue for augmenting the current learning structure with a push towards learning law young, or else endowing children with a working knowledge of law and its methodologies. To learn law young is to approach and understand the values, rights, duties, obligations, and American questions of citizenship from a different perspective than that currently held in civics classroom, one that is at once more complex and functional. One learns by interrogating constitutional questions underpinning our civic institutions, considering reasoning behind ideological arguments, all while garnering critical analytical skills now exclusively at the disposal of the law student. This is about teaching a new way of thinking, a way of thinking necessary for every citizen today, a way that is currently not routine. The objective of this paper is to obviate the need—and extoll the benefits—of integrating law learning into childhood civics education.