Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Adventures in Civic Duty!

Life has a funny way of telling you to shut up and slow down. For me, this message came in the form of six days of jury duty over the course of two-and-a-half weeks. Aside from feeling like I was trapped in a strange version of The Breakfast Club ("The lawyers saw us as they wanted to see us: in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions..."), it was surely an interesting and informative experience.  As an alternate juror I did not get to deliberate and was dismissed early. In all honesty, I'm a little bummed about that because I'm a person who tends to process things by talking them out. But, as I walked back to my car I reminded myself about the post I wrote on closure and decided to be okay with it. :)

Overall, jury duty was rough on me, despite a lovely view of Commencement Bay and 1.5 hour lunches. I'm not used to sitting all day or keeping quiet when something perturbs me. One would think it'd be a relaxing change of pace - and it was, for about one day. I found myself feeling stressed and anxious about being away from my classroom and generally annoyed at the slow pace of the trial. Needless to say, I'm thankful I could return to work today and get back to business as usual.

And, because I love to turn any experience into an educational one, here's a list of skills and strategies that I routinely teach and also observed in court:
  • walking in a straight line
  • telling the truth
  • letting one person talk at a time
  • being patient
  • listening to both sides of an argument without judgement
  • inferring
  • summarizing
  • drawing conclusions
  • determining an author's purpose
  • cause and effect
  • supporting an argument using text-based evidence
  • using persuasive writing techniques
  • SO MUCH MATH (addition, subtraction, multiplication, estimating, fractions, measurement, area, perimeter, constructing tables, elapsed time)
  • Measuring and recording data
  • Observing and describing results from an investigation
My case was about a large corporation upholding a warranty agreement on a failed product. In a nutshell (because I know you're curious), a local apartment complex sued Louisiana-Pacific for failed exterior siding. Thrilling, I know. The major points of debate were (1) the percentage of affected siding to the buildings, (2) whether or not an objective test was needed to determine if the siding was failing, and (3) should the Plaintif be awarded damages for having to replace the siding, which was still under warranty. Expert witnesses on the Plaintif's side used subjective tests and visual observations to determine the percentage of siding that was affected. As a counterpoint, the Defendant's witnesses used an objective and measurable test with strict criteria.

Around the third day, I realized how similar the arguments were to those currently being debated in education reform. Was the test subjective or objective? Who made the test in the first place? Could the results be measured over time and replicated? If one board was damaged, did that mean all of the boards were damaged? How did the outside environment affect the conditions of the siding? Did the witnesses possess enough knowledge and/or training to effectively state their opinions? Was there room for interpretation on the warranty? And so on...

If anything, six days of jury duty got me thinkin' out the current state of our educational system. When does a teacher's professional judgement overrule a students' measurable data on a test? What amount of training does a teacher need to have in order to be considered "qualified?" Does it make sense to look only at the measurable data of a standardized test when other factors are obvious to the naked eye? If a small group of students fails, does that mean the rest are doomed, as well? What role does a students' outside environment play in his or her outcome on a test. How much money is being spent on all of this?

I don't know the answers to these questions, nor am I even going to try to answer them. Clearly, you can see my brain was busy during my forced vacation civic duty. But, hey! At least I got this cool certificate:

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