Photo: Students from Bard High School Early College on a courthouse tour.
In the early 2010s, the Society partnered with Bard High School Early College (BHSEC), a public school with campuses in Manhattan and Queens which is operated with Bard College, to prepare curricula for both middle school students at Bard Early College Academy (BECA) and high school students at BHSEC. The curricula aim to teach students about the role of the courts in society, the importance of both state and federal constitutions, and how the courts, judges, and lawyers contribute to the administration of justice.
The initial partnership between the Society and BHSEC blossomed and grew to feature a variety of courses within a central theme of bringing concepts of justice and the law into the classroom. We currently have nine courses and counting! Each instructor prepares syllabi, lesson plans, and/or course materials which we then share on our website to help other educators get ideas and concrete ways to incorporate legal history into their lessons.
In 2015, the Society and BHSEC took the partnership a step further with the establishment of the Judith S. Kaye Teaching Fellowship, honoring the founder of the Historical Society. The Fellowship provides for the hiring of a faculty member or visiting scholar who will develop and teach a semester-long elective on the themes that include justice and the courts, legal history in New York State, New York State constitutional law, or a topic that relates more broadly to the role of the courts in establishing and maintaining democracy in New York State and the United States.
The pilot semester brought Dr. Julia Rose Kraut to the Manhattan campus of BHSEC. Dr. Kraut taught the course “Civil Rights, Civil Liberties, and the Empire State,” which focused on the evolution of legislation and influence of court decisions in New York from the American Revolution to the present. The course, intended for high school sophomores and juniors, was so well received that Dr. Kraut followed up her first semester with an adapted version of the course which was taught at the George Jackson Academy (GJA) to eighth grade boys. This marks the first partnership between the Society and GJA and the beginning of what we believe will be a fruitful relationship.
With the help of Dr. Kraut and BHSEC Professor Petra Riviere, we have completely revamped the education section of our website to better help educators access and use these resources. Along with all of the instructor-prepared materials, we have established connections to New York State curriculum mandates to illustrate what standards are met in each course. We have also linked to other resources on our website which provide additional background information on the cases and concepts addressed in these lessons.
The Teach & Learn section is organized by age group: middle school, high school and community college, and teacher’s workshops (the leader of our recent workshops Rachel Cavell wrote about her experiences teaching teachers here). Law-related materials can be difficult to navigate, and we hope we have created connections in a manner that will allow educators to incorporate these concepts into their own curricula effectively. We’ve done our best to be as complete as possible, but if teachers need more resources, we also provide educator-approved Additional Resources, which feature areas of interest on our website and additional links to other websites that focus on legal history in the classroom.
Our goal with the restructure of this section of our website is to make our educational projects accessible for teachers in a manner that will take the guesswork out of how to help their students navigate difficult concepts that are so relevant in the current age. Our course materials may serve as a guide, or they may inspire a completely different approach!
If you are a teacher who uses our materials, we want to hear about your experiences! Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know about what worked or didn’t work and how you adapted our materials for your students. We’d love to hear from you!