Saturday, April 26, 2008

Mock-trials vs. Real Mediation

At my daughter's private high school, they proudly showed parents the new mock-courtroom they had built, so that students could conduct mock-trials of actual disputes. There was a jury box, an elevated judge's throne, even a big American flag.

The idea was that, when two students got into a tiff, they could present their "case" to a jury of their peers (i.e. other students), and each be represented by "legal counsel" (also other students), with all the protocols and adornments of modern-day justice. There would be a plaintiff and defendant, opening statements, testimony, cross-examination, closing statements, verdicts, jury polling, sentencing, the whole shebang. Just like on TV!

The school administrator who had assembled all this, and arranged for the fancy furniture construction (jury boxes are hard to come by at Ikea), was a law-school graduate herself. She was understandably proud of her achievement here. Students could learn a valuable lesson in participatory democracy, and sharpen their language and logic skills in the process.

"What about mediation?" I asked her. In addition to offering an opportunity for a make-believe trial, how about an opportunity for a real taste of alternative dispute resolution, where the students could verbally hash out their differences with the assitance of a team of trained student mediators? This could provide a valuable lesson in making peace, not war -- in collaboratively searching for forward-looking solutions instead of divisively dwelling on past problems -- and still encourage verbal articulation and analytical thinking.

The school administrator laughed at me. "I know what you're trying to do!" she said. "You mediators are always trying to do away with judges and juries. Nice try!" She thought I was trying to be funny. Actually, I was just trying to do away with lawyers.

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