Grades K-3: Fairness & Equal Treatment
You can reach even the youngest students with important principles that undergird our legal system. Here’s a strategy that builds on the concept of fairness. Try to keep your presentation brief -- 30 minutes or so -- in keeping with program schedules in elementary schools.
During your session, students will:
- explore whether it’s fair to treat everybody exactly alike or whether it’s sometimes fair to treat certain people differently because of special circumstances
- get a quick overview of how the law tries to ensure fairness.
Begin by introducing yourself. Explain that you’re a lawyer, that you help people to understand laws and use them effectively. Explain that rules and laws are supposed to be fair, and to help people be treated fairly.
Begin by asking the children to share examples of when something was unfair. Try to reach agreement on how to define "fair" and "unfair." To start the discussion going, you might give a few examples ("If we’re playing a game, is it fair for me to have the ball and for you to never have it?"; "Is it fair to change the rules in the middle of a game?").
Share the handout with students. Review each item with them. Ask how many students thought in the first situation it was fair to keep girls out of the boys' club or boys out of the Brownies. How many thought it was unfair? Encourage them to think of reasons to back up their opinion. Tally the results on the board. Do the same for each item.
For a number of the examples, students may think it’s fair to treat people differently because of different circumstances (a ten-year-old may do more around the house to earn an allowance; maybe the best players should play the most.) That can lead you in to a discussion of how the law permits differences such as these, as long as there is a good reason for them, grounded in the different situations and circumstances of the people involved -- the "rational relationship" test.
Then give them an example of an unfair action. How would you feel if everyone in the class whose first name begins with a letter from A to M got extra time at recess, and everyone whose name began with a letter from N to Z got no time -- and had to stay after school to boot? Why would that be unfair (not rational -- arbitrary and capricious).
Talk to the students about examples of unfair treatment from our history, or give them some (segregation, women excluded from some professions just because they’re female).
Discuss with them what people can do if they think they’ve been treated unfairly. (They can go to court, and ask a judge or jury to hear the evidence, and decide whether they’ve been treated fairly. This can get into a discussion of procedural fairness, and what that entails:
Both sides have a chance to tell their story before an impartial judge
respond to what each other says
question witnesses, etc.)
So we have a fair process to help us find out what is fair.