Byline: Ron Skrabacz
After coaching the St. Francis High School boys basketball team for 20 years, you might say Mike Harper knows his way around the court.
As a social studies teacher for 28 years at the Wheaton school, he has also encouraged his students to feel comfortable around another kind of court - legal courts.
During his tenure at St. Francis, Harper has taught a variety of social studies courses, most often United States history. His goals in the classroom are the same as the goals he sets for his athletes: think critically, develop your skills and act responsibly.
Three years ago, Harper initiated a class called Landmark Supreme Court Decisions as an elective for seniors to help them attain those goals.
"My best teams that I've coached were always my smartest," Harper said. "They got things done on their own because they were out there just sizing things up critically all the time."
Harper's current Landmark Decisions class had an opportunity to see such critical thinking up close and personal when they attended a mock trial at the law offices of Bell Boyd & Lloyd LLP in downtown Chicago Aug. 31.
They were invited to attend with a group of DePaul Law School students by firm partner Michael Abernathy of Wheaton.
"I presented it to my class and they were real enthusiastic about going down," Harper said. "This particular group this year really seemed to have very high interest in pursuing law as a career. It was kind of positive from the first time I brought it up."
The 20 students making the field trip included several varsity athletes who had a chance to see the concepts of hard work, teamwork and scrimmaging at another level.
The attorneys were preparing for a major patent case later this year and used the students as judges and critics of the cases presented. The students also got to experience one of the hallmarks of the judicial system - confidentiality.
"Mike (Abernathy) argued his position and then a colleague of his firm made the argument for the opposing side, obviously anticipating what they're going to argue," Harper said.
"We can't talk about the specifics because we all had to sign confidentiality agreements."
After the arguments were made, both sides asked the students to comment on the strength of their legal arguments and who they thought had made the more compelling case. …