Mock Trials Investigate Tough Chapters in World History: Grades 10-12

Article excerpt

Capping off a unit on the modern history of South Africa, students at California's East Palo Alto High recently conducted a mock trial that examined two of the brutal crimes committed during the apartheid era, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The charter school's entire sophomore class investigated the 1993 killing of white foreign exchange student Amy Biehl and the 1977 beating death of activist Steven Biko, founder of the Black Consciousness Movement.

The trials re-created events from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission created by South African President Nelson Mandela and headed by Bishop Desmond Tutu. The commission provided a forum to consider atrocities, and had the power to overturn politically motivated convictions during its three years in service starting in 1995.

"It's just a fascinating subject--at what point do you forgive people for things done in the past in order to move on?" asks humanities teacher Jeff Gilbert, who set up the mock trials. "It really opens the door for more germane questions, things that go right into students' everyday lives." Additional class reenactments throughout the school year have examined other models of conflict resolution. …