Along with a number of colleagues from the Government Legal Department, I recently had the opportunity to volunteer at a local secondary school as part of the Citizenship Foundation’s Lawyers in Schools scheme. I found the day hugely rewarding.
We had all been provided with excellent training on the scheme, and the materials given to us made preparation a simple process. However I soon found myself sitting at a table with 7 students looking at me in expectation, and a sudden wave of anxiety washing over me. I needn’t have worried; from the get-go the students, all of whom were 13-14 years old, were friendly, polite and engaged.
We started with an exercise that involved the students thinking about the importance of age in law. I asked them to give their view on the appropriate age for activities such as voting, driving, and babysitting, and then to guess what the law actually said. Initially they all started discussing what the law says, or what other people say on the matter. I encouraged them instead to express their own views by questioning the conventional wisdom of the minimum age of voting. Before long they started to reveal some astoundingly well thought out and convincing arguments. As we moved through the activities, I continued to be struck by their maturity and ability to think through complex issues.
At their age, I remember feeling as though the rules could not be questioned, and that the law was the ultimate rule book. I was therefore thrilled that these students began to question the rationality of the laws we were discussing, and that they did so in a mature and reasonable way.
Our discussions often included references to social media. Arguably, we live in a time when misinformation can be as prevalent as information. What’s more, political, legal and social campaigns seem to be more powerful and influential than ever before. Therefore, helping to encourage 7 students to think critically, to develop their own opinions, and to feel as though they are empowered to make positive changes in the world was an overwhelmingly rewarding experience.
Not only that, but also working with a diverse group of people, and seeing the world through their eyes, has benefitted me both personally and in my work. All in all, not a bad outcome for a couple of hours on a cold, foggy Friday afternoon.