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HSLDA’s Grand Jury Simulation a Hit with Public High Schoolers

by Dave Dentel • January 30, 2018

It was unusual for a grand jury to convene on the campus of Patrick Henry College, but the gravity of the alleged crime merited it.

A senator’s daughter was dead, shot down in cold blood at a landmark hotel. Reports hinted at mob involvement and a possible government cover-up.

Could a group of private citizens overcome the obstacles, sift through the false leads and ferret out the truth?

They could, and did—though they weren’t a real grand jury investigating a real crime. They were public high school students from Leesburg, Virginia, who took part in an educational simulation run by Home School Legal Defense Association’s youth civics organization, Generation Joshua.

“They love it,” said Monica Gill, who teaches government at Loudoun County High School and helped arrange for Generation Joshua to bring its program there. “They come away changed and excited.”

High school students swear in as members of the grand jury for Generation Joshua’s iObject simulation.

Educating Citizens

Generation Joshua’s hands-on simulations are in high demand.

According to Deputy Director Jeremiah Lorrig, last year GenJ staged a dozen educational scenarios for various homeschool groups in addition to their popular teen summer camps.

“We’ve been privileged to do simulations all over the country,” Lorrig said. “Our number one audience is homeschoolers, but we believe everyone needs to learn about citizenship. So we’ll go wherever we’re invited.”

Working with a public high school near HSLDA’s headquarters in Virginia presents a very special opportunity. Since GenJ started running programs at the school seven years ago, the events have drawn enough students to outgrow the Leesburg facilities.

So while PHC’s students were on holiday in late December, the high schoolers were able to use college campus for their iObject program. This allowed GenJ staff to more readily access the props and costumes they use to act out parts as witnesses before the grand jury. Lorrig, for instance, portrayed a United States attorney.

Learning by Doing

The students quickly warmed to the exercise, sifting through evidence, comparing testimonies, and conducting cross-examinations.

“We sometimes had to remind them that they were learning something—they were having so much fun,” Lorrig said.

Gill agreed, adding that in her experience, hands-on education seems especially motivating to students.

Props simulating weapons used in the fictitious crime add to the realism.

“I believe in learning by doing,” she said. “I do a lot of simulations in my classroom, but I can’t do a simulation at this level of intricacy.”

Lorrig said that these programs are intended to convey both how government works and why its institutions were crafted the way they were.

For example, while wrapping up the iObject grand jury scenario, he explained to students how these investigative bodies function as what he calls “the sword and shield of the people.” Through them ordinary citizens are empowered to probe for government corruption. (“That’s the sword.”) But they are also able to refuse an indictment if they feel the evidence does not support such a decision. (“That’s the shield.”)

“Our judicial system is built on the premise that it’s better to let a guilty person go free than it is to condemn and innocent person,” Lorrig told the students.

On the other hand, he added, citizens also should not be afraid to expose wrongdoing at any level. “As much as we need to respect our leaders, we need to make sure we’re not being fooled,” he said. “Look for the truth.”

More Adventures Await

Though during the debriefing students seemed at first to focus on what aspects of the mystery they correctly unraveled (like finding the killer), Lorrig noted they also seemed to soak up the broader lessons.

“This group was sharp, articulate and a joy to work with,” he said. “It’s good to see more teens learning about our government processes.”

Lorrig added that he and his teammates look forward to seeing more Leesburg students when they return during the spring term for GenJ’s international politics simulation, iCommand. In that program, students take on the roles of executive branch officials trying to avert a crisis.

Or, as Gill described it: “They find that running the world isn’t so easy.”

Dave Dentel

Web Content Manager

Dave Dentel writes and edits content for HSLDA’s website. He especially enjoys getting to interview bright, articulate homeschooled students. Read more.

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