Return to Headlines

Virtual Debate Tackles Real World Issues

It goes without saying that 2020 has had a profound impact on the way all of us are teaching and learning. The global pandemic has prompted students and families to create learning spaces in their homes, while teachers have had to learn how to bring their classroom material into the virtual world. For North Tech Law Enforcement Instructor Clarence Hines, 2020’s impact on his teaching goes beyond COVID-19 and virtual learning.Sign on Law Enforcement classroom that says "Shaping Tomorrow's Leaders in Law Enforcement"

This summer, protests about law enforcement and use of force spread across many parts of the country. Hines, whose students are exploring careers in law enforcement and criminal justice, knew he had to integrate this national discussion into his curriculum—all while teaching from a distance.

“I pondered the challenge of not just teaching remotely, but how would I be impactful teaching law enforcement and criminal justice in the challenging times we live in,” Hines said. “Where my students will have some obvious anxiety about law enforcement, justice and the Constitution based on recent event in the news.”

The challenge was crafting an assignment that allows students to start from varying perspectives on a hotly debated topic, while also adhering to the course’s learning outcomes.

“Depending on their context, some of my students think justice means only arresting law violators; some of my students think justice is a focus on restorative and social justice,” Hines said. “I thought about ways to mesh the two with the intended outcome of helping them to grapple with what is true in justice and the very divided world in which we live.”

The solution: a mock debate about legislative bills that deal with constitutional rights.

“The tool that would allow us to safely grapple with the idea of truth, freedom and justice is live virtual debates,” Hines said. “The bills dealt with current real-life constitutional issues like search and seizure, Miranda, cruel and unusual punishment.”

Clarence Hines talks to students during a class in 2019 One bill that was debated proposed allowing staff and law enforcement at all schools in St. Louis City and St. Louis County to search lockers and other school property used by students for weapons or contraband. For students, this was an opportunity to apply what they learned in class into something very relevant to their daily lives.

“The debates have us speaking on real-life issues and possibilities for future laws,” said Desirai, one of the students in Mr. Hines’ class. “The more you speak on things like this, instead of just studying so you can pass a test, it makes you actually remember things for more than just a day or two.”

Emony, another student in Mr. Hines’ class, said the assignment helped her see new points of view.

“Today's debate was awesome, with everyone's opinions on the House bill. It gave a slight personal insight to how others view the world and how future lawyers and police officers will act coming on up in the world.”

The opportunity to debate was a valuable class experience, even beyond the criminal justice topics that were discussed. Riley, a student who participated in the debate, said this assignment has also boosted her confidence.

“When I first started this class, I had a public speaking issue,” Riley said. “I couldn’t have a regular conversation with a large group of people. Mr. Hines has really helped me come out of my shell. I now can not only debate in front of my class; I can do it with confidence,” she added.

Mr. Hines knows that there are a number of career paths his students may pursue, but he hopes this assignment gives them a shared perspective as they pursue a common goal. After the students finished debating the examples provided by Mr. Hines, each student was also given the opportunity to write their own legislative bill.

“Some of my students want to be police officers, some want to be attorneys and some want to be crime scene investigators,” Hines said. “Guiding them through the process of research-based learning helps them to see the circumstances of our world through the lens of truth, freedom and justice. It teaches them that there can be no justice without caring for others.”