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Kids debate censorship in mock trial

Michael Schneider

Eighth graders at Pau-Wa-Lu Middle School in the Gardnerville Ranchos went to Judge Dave Gamble’s courtroom recently, but unlike most kids who appear in Gamble’s court, they were happy to be there.

The students of Peggy Faria, Lars Baker, Jason Kyle, and Elizabeth Zipf held a mock trial in the court on censorship of popular music.

“There are several purposes for this,” said Gamble. “One is to show kids that there is a court system and an appropriate forum for issues to be decided.”

Kyle said the trial gave the students their first real experience in the court process.

“Not only did the students learn how the system works, but also how lawyers and judges work,” said Kyle. “It opens their eyes to the legal process.”

Gamble said the process, which used to be more scripted with real lawyers helping both sides, has evolved to trying issues.

“It’s more like a debate, in court format,” said Gamble.

In this exercise, there was a judge, who was a middle school student, four lawyers on each side, many “witnesses” who were middle school students acting like censored rappers, disc jockeys and concerned parents, and a jury made up of middle schoolers.

The issues and characters portrayed by the kids were, although humorous, very relevant to issues being raised all over the county.

One boy played a rapper named “Bad Dog” who was from “Death Row” records. Death Row is a real Southern California record label for which many popular – and profane – hip-hop singers record.

Another boy played a Los Angeles-area elementary school principal who banned such “offensive and dangerous” items as gang clothing, books that exploit women, and “Big Johnson” t-shirts.

One girl played a mother with a young son who used the Internet to download pornography, while another girl played a DJ from a local radio station that promised to warn listeners before “offensive” songs.

The trial was held in a formal, court-like setting with lawyers offering objections for the judge’s ruling, examining and cross-examining witnesses, and containing traditional court proceeding such as final arguments.

“Now would be your opportunity to talk to the jury and tell them what you think you’ve proved to them,” Gamble told the young lawyers before the final arguments.

The plaintiffs told the jury that music is an art form as was Michelangelo’s “David” sculpture which, they said, was mocked at first.

The defense said that uncensored radio, television and the Internet show that there are no morals or limitations in our society.

After the final arguments, the jury retired to the jury room for deliberations and returned a short time later with an 8-4 judgment for the plaintiffs, which, Gamble said, was not important.

“The outcome is unimportant,” said Gamble. “What is important is that kids think. The issue is that they get in there and do it. It’s wonderful to see kids take hold of an issue.”

“It’s great to show kids that court can be where good stuff does happen and it can be a place where they can come with important issues,” Gamble said.

The kids really seem to enjoy it,” said Kyle. “The have fond memories of the experience.”