A new high school class in law and social justice is giving students an opportunity to study the criminal justice system in detail, as well as debate and analyze many complex topics.
At Berkeley High School, the Law and Social Justice class is just completing its first year. Part of the Career Technical Education program, it exposes students to the career pathway in law and police work. The technical education program also includes classes highlighting fields such as stagecraft, building trades, fire sciences, engineering, and robotics. The purpose of the Law and Social Justice class is to help students learn about careers in law enforcement and the legal system, as well as politics.
For the past nine months, teacher James Dopman has recruited dozens of guest speakers in the professions, and students had field trips to San Quentin State Prison, San Francisco Superior Court and the Berkeley Police Department. Students rode along with police and shadowed law students. Some did mini-internships with the San Francisco public defender’s office.
Students debated topics such as the treatment of juveniles compared to adults, punishment and rehabilitation in prisons, issues of class and race in law and justice, and how to build and prosecute cases. They also evaluated how the criminal justice system could be improved.
“My job is really to set the table and educate the kids on the nuance of the stuff, to debate whether this is the way we want things to be,” Dopman said. “If you don’t think this is the way it should be, how can we go about the political process of changing it?”