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Meet Colin Seale, Founder of thinkLaw
I do believe that everybody is an educator. It’s something that's part of what everyone is doing in some capacity. When you experience the classroom, not only do you understand what some of the needs are and how important the work is, but you also get a sense of humility of like, “You know what? There is no way possible that I, alone, can do what needs to be done.” It actually requires a set of people that are passionate about a wide variety of issues both inside and outside of the classroom to create the space where every kid has this opportunity to get a really excellent educational experience.
How did you get the idea to start thinkLaw?
So, it's funny how when you're doing something, you don't always know what's motivating you. You can only go back and look at it way after that. Let's go all the way back to when I was in first grade, getting in trouble at least once a week because I just was so bored in class, but I didn't really know that I was bored. I just was being bad. I just thought I was a troublemaker and this lady, my paraprofessional, told my mom I needed to get tested. My mom probably thought like, “Ah man, I knew something was wrong with this kid.” Actually, she wanted me to get tested for gifted and talented education.
Here's why this is significant. Most elementary school classes in Brooklyn, New York have 30 kids. In my class, we had 24 kids, but it's actually more extreme than that because they were bridge classes, which meant from the time I was in second grade, it was 2nd/3rd grade combined because they could only find 12 kids per grade. Now, I believe fundamentally that talent and genius is distributed equally, but opportunity is not.
The sharpest young man I’ve ever met.
When I got thinking about what that means, it means I get this obsession with access and the obsession comes to me at this point: I'm going full circle. I'm teaching. This is my fourth year of teaching. I'm in Las Vegas teaching during the day going to law school at night and I'm part of this juvenile justice clinic. And as part of this clinic I run into this young man who is without a doubt the sharpest young man I'd ever come across in my whole education career.
The challenge was he wasn't in student in my classroom. He was this kid that was trying to figure out how to beat these adult charges after he got arrested on a drug bust just a little bit before his 18th birthday. And that's when it really hit me. He and some of the other young men that I worked with in this program were so exceptional, but going even further, we say on one end that critical thinking is the eseential 21st century skill, but on the other hand, we treat it like it's a luxury good. We reserve it for kids that are in the gifted and talented class or an AP class are in the IB programs or honors, but how could it be an honor to get the essential skills we need?
This type of instruction needs to be accessible for all kids. It can't be an after school program. It can't be an opt in. If you're the cream of the crop and have to apply, that's never going to shake it. We need to make sure we can systemically approach this in a sustainable way to give all students access to critical thinking instruction.
How does law school fit in?
So one of the things that most people don't know about law school is that unlike most undergraduate courses and even most grad school programs, if you go to law school and you learn the law, you won't be successful. You'll probably get Cs, if that, because knowing the law isn't what law school is about. Law school is about learning how to think like a lawyer and if you look at history and you see that we've got 25 past presidents that were attorneys and 35 founding fathers and Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Meadela and all these different business and civic and government leaders with this legal background...it’s no surprise because they are thinking like lawyers.
As a lawyer, you look at problems and solutions from multiple angles. You're conditioned to ask questions until you get the information that you need. You have this habit of making sure that every single claim is backed up with valid and relevant evidence. You're actually implementing a lot of the same critical thinking skills, habits, and mindsets that our students need.
So, why aren't we teaching all kids to think this way? I started to wonder what would happen if you gave all kids access to the type of instruction that they get in law school? That's how thinkLaw was born.
What does a lesson plan look like? (get your free lesson plan here)
So I think it always helps to have this example: the case involves a five year old boy who saw his aunt about to sit down in a chair. Right before she sat down, he pulled it out, she fell, broke her hip, had all these medical injuries, and turned around and sued her own nephew for battery. Any sixth grader would say, “That's ridiculous. He's only five years old.” But now, you're force that sixth grader to be the aunts attorney and start looking at the evidence that she is going to use. You start forcing them to think about the motivations of both parties. So now, they're making predictions and inferences. They are thinking beyond the page. Maybe this kid has done this before, or maybe there's some family drama. Maybe she really needs the money. It doesn't matter. What matters is they are forming this habit of mind of going beyond the concrete and working more in that abstract space.
Do you know what would the world look like if it was okay to go around pulling out chairs and people get seriously hurt versus a world where you can sue a five-year-old for practical jokes that go wrong? Neither is an ideal world. Would you prefer to live in?
How have students responded to these lesson plans?
What I thought was interesting was that a lot of the kids who got in trouble a lot were the kids that were the most active, had the most participation, and had the most unique ideas. At the same time, a lot of straight A students who are straight laced and never get in trouble struggled when there was no clear right or wrong answer. And if we think about it, if you really do think about it, it makes sense that if you're a struggling learner, if you are a student that has been receiving special education services or has been, you know, developing English proficiency, your whole world is nuanced. Your whole life is gray. You're problem solving from dawn til dusk, decoding the universe around you to have it make sense.
So it makes sense to me that those students actually have a leg up when it comes to critical thinking. We just have to figure out a way to unleash it in the traditional classroom space in the same way that they're doing it all throughout their lives and their daily existence.
And if we can do that. If we can figure out a way to tap into the potential of so many of our kids, we might really be able to revolutionize education. Really, we're trying to shift the mindset around who gets to learn and who gets to teach critical thinking. The more we realize that it needs to be all, and all, instead of some, and some, the closer we'll get to a space where critical thinking no longer a luxury.
Carla Rivera-Cruz (CRC) is an educator and entrepreneur committed to helping like-minded educators reach their fullest potentials.