Ideas on Trial: explore the consequences of competing arguments
Key concepts or ideas are put ‘on trial’ in a classroom tribunal. Pupils must prepare a prosecution and a defence, as well as supporting evidence, and judge the contribution of the concept in question to historical events or our understanding of the social world. The adversarial approach to political argument is also explored. Many core concepts used in the study of History lend themselves to vigorous classroom debates. These permit each side to put its case, but pupils tend to be less thorough when it comes to analysis and scrutiny of the opposing arguments. This exercise invites pupils to put concepts, rather than individuals, on trial. A series of charges are drawn up and those who defend the concept must respond to each one. Moreover, the protagonists can call witnesses, living or dead, to make their case. Each side can cross-examine these witnesses and must sum up their positions at the end. It is also possible to extend the exercise by having a ‘jury’ to consider the evidence and vote on a verdict. It is particularly instructive to allow some discussion on the merits of a two-way confrontation as a means of addressing the issue in question. For instance, on reflection, pupils might conclude that there were more than two sides to the issue and that a black-and-white verdict would be inappropriate. This, of course, is as much a part of the learning process as the handling of the content of the case.