Arc de Triumphant
By Nicki Clausen-Grace, Central Florida Family Magazine
What would have happened if Joan of Arc was tried by a group of contemporary
eighth-grade girls? History may have recorded one less martyr and actress
Ingrid Bergman may have lost a paycheck.
Selected eighth-grade language arts students from New School Preparatory
are recreating great trials of history. The program provides meaningful
opportunities for reading, writing, research and communication skills,
while teaching history from the inside out.
On a sunny December morning, a handful of students discussed trial strategies.
That afternoon they would retry Joan of Arc in front of a jury of their
peers. While the outcome is still undecided, prosecutors fear they see
the handwriting on the wall. "More than likely, it will probably be the
defense that wins," said Reem Sugeir, a member of the prosecution team. "Because
this is a liberal school, and I don't think anyone is going to put someone
to the stake and burn them."
While Sugeir seems resigned to a loss in the courtroom, it is apparent
the program is a winner for all involved. Morris Sorin, director and teacher,
said a lot of preparation and learning lead up to the trial itself. "In
order to understand Joan of Arc, you really must understand medieval times
and the role of the church. What we had was a mini-course on the development
of religion," said Sorin. "We studied the story of Joan from the book (teacher's
guide). We then went and got the movie Joan of Arc ."
In addition to classroom lessons, students prepared for the trial by researching
on the Internet and other sources. "We met with Morris, discussed the trial,
and made a timeline that went all the way back to 1250 B.C.," said Sugeir.
"They look at history from 1997, not from the point of time it actually
occurred," said Sorin. Students were allowed to use modern court rulings
and confer with or even bring in attorneys as a resource.
"We are very interested in getting upper-grade students into abstract
thinking and philosophy," said Sorin. "We want them to wonder 'How do we
judge history?' Well, if you are an adolescent in 1997, you might judge
the case of a peasant girl who dressed like a boy so she could fight for
her beliefs a little differently from the way they did in 1431 A.D."
In fact, the jury of fourth-through-eighth graders at New School Preparatory did see things differently from Joan of Arc's first jury. She was
found innocent on all counts. And while what is done cannot be undone,
Joan would be pleased to know she is still inspiring courage centuries
after her demise.
"Joan was a very pious girl. Nothing could persuade her to not believe
in what she believed in," said Jasimin Thompson, a member of the prosecution. "And
I'm religious, and I got from her that even when everything's not going
my way I should continue to believe and not give up."