Home News

Classroom Spotlight: 7th Grade Practices Empathy and Critical Thinking with JCAT

7th Grade Practices Empathy and Critical Thinking with JCAT

Our seventh-graders are participating in the Jewish Court of All Time (JCAT), a web-based simulation for middle school students, developed at the University of Michigan School of Education by their Interactive Communications and Simulations (ICS) group and designed in collaboration with RAVSAK (the Jewish Community Day School Network). This unique and innovative program is an exercise in empathy and imagination as well as critical thinking. Middle school students from Jewish day schools all over North America assume the roles of key figures of the past to not merely learn, but really experience history. They turn to each other to discuss the paramount of issues of today. Each year the students are presented with a different case. This year’s case focuses on the Confederate Memorial at Arlington National Cemetery sculpted by Moses Ezekiel, a Jewish Confederate Civil War veteran. Some of the sculptor’s descendants petitioned the U.S. military to have the Memorial removed, especially because it includes racist images of enslaved people supporting Confederate soldiers and families. We are examining what should be done with the memorial today. To read this year’s case in its entirety, click here.

JCAT asks, what if the wisdom of history could be brought to bear on a problem of our day? Specifically, the JCAT website creates a space where great people from across the range of human history gather to decide the outcome of a trial, connected to an event of our time. While the trial itself is fictional, behind the scenario are complex, real-life moral and legal issues. Within the website, student-portrayed characters can make speeches, participate in public discussions, maintain blogs, and send private messages to each other in a password-protected workspace. These great figures of history (brought to life by middle school students all over North America and graduate student mentors from the Jewish Theological Seminary and the University of Michigan) work together to help ensure a just resolution to the case. Part of what makes JCAT interesting is reconciling the different visions of justice held by the gathered luminaries. “The students truly love becoming another persona and taking on a case and interacting as that persona,” says Judaic studies teacher Jody Bloom. “This program gives them the opportunity to be whoever they wish to be.”