Patriotic Pedagogy: Honoring Our Veterans in the Classroom and Beyond

By: Abigail Perdue

This Veterans Day, Teachlawbetter.com wants to extend a heartfelt thank you to all members of the U.S. military and their families for their outstanding service and tremendous sacrifice. As educators, it is important that we celebrate the courage and dedication of these brave men and women. Here are a few ways that you can use your next class session to honor them:

    1. Have a Moment of Silence: Have a moment of silence at the beginning of your next session in honor of all those who have fallen to secure the freedom that we too often take for granted – the same liberties that we, as attorneys, pledge to respect, preserve, and protect.
    2. Introduce the Veterans Court: If you teach a course on the judiciary, federal courts, etc., use this session to introduce the veterans law system to students, including a discussion of the unique role of the Board of Veterans Appeals (“Board”), U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims (“CAVC”), and U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. The CAVC, which was created in 1988, enjoys exclusive jurisdiction over Board appeals. Although based in Washington, D.C., the CAVC hears cases across the country. It exemplifies the diversity of the judiciary and calls attention to critically important specialty courts about which students may not yet have learned.
    3. Invite a Guest Speaker: Invite a current or former service member, military judge, CAVC judge, JAG attorney, representative from the Department of Veterans Affairs, or a veterans law advocate to speak to your students about the realities of military service, the military justice system, and how they can assist veterans once they enter the practice.
    4. Coordinate with a Veterans Law Clinic: Coordinate your class session with the supervisor of your school’s Veterans Law Clinic so that students can learn about veterans law, meet some of the clinic’s clients, and/or use class time to assist the clinical supervisor with an ongoing project, such as conducting discrete research on a veterans law issue in an ongoing case.
    5. Screen a Film and Host a Post-Film Discussion: Many students may be unfamiliar with the notable distinctions between the military system of justice and its civilian counterpart. To address this, show your students a representative film about military justice, such as A Few Good Men, and then invite a military judge, JAG attorney, or other qualified individual to speak to students regarding how the systems differ and why.
    6. Organize a Research Race: Provide a clue to your students that will lead them to a seminal military or veterans law case, such as Henderson v. Shinseki, 562 U.S. 428 (2011), which held that the period to file a Notice of Appeal with the CAVC is not jurisdictional. For example, the clue might provide: “This recent case from the highest court in the land proves beyond a doubt that time waits for no man, except perhaps a veteran displeased with a Board decision.” This exercise also provides an excellent opportunity to introduce students to helpful veterans law resources, such as the Veterans Law Library and James Ridgeway’s Veterans Law: Cases and Theory.
    7. Encourage Veteran-Related Service: At the beginning of class, reiterate the value of pro bono service and emphasize that countless opportunities exist to provide free legal assistance to veterans. Then provide a list of veterans-related pro bono and other service opportunities from the Wounded Warrior Project, Veterans Law Center, National Organization of Veterans Advocates and even less well known organizations like K9s for Warriors. Ask students to choose a partner and then assign one organization to each pair. Allow students twenty minutes to research the organization, completing a short questionnaire about the kinds of services the organization provides and how law students can get involved. During the last part of class, invite pairs to briefly share their findings with the class or to post them on the course site. Encourage students to get involved.
    8. Promote Self-Directed Learning about Veterans Law: At the beginning of class, ask students to form pairs or small groups and then select a legal issue related to military service or veterans law. As necessary, provide a list of potential topics to groups to assist them in pinpointing an issue of interest. This list could include everything from whether veterans are entitled to free legal assistance when filing a claim for service-related disabilities to how the Government compensates veterans exposed to Agent Orange during military service. As an animal advocate, I might also encourage students to examine legal protections for bomb-detection dogs, military service animals, etc., and what measures exist to honor military dogs after retirement. Allow groups the remainder of the class period and another day or so to research their issue. During the next class, allow each group fifteen minutes to present their findings to the class.
    9. Assign Veterans-Related Reading or Insert Veterans-Related Discussion: Whether you teach Employment Law, Government Contracts, or any other course, there is likely some relevant case that has involved military service. For instance, in courses discussing diversity and discrimination, the professor might assign reading or prompt discussion regarding whether veteran set-asides and veteran preferences are constitutional or whether military service should be a protected trait under federal law. Likewise, a Torts professor might take a temporary detour from discussing conventional ways to establish causation in civil cases to momentarily explore how veterans demonstrate service-connectedness.

In conclusion, there are countless ways to inspire your law students to celebrate our servicemen and women on Veterans Day and every other, which is exactly what they deserve!  To all our military men and women, thank you for your service!

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