by Anita Dellaria
Elementary/Middle Schools Program Manager
Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago
“‘Then I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house in,’ said the Wolf. So he huffed and he puffed and he blew his house in.”
One of Constitutional Rights Foundation Chicago’s civic learning events is a jury experience conducted with 2nd and 3rd grade students in Chicago public elementary schools. The trial is State v. Wolf based on The Three Little Pigs and the outcome might surprise you.
We all know the story. A belligerent wolf pounds on the doors of the three little pigs, bellowing and demanding to be let in. When the pig with the straw house and then the pig with the stick house refuse entry, he huffs and he puffs and he blows their houses down. Only when he is faced with the sturdiness of the brick house and the ingenuity of the third little pig is the wolf defeated, ending up in a boiling pot of water.
Time after time the unexpected happens. Despite his place in the popular imagination as a predator and all-around bad guy, the wolf is found not guilty. Out of 187 votes cast this year so far, the wolf has been found not guilty by 152 individual school children and guilty by only 35.
How can this be? Perhaps the answer lies in the wolf’s (a.k.a. B.B. Wolf) version of the story. According to his testimony, he had a bad cold and a great desire to bake a cake for his grandmother. When he knocked on Fran Pig’s door to borrow some sugar, he sneezed and blew down her straw house. He ran to Stan Pig’s house to tell him about his sister’s house, but he sneezed again and blew down his stick house. He then ran to Dan Pig’s house to tell him about his brother and sister and to borrow some sugar when he sneezed again, but Dan Pig’s brick home withstood his ferocious “achoo!”
Some might say his story is a bit incredible, but the defense produces a receipt for cold medicine, and it is this receipt that jury members consistently cite when asked to explain their not guilty verdicts. They also cite what they perceive as a bias against B.B. Wolf. Relying on Fran Pig’s admission during cross-examination that not only did she not know B.B. Wolf but that she didn’t want to know him, the students detect good old-fashioned prejudice. “After all, he is a wolf,” she stated.
As any attorney volunteer who has participated in this event can tellyou, the children are concerned with “getting it right,” and acknowledge the difficult choice they face. When asked what he learned, one student responded, “I learned that whether you want a defendant to be guilty or not you need evidence to prove it.” When asked what it felt like to be on a jury, one student responded, “Being on a jury is hard because you have to hear both stories and…it is a hard choice.”
We can think of all sorts of reasons why the wolf won, but we can’t completely discount that the wolf is found not guilty because 2nd and 3rd graders do understand the importance of fairness, rational decision-making, and the awesome responsibility that comes with having the power to curtail another person’s liberty.
How should a citizen feel when she sits on a jury? Let’s hope she feels like the third grader who said, ““I feel brave and alive.”
For more information about State v. Wolf, contact Jessica Chethik at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Preview the program here!