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How guilty is a bystander? How one classroom put a Revealers character on trial

"My students and I were discovering The Revealers together, and they were very engaged," says Katy Farber, who teaches a grades 5-6 classroom at the Rumney School in Middlesex, Vermont. The discussion grew even more energized when Katy asked if the character Big Chris - who goes along when his friends Burke and Jon dangle a smaller boy, Elliot, over the railing of a footbridge in a park - was guilty of joining in dangerous behavior when he could have stopped it.

"We started talking about the accountability of Chris as a bystander," Katy says. "They were very interested in that. One of the kids said, 'He is guilty, because he was there.' I said, 'Well, would you charge him with something?'

"We were on a roll! We drew straws to assign jobs. We had a prosecution team, a defense team, a defendant, and all the other people in a trial." Witnesses portrayed each character in the "bridge scene."

"I didn't give them any homework," Katy adds, "except to say, 'Review what your character would say, what your character would think.' So they were thumbing through the book and passing it around, saying, 'Oh, wait, I need to see that!' It was very authentic. The lawyer teams developed their cases. I taught how a courtroom works, when you can object and so on.

"We prepped for two days in their groups, 45 minutes a day, and they had at least three days of acting out the trial. We had a judge, and I talked with that student about what judges do, how people need to be polite and how to address the witness. I think we had a bailiff, just for fun - and everybody else was on the jury. At the end, they had the big job.

"We charged Chris with failing to intervene, failing to stop the bullying. It was an impassioned trial. We talked about how he did come back to save Elliot. But was he an accessory to the crime? We talked about what that means.

"The jury found him guilty. At first they proposed a harsher sentence, then we talked about it and they decided on him doing community service and being on probation.

"It was really powerful," the teacher concludes. "You should have seen them: they were hopping around the room, excited about their roles, and talking about what a crime it was. What is a bystander? Everybody's been in that situation, and most of us have not done something. We know what that feels like.

"This definitely connected them with the book, and made it real for them."

To find out more, contact Katy at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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