First look at law comes barking and cawing

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

Law-related concepts in children's stories are a way to integrate law into elementary classrooms, according to Patricia E. Baker, an assistant professor at the State University of New York in Brockport.

Speaking at the Massachusetts Association for Law Related Education Conference on October 26, Ms. Baker explained how myths, fables, and fairy tales can be used to teach legal concepts, principles, and ideas to elementary school children.

Ms. Baker read the story ''Snow White'' at the conference, and asked participants to listen for any law-related ideas. Her audience at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst came up with such issues as homicide, peddling, burglary, marriage, birth, and failure to dispose of a body.

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''Depending on how advanced you want to get in your thinking, the queen was . . dishonest when she was pretending to be something she wasn't,'' she said. Ms. Baker pointed out that responsibility and honesty are crucial points in the story of ''Snow White.''

Ms. Baker said that one of the premises of law-related education is for children to establish moral standards. Research has shown that it does have an effect on promoting students to become better citizens, she said.

Fables, which are usually shorter than fairy tales and often involve animals, directly involve values and law-related ideas. For example, democracy is an issue in ''Lion's Lament'' by Dorothy Stephenson. Ms. Baker suggested that teachers not give the moral of a fable until students have tried to come up with their own.

Aesop's fables are famous for the their use of animals to portray human nature. They are written to give the reader some sense of values and to teach a lesson about human behavior. In Aesop's fable ''The Fox and the Crow,'' the legal implication is one of fraud.

Helping students obtain a sense of justice and helping them attain at least the moral level of obeying the law is one objective Ms. Baker mentioned. The Fox and The Crow

A crow found a cheese and flew into a tree with it, holding it in her beak. A fox, seeing this, decided to get it away from her by trickery. 'You crows have the finest shape of any bird,' he said, 'and you are the most colorful by far. Now, if you only had a voice, you would be king of all birds.' Taken in by this, the crow cawed as loudly as she could, dropping the cheese. The fox grabbed it and said, 'You have a voice, all right, but not much brains.'

Moral: If you pay attention to flatterers, you will regret it.

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