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Unleash the power of young minds

Johnson City Press • May 2, 2018 at 7:45 AM

“These are just high school kids?”

Gemma Hoskins, one of the cold case investigators featured in the Netflix documentary series “The Keepers,” asked that question when she joined an Elizabethton High School sociology class by two-way video last week.

Since January, Alex Campbell’s students have been involved in a real-life criminology exercise involving a series of unsolved murders that began in 1978. They included the 1985 slaying of an unidentified woman in nearby Greene County.

As Elizabethton Bureau Chief John Thompson reported in Monday’s edition, the students developed their own theories around the murders, including possible profiles of the killer.

Their work obviously impressed Hoskins, as well as a true-crime podcaster who also has been looking into the so-called “Redhead murders.” An FBI profiler went as far as to say every student in the class deserved an ‘A’ for the amount of information they gathered and the justifications for their ideas.

Just high school kids? Hoskins’ question is a compliment, but it also reflects a problem with how we view young people in his country. Too often, society dismisses the reasoning abilities of teenagers. They’re much smarter than we give them credit for and capable of a lot more than we allow them to do.

In an age when so much of learning is focused around preparations for standardized tests, it’s refreshing to see educators like Campbell unleashing the power of young minds by going off script.

The cold-case investigation is no rote, unstimulating lesson in memorization. It’s a challenging, adult exercise that requires critical thinking skills. It could even have real consequences.

It’s also not your typical topic. Some schools might shy away from such graphic subject matter. Again, high school students are capable of processing the real world, and shielding them from it is not doing them any favors. They’re already living it.

Memorization, accountability and testing have a rightful place in education, but thankfully there are still plenty of teachers out there like Campbell who sometimes close the textbook and open the mind. More schools should shine a light on those efforts.

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