Correcting Misinformation - Middle School Lesson

View this entire report as a .pdf from the CFL's website





The student will be able to:


1. Students brainstorm what they already know about Columbus. List their responses on a classroom list on a flipchart. Then ask, "What do you know about any other explorers?"[Emphasis added]

2. Students view video "Columbus Controversy." Discuss new information provided by video.

3. Students read "War-crimes report on Saddam held up" from New York Times Insight section. Compare Saddam to Columbus. In what ways are they similar? [Emphasis added]

4. Students read "19 Nazis Guilty at Nuremburg" news article. Discuss why a society would want to have a public trial for individuals like Hussein or Nazi leaders.

5. Tell class they are going to conduct a mock trial in which Columbus will face charges of crimes against humanity. (Specific charges will be decided later.) Have students list the role of people in a criminal courtroom.

The list will include:

You will need:

After roles are assigned, each student will gather information in the media center based on their role. Information should be recent and contain multicultural viewpoints. Limited research such as using only an encyclopedia will not give students enough information to develop their roles.

  • Jury: Each member will research one tribe and gather information about their culture in pre-Columbian times.

  • Judge: Research legal procedures. The fairness and freedom material would be good resources for this task.

  • Prosecution: The team will gather information on damaging facts about Columbus. They will work together to develop a list of charges. They will plan their prosecution including opening arguments, witness list, closing arguments, etc.

  • Defense: Same task as the prosecution except they should collect evidence to show Columbus was a "man of his time" not personally responsible. He was working for the King and Queen. They were working for the Pope, who was following God's instructions. Also Ex Post Facto laws apply.

  • Witnesses: Witnesses should do research in their area. For example,
  • Court Reporter/Bailiff: Will research pre-Columbian life in other parts of the world, such as the Pacific Rim, Middle East or Africa.

    Allow time for gathering information. After the research is completed students on the jury, the judge, the bailiff, and court reporter will prepare reports on their subjects. The defense, prosecutor and witnesses will use their information to prepare their case.

    Hand out Mock Trial Procedures to the defense and prosecution teams. Hand out Jury Observation sheet and checklist. Begin the trial following the mock trial procedures and sitting by the judge to help make decisions on objections

    Trial Procedures include:
    - Opening of Trial
    - Opening Statement - List of Charges
    - The Oath to Each Witness
    - Direct Examination Both Sides
    - Cross Examination Prosecution First
    - Closing Argument
    - Jury Deliberations
    - The Decision
    - Sentencing
    - *Appeal * Done at a later date

    At the conclusion of the trial the students will write a one page paper on whether or not they felt justice was done in this trial.

    6. An alternate activity to this court system format could be a traditional American Indian way of resolving conflicts - a tribunal held by elders. Obtain information from local tribal elders or contact the Minnesota Council of Elders Mediation Panel.


  • Media Center sources on Columbus
  • Mock Trial Procedures and Jury Checklist
  • Articles on Hussein and Nuremburg
  • Video: "The Columbus Controversy"


    Bigelow, B. & Peterson, B. Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years. Rethinking Schools. 1998.

    Koning, Hans. Columbus: His Enterprise/Exploding the Myth, Monthly Review Press, 1991.

    Fairness and Freedom: Courts as a Forum of Justice. Minnesota Center for Community Legal Education, Hamline University School of Law. n.d.

    Loewen, James. Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. Simon & Shuster Trade. 1996


  • Gather and organize data for simulated trial activity.
  • Participate in mock trial.
  • Write essay regarding trial outcome.


  • Perform mock trial in for other students. Host an question/answer session afterwards.
  • Conduct another mock trial. Use actual cases such as the Trial of Standing Bear or use the video "Son of the Morning Star" and try Crazy Horse for the murder of General Custer at Custer's Last Stand.

    LINKAGES - Communications, Social Studies
    - Adapted from plans by Darrell Erickson, Robbinsdale Area Schools

    Student Readings
    19 Nazis Guilty at Nuremburg
    Nuremburg, Germany, October 1946

    The 11-month trial of Nazi war leaders is over. Out of 22 Nazis on trial, 19 have been found guilty of war crimes. Seven will go to prison and 12 will hang.

    Judges from the U.S., England, France and Russia tried Nazi leaders for:

  • War deaths. The Nazis started World War II which killed millions of soldiers and civilians.
  • War ruins. Most of the cities and farms in Europe are ruined.
  • The Holocaust. The Holocaust was the killing of over six million Jews and six million others. Hitler tried to kill everyone who did not agree with Nazi ideas.

    Dateline article, publication date unknown

    Hitler's campaign against the Jews went through a number of increasingly brutal states. The first stage came in 1933 when gangs of Nazis, prodded by the government, looted and boycotted shops and other businesses owned by Jews. The second state was the enactment of laws a few years later that disenfranchised all people who had "Jewish blood" - which included anybody with at least one Jewish grandparent. The third stage began in 1939 with mass arrests of Jews, soon followed by the establishment of concentration camps. In these wretched places, Jews were kept on a verge of starvation and forced to labor like slaves. The fourth stage began in 1941 after Hitler had sent his armies into the Soviet Union. He ordered that some of the concentration camps be converted into extermination camps. In these camps, the Nazis operated gas chambers and crematoriums to carry on the mass murders "efficiently." Even near the end of the war, German energies were systematically devoted to rounding up Jews and shipping them to their destruction.

    The indifference of Roosevelt and Churchill to the fate of victims, including the unwillingness to bomb the death camps or the rail lines leading to them, stands as a lapse of Allied leadership. Nothing atones for the atrocities, but the Allies eventually put many Nazis on trial at Nuremberg for their various crimes and executed hundreds of them.

    War-crimes report on Saddam held up
    New York Times
    Washington, D.C.

    A report by the U.S. Army documenting the administration's case that President Saddam Hussein committed war crimes has been stuck in the Pentagon bureaucracy for five months, reflecting the administration's reluctance to pursue the issue, say Pentagon officials who want the evidence made public.

    The document, compiled by two teams of Army lawyers working from Washington and Saudi Arabia during and after the Gulf War, concludes that Iraqi war crimes were "widespread and premeditated" during the invasion in August 1990 and the ensuing occupation.

    A strong argument against a war-crimes trial is that it is unlikely that the United States could take physical custody of Saddam. But proponents argue that at least the report could be made public or could be used as the basis for a U.N. resolution or other action condemning Saddam. President Bush issued a public warning to Saddam in October 1990 that he could face a warcrimes trial, and administration officials insist publicly that the issue is still under review. The Army is charged by statute with pursuing war crimes.

    But administration officials acknowledge that there is no enthusiasm in the administration for initiating a complicated process such as the Nuremberg trials of Nazis after World War II. The Army's report describes the taking of Kuwaitis and others as hostages and their forcible deportation; the torture, rape and murder of civilians; the looting of cultural property; the launching of Scud missiles against cities rather than specific military targets, and the sabotage of oil fields and the release of oil into the Persian Gulf.

    The report also says a number of babies died as a result of forcible removal from hospital incubators, but human rights organizations have disagreed about whether Iraqi soldiers removed babies from incubators.

    "The principal responsibility rests with Saddam Hussein," the report states, adding that there is substantial evidence that all of the actions by the Iraqi military and security forces were carried out on Saddam's orders or with his approval.

    One Pentagon official involved in the process denied that the Pentagon was refusing to release the report, saying it is "under careful review and on track."

    But other officials, as well as some members of Congress, contend that there is little momemtum in the Pentagon or in the administration to focus attention on the issue, particularly because it also would focus attention on the fact that Saddam is still in power.

    These officials want to see Saddam somehow held legally responsible for war crimes. Secretary of State James Baker and Defense Secretary Dick Cheney are said to be strongly opposed to any such initiative. "There are two schools of thought," said one administration official. "There are those who believe that bringing a war-crimes case against Saddam is the morally correct thing to do, because it further stigmatizes him and would never allow him to function as a normal leader. But the prevailing view is that this is not a matter of urgency."

    The official said such a move could set what he called an uncomfortable precedent, because the administration might be called upon to pursue other dictators. "That's when a lot of people get cold feet," he said.

    Reprinted with permission from the New York Times

    Student Handout: Mock Trial Procedure

    Participants: (it is helpful for students to have nametags)
    Judge Bailiff (teacher can be used here)
    Prosecution attorneys Witnesses for prosecution
    Defense attorneys Witnesses for defense
    Jury Court reporter
    Representatives of the media (sketch artist, reporter)
    Potential Prosecutors and Witnesses:

    Helpful Hints:
    Opening of Trial:
    Trial Procedure:
    Please find the defendant .
    Suggestions for questions:
    Your Questions
    Suggestions for questions:
    Your Questions
    Either the prosecutor or the defense attorney may object to a question or the admission of an exhibit. The judge will usually ask the person objecting, "On what rule of evidence are you relying?" Then the judge either sustains the objection preventing the evidence from being introduced or overrules the objection allowing the question or exhibit to be admitted as evidence. Reasons for objections (also known as grounds for objection or the Rules of Evidence being relied upon):

    Student Handout: Jury Observation Sheet and Checklist
    The jury will determine whether the defendant is guilty or not guilty based upon the facts of the case, the credibility of the witnesses' testimony, and the law which applies to the case. Use this sheet to follow the proceedings of the trial. As the prosecution presents its case, record the legal arguments made by the attorneys, facts presented by the witnesses and your impressions of the credibility (believability) of the witnesses.
    Prosecution's Opening Statement: What did the prosecution say it would try to prove in this case?

    FACTS learned from witness testimony:
    Witness #1:
    Witness #2:
    Witness #3:

    To Believe or not to Believe?
    Circle the response which most closely corresponds with what you think of each witness:
    SA - strongly agree A - agree D - disagree SD - strongly disagree
    Witness #1: was a believable witness SA A D DA
    Witness #2: was a believable witness SA A D DA
    Witness #3: was a believable witness SA A D DA

    Prosecution's Closing Argument: How did the prosecution use the facts from the witnesses to prove its case?
    Defendant's Opening Statement: What did the defense say it would try to prove in this case?
    FACTS learned from witness testimony:
    Witness #1:
    Witness #2:
    Witness #3:

    To Believe or not to Believe?
    Circle the response which most closely corresponds with what you think of each witness:
    SA - strongly agree A - agree D - disagree SD - strongly disagree
    Witness #1: was a believable witness SA A D DA
    Witness #2: was a believable witness SA A D DA
    Witness #3: was a believable witness SA A D DA

    Defendant's Closing Argument: How do the facts presented by the witnesses support the defendant's case?
    - Minnesota Center for Community Legal Education