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KC's Rex Hafer Wins National Law Award

Rex Hafer stands on desk and talks to classKalamazoo Central High School government teacher Rex Hafer was named this year’s American Lawyers Alliance’s Lillian B. Jarvis Teacher of the Year. 

Hafer, who has taught social studies at Kalamazoo Central for 18 years, is an AP comparative government and politics and constitutional law teacher. He is a 13-time recipient of the KRESA “Significant Educator Award.” He is also the National Honor Society adviser at the school and co-coach of the cross country team. 

“I believe that not all lessons on the law are overt with court cases to our students,” Hafer said in his application for the award. “Oftentimes it is getting kids to see the failure of the system and to offer them an opportunity to correct that wrong and raise awareness. Legal changes are slow to develop over time. In the meantime, it is important to see that one has an avenue to impact our society as we fight to win the slow and deliberate legal battles that are so important.” 

The Jarvis Award honors teachers of law-related programs in Title I schools. The American Lawyers Alliance is a nonprofit affiliate of the American Bar Association, whose mission is to promote understanding and appreciation of the law and the American legal system. Hafer will be honored at the ALA annual meeting in Denver on Aug. 4. 

Hafer was selected by a panel of judges for his challenging and educational law and government programs. 

“He has developed interesting and original ways to engage his students in the law. He challenges them by exposing them to real Supreme Court cases, research projects through Human Rights Watch, and community awareness,” said an Alliance press release. 

KC Principal Valerie Boggan said, “Rex, or ‘Hafer’ as he is commonly referred to, is a quiet force. His leadership doesn’t require him to be in front, but he equips his students to lead and make a difference in the school. His method of teaching has allowed his students to excel in some very challenging Advanced Placement courses. Rex is an asset to Kalamazoo Central and students benefit from his passion to teach.” 

“Mr. Hafer is an exceptional civics educator who strives each day to bring the outside world of government, law, and politics inside the classroom in ways that excite students to become engaged citizens,” said Heather Reid, president of the Kalamazoo Education Association. 

In his application for the award, Hafer describes his three-pronged approach to teaching his AP government and law classes. For his AP U.S. Government class, the primary focus has been on the expansion of civil liberties and rights through the conflictual process of litigation versus legislation. 

“The only requirement I have of my students is that every argument in every debate or assignment is tied back directly to the United States Constitution,” he said. “One of the first law-based lessons I use every year is a Federalist vs. Anti-Federalist debate over the articles of the Constitution. Students are divided into two groups and either have to defend the Constitution or raise the criticisms of it based on their role,” he said. “They present their research as a debate in front of a panel of social studies teachers acting as citizens in the 1780s trying to decide whether or not to vote in favor of the ratification of the Constitution.” 

His class also incorporates a legal study of the regulatory policies of the bureaucracy — bureaucratic law that is created, implemented, and regulated by the federal bureaucracy. 

“Students are assigned random independent regulatory agencies to see their focus and the autonomy they have to draft and enforce legislation that impacts American citizens every day,” he said. “They have to look at the legal challenges to the bureaucratic implementation and regulation as well as the defense of these policies.” 

Students also must write constitutional issue historiography papers. Each student randomly draws a constitutional issue ranging from freedom of the press to students’ rights in schools. Each issue has a minimum of three Supreme Court cases affiliated with it, including a major case studied in class or that has dramatically impacted American life. 

“Students must write a research paper on the evolution of the Supreme Court’s rulings on the issue as well as the impact their changing or evolving rulings have had on society,” he said. 

In AP United States Government, the class delves into the civil liberties and civil rights that the courts have protected, examined, challenged — or neglected. Hafer brings in police officers, lawyers, politicians, and community activists to address constitutional issues or principles and explain how they interpret them. 

Hafer said he enjoys his AP Comparative Government and Politics class, because it presents an “amazing opportunity to teach (about) law around the world” to students who rarely get this opportunity. Only 17,000 students worldwide take the class annually. “It is actually a course that gets the students to ask about law and the implementation of it around the world.” 

The class studies six different countries, and the students do a research project through Human Rights Watch reports to see what legal and social issues are at play in each country and how they are being addressed by the political and judicial systems. 

As the National Honor Society adviser at Kalamazoo Central for 17 years, Hafer has helped his students learn about civic engagement. In 2018, five of his students created Kalamazoo Students for Gun Legislation in the wake of the Parkland shooting. And, he works with students to organize KC Feeds KZOO, the second largest food drive in the community, which annually raises over $16,000 in donations every holiday season.