Gorski Applies His Legal Knowledge: From Students to Clients and Back Again 7/10/18 07/10/18 11:00:29 AM
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St.Pius X/St. Leo teacher Greg Gorski prefers to put his students in the spotlight while he takes a back seat. Here, he is pictured with the three 2018 Law Day Essay Contest winners: from left, Meg Raabe, second place; Gigi Salerno, first place; and Abby Wessling, third place. – Photo by Lorraine Boyd
Gorski Applies His Legal Knowledge
From Students to Clients and Back Again
By Andy Roberts
The Daily Record
Somehow, it just seemed right.
Greg Gorski is in his third career, or first career for the second time, teaching U.S. History at St. Pius X/St. Leo Catholic School in Omaha. Along the way, the lessons he learned as a law student and as a lawyer are helping him and his students succeed both in the classroom and in Law Day competitions.
But let’s turn back the clock. A life-long Notre Dame and Chicago Cubs fan, Greg taught and coached junior high and high school students for five years while he earned his master’s degree in U.S. History.
He left the teaching profession to attend Notre Dame Law School. After graduation he moved to Omaha to begin work in the legal profession, which he stayed in for 26 years.
He decided to go back and get a Nebraska teaching certificate and began substitute teaching. When a job opportunity opened to teach U.S. History, he looked forward to being back in the classroom. Now it is the students of St. Pius X/St. Leo who are benefitting from his many experiences. He has found a tremendous connection in how the law correlates with teaching history.
“I think it helps in a number of ways, particularly in the teaching of history, but really in any teaching discipline,” he offered. He pointed out that in practicing law you are subject to the rules and principles of law.
“For example, in business transactions, you often have to negotiate an agreement,” he emphasized. “That helps when teaching about the formation of government and how laws are created. ... You develop a way of thinking and analyzing as an attorney. When a new bill is proposed, legislators are not often in full agreement on the particulars; therefore, negotiations occur with each side compromising to deliver a bill to the president for signature. This process occurs all the time in legal practice, where attorneys negotiate to keep the essence of their client’s interest intact, while giving on less important issues.
He also has found that the ability to look at a series of incidents and develop an opinion or reach a conclusion is helpful.
That skill is useful, he said, and not just in history class.
“In English class, a teacher is going to ask you about a character or plot,” he said. “You get a problem and have to come up with a solution. You ask: How do the rules apply? Then you analyze the problem using the rules and you reach a conclusion.
“It’s very helpful in teaching how government got started.”
Gorski pointed out that in working to create the new nation’s government, the Founding Fathers took ideas from the British government and looked to see how they could improve upon them. He added: “It’s hard to understand history if you don’t understand government.”
“We’re still tweaking it,” he acknowledged.
“When you think about issues in the past... Should there have been a protection for individual rights inserted within the Constitution?” he queried. Some of the Founders thought it wasn’t needed but others disagreed.
“So, following heated debates and negotiations, they reached a compromise to specify a limited number of individual and state rights, and to include them in the Constitution,” Gorski pointed out.
“Much like lawyers negotiate,” he elaborated. “Much like drafting an agreement for clients. ... If they were going to close the discussion, they knew there had to be compromise.”
As a rule, both sides in the negotiations desire a certain outcome with some “hard and fast” demands.
“Unless the attorneys, or the client, hold fast on every point, you’ll end up with an agreement ... and nobody gets exactly what they want, but they get primarily what they want.”
Those ways of thinking are something students have to develop if they are going to fully comprehend the material.
“Those things are important to learn,” he said. “Even at the eighth-grade level.”
“Compromise isn’t possible if the parties don’t agree on the issues. However: for seven decades following the ratification of the Constitution, the South saw its differences with the North as being ‘states rights and economic freedom’, while the North saw those differences in terms of ‘union and the injustices of slavery’. Following periodic “compromise,” the parties engaged in the most catastrophic war in U.S. history.
Spotting issues, understanding the rules that apply, analyzing the application of the rule to the issue, and reaching a reasoned conclusion: Those also are lessons that pay off as the student advances, and those are the learning skills that teachers look for from students, he said.
“Then we get to the formation of government as we live,” Gorski said. “Where did they get it right and where did they make mistakes?” And we have conversations about that.”
The 2016 president election pro-vided a great opportunity to discuss much of this with the students, he recalled. They discussed the Electoral College and why that was important to smaller states.“
Our students could look at the tallies and understand that although one candidate won the popular vote, that didn’t determine the outcome.”
Those were among the lessons put into practice in their Law Day contests. Last year students from St. Pius X/St. Leo won one of the writing awards, the year before two, and this year their Law Day essays won all three. Gorski said he doesn’t deserve all the credit and the Bar Association’s invitations to the competition could well be spread out to teachers in other areas of instruction, especially English teachers.“
That writing skill comes from them,” Gorski emphasized. “I give a lot of credit to the teachers they’ve had over the years, the parents who foster a love for learning and the students themselves, of course.”
As for understanding how the Constitution, specifically the Bill of Rights works: “That’s my job.”
The teacher turned lawyer turned teacher was emphatic that his students will be back in the Law Day essay competition next year, and that important lessons connecting history and the formation of our nation and its laws will play a major role. The competition, sponsored by the Omaha Legal Professionals Association and the Omaha Bar Association as part of their Law Day activities, “provides teachers a great platform for teaching the Constitution, especially the Bill of Rights, and students a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate both their reasoning and writing skills.
“It’s really important that at a young age students understand how government works,” Gorski stated. “It’s basic. If you don’t understand the essential governing document of our nation, you’re just arguing through emotion rather than reason and that’s unfortunate.”