April 18, 2004
Learning From the Honor Students
Posted by Gordon Smith

This is the first in what I hope will be a regular feature of this blog: a review of my favorite posts from the Law Student Blog Honor Roll. As I wrote when I first introduced the Honor Roll, I am interested in blogging as a tool of legal education, so I will focus here on posts about law or law school. Finally, I will not feel compelled to include a post from every blog on the Honor Roll each time I do this. So, here goes ...

* Sua Sponte is most entertaining in her description of Socratic teaching. She notes that "old school" Socratic teachers are rare and sometimes scary, but ultimately fair:

That's one thing to value about Old School Socratic Guys: they may play hard, but by and large, they play fair. Even if "fair" is defined as "by my rules," those rules at least stay constant. You just need to figure out what they are. It's kind of like playing Mao: equal parts frustrating and tantalizing, but ultimately, you hope, entertaining.

Sometime I wonder how my students would describe my teaching style. I often call on students "cold," and I do not abide lame excuses for non-participation. On the other hand, I am not Kingsfield-like (read: "mean"). My goal is to guage and engage, not to torture.

* ai indicts law school teaching:

I've missed some class recently (shock!), but thanks to Passover, at least one of my professors videotaped several of the classes I missed. As I watch these taped lectures, I realize once again how broken the learning model is at a major law school like GW. What do I miss by having not been in class and watching the class on video instead? Absolutely nothing. Sure, there was the one day per semester in each of my classes where I had to "perform" the ritual of regurgitating the day's reading, acting as little more than a foolish foil for my professors' otherwise largely canned lectures, but aside from those 4 days of class, I might have watched the whole semester on video. I would have learned just as much. In fact, I might have learned more; it's nice to be able to rewind to listen again to the confusing parts.

So what do I pay for in law school? Why doesn't GW just package videos for me to buy, rather than making me move to DC and actually show up on campus for classes? I can think of many reasons—attending class is only one part of a full law school experience—but it's hard to shake the feeling that the attendance requirements are just a mask for the fact that big law schools are just degree factories that long ago sacrificed learning models for business models. Sure, we do learn this way, but let's just drop the pretense, shall we? Charge me half the tuition, send me the videos, I'll watch them at home, and we can all stop pretending there's really a need to pay for the plasma screens in the lobby that no one even looks at. Grrrr.

ai is a first-year law student and has already figured out that the law school model is broken. Most classes are too large. Most professors are too interested in conveying information and not enough interested in engaging their students' imagination. This generation of students is demanding better, and they should.

* Mixtape is her usual hilarious self, describing class notes that she received from a fellow student after missing class. (Hmm ... missing class. Am I sensing a pattern among Honor Roll bloggers? No wonder they are on the Honor Roll!) For all of you law professors out there who have forgotten what students are getting (or not) from your classes, read this.

* Three Years of Hell offers sound advice to 1Ls:

Incidentally, if you're lucky enough to find a companion during your 1L year, seize that particular opportunity with both hands. I'm going to break my standard policy of not talking about my personal life to say that finding someone understanding of a 1L's schedule, who can put up with the fact that you're available only at odd hours and that your one instant topic of conversation regards your workload, is an circumstance of tender mercy. If she knows how to cook brilliant halibut cooked with saffron, yogurt and shallots, all the better. But during this madcap silly season, having someone to share with is really the crowning glory.

I was already married when I started law school, and my wife was stalwart throughout. After receiving my diploma in the Rockefeller Chapel, I walked down the center aisle. As I passed my wife, I handed her the diploma and said, "You deserve this as much as I do." And I wasn't just being nice.

* This last one, from Crescat Sententia isn't exactly about law or law school, but Jeremy discusses the BloggerCon conference sponsored by the Berkman Center. His conclusion: blogging is not a money-making operation. I hope Jeremy is right about that, and I think he must be. Blogging's edge is its spontanaeity and irreverance. If I were trying to make money doing this, I would be tempted to be more careful, which would defeat the purpose.

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