Marc DeGirolami Doesn’t Get Enough Attention in Class

Posted in Uncategorized on June 18th, 2010 by bl1y

Over the the PrawfsBlawg, there’s this piece from Howard Wasserman, an associate professor of law at Florida International University. The blog post discusses two trends in reforming legal education (or, more likely, discussing reform without actually reforming anything); the trends are “Best Practices” (adding experiential learning) and “Student Centeredness” (focusing on student needs).

The article itself is fairly uninteresting, but one of the comment is pretty retarded:

One of the many puzzling things about the “best practices” recommendations is that they simultaneously advocate “professionalism” and “values” education right alongside skills training in the more mechanical components of legal practice. The idea seems to be that one becomes a professional — and a professionally minded person who has internalized the profession’s values — exactly by becoming technically proficient, more fluid at processing discovery, more knowledgeable about filing requirements, and so on. The marriage of these two ideas looks to produce something like the ethic of the technician as the ne plus ultra — a fully bureaucratized professionalism. I wonder if the best practices cadre had Judge Posner’s thoughts about professionalism in mind when they issued their recommendations, or if the similarities are unintentional.

As for student-centeredness, maybe we ought to be thinking about teacher-centeredness. The model of student-centeredness presupposes that there is exactly one right way to teach any law school class — one sort of thing that students want, a thing that teachers ought to be giving them. I do not think that learning goes on this way (unless one thinks that the delivery of data is the same thing as learning). Teachers have different strengths and weaknesses, and students will miss out on a unique kind of learning experience if a teacher is not able to tailor a program of instruction to his or her strengths. Each civ pro course may not be entirely unique, but teachers ought to be encouraged to incorporate their own substantive and stylistic strengths to shape any given civ pro course. The model of student-centeredness flattens courses in what is likely to be an intellectually stifling manner.

That comment is from Marc DeGirolami, an assistant professor of law at St. John’s.  It is also complete bullshit.

The model of student-centeredness does not presuppose there is only one way to teach a class.  I had a logic class in udnergrad that was most self-study in a computer lab with a few floating TAs to help you when you got lost, and I had an upper level creative writing workshop that involved sitting at a table and being criticized by your classmates for the better part of an hour.  Both were student centered, but were night and day different.

While there is not one sort of thing every student wants, there is one thing that 90-95% of the students want to get from their law school classes.  They would like to graduate as minimally competent attorneys.  That means training them in the knowledge and skills that they will need.  Yes, all teachers are different, and everyone has their own teaching style, but that doesn’t mean that reading pleadings and having a drafting exercise shouldn’t be the norm for a civil procedure class.  If you can’t do that because your weakness is you’re terrible at drafting or analyzing pleadings, you probably need to rethink your career.

Yes, professors should be encouraged to incorporate their own stylistic and substantive strengths.  But, offering nothing of value to your students is not a legitimate teaching style.  If you don’t understand mechanical things such as discovery, that’s not an excuse to only teach theory. Get up off your ass and learn the basics of the subject matter you’re teaching.

Or, as I previously wrote in response to Pace University professor Bridget Crawford’s asinine ramblings on legal academia:

1. If you don’t teach your students knowledge or skills that will be of practical value when they enter the work force, then

2. Get the fuck out.

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