... Osborn says [law students] hate law school, and they hate it because the law professors don’t care about what the students think. “You come in here with a skull full of mush, and you leave thinking like a lawyer,” said Osborn’s sadistically Socratic professor, Charles W. Kingsfield Jr. This legal discipline deprives students of “their own narrative,” as Osborn put it, and they need to learn how to struggle, as Osborn’s protagonist Hart did, to “reclaim” it. They need to resist what law school tries to impose....Here's Greg, a law student who actually has had Osborn as his lawprof:
Because Prof. Osborn didn't cold-call, didn't even assign people to be "up" for a particular class, it was the narrative of a few that we heard most from.This is the #1 problem with relying on volunteers. I, myself, have used volunteers through most of my 20+ years teaching law. It is more relaxed and does give you the good feeling that you're not intruding on anyone. But of course, you are. You're intruding on the minds of everyone in the room, even if they are passive and silent. They may avoid the fear and pressure of getting put on the spot, but that doesn't mean they're having a fine time listening to the students who enjoy engaging with the professor.
Osborn wants to empower students to "reclaim" their "personal narrative" in class, but you've got to picture that in practice. Just because the opportunity is offered doesn't mean the students will respond in proportion to their need for personal empowerment or the value of their personal narrative to the classroom experience.
Most likely, the students who bring the most empowerment to class will do the most talking. These may be the extroverts or the students who came from families or great schools that got them comfortable with exposing their minds. Having to listen to these already-empowered students may very well disempower the students who are more introverted or whose families did not debate politics at the dinner table or whose high schools were substandard holding pens. It may strengthen some students over others -- perhaps males over females or white students over minorities students.
If we care about diversity, we need to worry about a teaching method that activates some and not others. Even if you rankle at "diversity" talk like that and prefer to think in terms of individuals, you should care about systematically empowering some individuals over others. Well, if you rankle at "diversity," you probably hate "empowering" too, but the point remains! If you're going to have a classroom where students do some of the talking, it's best to get the full range of students talking, especially if the students are going into a field like law, where speaking is going to be part of the work.
Here's another law student blog post, from Aaron of The Stopped Clock:
One of the best student experiences I had in law school was being taught by J.J. White, who was probably the most like Professor Kingsfield of any professor at UM. He knew his material cold, and I had the impression that he spent more time reviewing cases and preparing for each class than did most of his students....Aaron's post is pretty rambling and entails an awful lot of personal narrative. It's hard to tell what he's driving at. And then it ends with a question for me. Hey, Aaron, I'm the lawprof. I'm the one who wants a neo-Socratic revival. That is, I'm the one with the questions. No answers for you!
Had every professor at UM been like him, I would have had to work a lot harder and I would have learned a lot more.
By the way, I love Prof. Osborn, who sent me a nice note about the NYT column, in which he cleverly pointed out that I used personal narrative and told my own story in the column. He's quite right! Here I am, leading up to a conclusion that rejects the idea of opening up the classroom to students telling their own stories:
When I was applying to law schools in 1977, I really didn't need an anti-authoritarian novel about a young guy who lets a love affair with the professor's daughter eat into his study time. I was married and -- it seemed then -- a little old for that sort of frippery.And of course, "One L" is a personal narrative too. (And where's my letter from Scott Turow?!)
I was 26. What I needed was to get serious after years of underemployment inspired by books and movies about defying authority. I had to set aside that obsolescent hippie balkiness and adopt a pragmatic attitude for the task ahead. ''One L'' -- which was new then -- laid out the facts about law school and got you just scared enough to fire you up for the challenge.
I'm not against personal narrative. As a blogger, could I be against personal narrative? Actually, I could. A blog could be much more personal than this, and it could also be utterly impersonal. Like a law school class, you've got to choose where you want to pitch it. Unlike a law school class, you've got a full range of choice. I think it would be downright abusive to make my law school class as personal as this blog... and to make this blog as personal as it could be... well, that would be crazy, wouldn't it? Or are you just waiting for the day when I lay my inhibitions aside and tell you what I really think... and what I really do?