Said the eminent, venerable law professor Robert Summers, according to the verbatim notes of a student in his Contracts class at Cornell Law School. Summers recommended that students try to write everything down, and the student, my son John, followed the recommendation. At the link, you'll find much more about Summers — the ideal of the Socratic law professor, who taught his last class on December 1st.
Professor Summers taught law for 50 years. That's about twice as long as I've taught law, and I see myself as well past the middle of my teaching days. I encountered Professor Summers when I interviewed at Cornell — it was my first law school interview — in the fall of 1983. He went on an oddly long rant about how awful it was to have to grade exams.
If I had a transcript of that now, I'm sure I would see that it was hilarious, but at the time, I was terrified, and I furiously racked my brain to think of some interview-appropriate response. Perhaps if I'd been less tightly wound that day and laughed instead of looking however I looked — mystified? blank? clock-watch-y? — I'd have ended up at Cornell.
But I ended up at Wisconsin. And I'm pleased that my son John grew up in Wisconsin and that he ended up at Cornell — with the presence of mind and the sense of humor to appreciate the great Professor Summers.
... Summers took the Socratic method to the extreme. He rarely made any direct statement about anything, almost always preferring to ask questions instead.For me, that is a luscious bite of incentive to keep trying to find the wit and the nerve to go for the Socratic ideal. What if I took a secret vow to teach speaking only in questions? How long would it take the students to notice? And by notice, I mean, notice that I'm using the technique of only asking question, not notice that I am really, really annoying.
He mockingly voiced the way he thought students would react:
Isn’t it a pity that you need to analyze cases? You can’t just go around with your mouth open waiting for a spoon that will feed it to you in one big, luscious bite! Students should sue. The teachers should just give you the law.
Summers talking about another lawprof:
MacNeil was a whale of a law professor! Never uttered a declarative sentence! Never uttered a declarative sentence! Not in 35 years! Best law professor we've ever had! Now he's retired. What a mistake that was. What a mistake that was.