April 25, 2012

"Podium teaching."

Have you seen this term? I'm not finding it on Google, but I'm hearing it used as if it's a standard term. It's a retronym, like "acoustic guitar," invented to distinguish traditional classroom teaching (in law school) from the clinics.

I'm trying to examine why I find the term so annoying. It's not just that I don't want the thing I do to be the retronym. It's that I hear something insulting in the word, as if we who are planted in the classroom are pod people, to be distinguished from the real people out in the real world doing real things.

And then it's the fact that we do not have podia at the law school. (Don't confuse "podium" with "lectern.") Every elevated platform for a teacher to stand on was ripped out long ago because it was seen as noncompliant with the Americans for Disabilities Act. So every classroom that had seats configured with sightlines designed for a professor on a podium got a flattened front end in case there might be a teacher in a wheelchair. That means there are some rooms that are utterly surrealistic from the teacher's point of view. You feel like you are down in a well with the students banked up to the ceiling. You have to keep reminding yourself to crank your head up now and then to make eye contact with the students in the back couple of rows.

To call me a podium teacher and deny me a podium....

Ah, well, all in the name of leveling.



You've got to worry about "the ways in which legal education contributes to the reproduction of illegitimate hierarchy in the bar and in society," don't you? That quote is from Duncan Kennedy's "Legal Education and the Reproduction of Hierarchy: A Polemic Against the System." An absolute must-read from the 1980s. Here's more:
[E]verything taught [in law school], except the formal rules themselves and the argumentative techniques for manipulating them, is policy and nothing more. It follows that the classroom distinction between the unproblematic legal case and the policy oriented case is a mere artifact: each could as well be taught in the opposite way. And the curricular distinction between the “nature” of contract law as highly legal and technical by contrast, say, with environmental law, is equally a mystification.

These errors have a bias in favor of the center-liberal program of limited reform of the market economy and pro forma gestures toward racial and sexual equality. The bias arises because law school teaching makes the choice of hierarchy and domination, which is implicit in the adoption of the rules of property, contract and tort, look as though it flows from legal reasoning, rather than from politics and economics. The bias is reenforced when the center-liberal reformist program of regulation is presented as equally authoritative, but somehow more policy oriented, and therefore less fundamental.

The message is that the system is basically OK, since we have patched up the few areas open to abuse, and that it has a limited but important place for value-oriented debate about further change and improvement. If there is to be more fundamental questioning, it is relegated to the periphery of history or philosophy. The real world is kept at bay by treating clinical legal education, which might bring in a lot of information threatening to the cosy [sic] liberal consensus, as free legal drudge work for the local bar or as mere skills training.

33 comments:

chickenlittle said...

You feel like you are down in a well with the students banked up to the ceiling.

Sounds like medical theatrics

Triangle Man said...

Your lecture halls sound like surgical theaters. Perfect for dissecting the constitution. Difficult for those with weak stomachs.

Triangle Man said...

Damn you chicken little!

Bob_R said...

The term I've heard more often is "sage on the stage." Jokes about sage and turkeys are not permitted.

ricpic said...

Get out from behind that podium and show us your pudenda!

rhhardin said...

The bias arises because law school teaching makes the choice of hierarchy and domination, which is implicit in the adoption of the rules of property, contract and tort, look as though it flows from legal reasoning, rather than from politics and economics.

Richard Epstein says the opposite, that there is no law at all without rules of property, contract and tort.

link

traditionalguy said...

Is this about Occupy Law School?

The teachers that lecture actually base the legal system on the acceptance of reasoned authority to settle disputes.

Today's real people refuse all authority...like that stodgy notion of Private Property, which the occupy guys refuse to treat as settled until they have taken it away from its owners and redistributed it as they see fit.

Chanting and occupying the Capitol must be the true legal clinic experience.

Quayle said...

Ah, yes. The Duncan Kennedy that is all about 'leveling' and ending the hierarchy.

Of course on his web page you can't leave a question or a comment. You can only read about him.

Bob_R said...

I once gave a lecture in a hall that was set up like the surgical theater in chickenlittle's link. Very disconcerting at first - slight feeling of vertigo. Is there a special name for that type of hall?

EDH said...

"Legal Education and the Reproduction of Hierarchy: A Polemic Against the System"

Elizabeth Warren Gets Interest-Free Loan From Harvard

Warren disclosed the 20-year interest free loan from Harvard, which lent her between $15,000 and $50,000 in 1996, in financial disclosure forms filed with the Senate last September.

“Let me get this straight: struggling students and families pay more, so multi-millionaire Warren can pay nothing? This sweetheart deal adds insult to injury for the students whose high tuition costs have already made Warren a wealthy one-percenter, and reveals yet again Professor Warren’s hypocritical idea of fairness,” wrote Brown’s campaign manager Jim Barnett...

Brown’s campaign also pointed out that tuition has increased by at least $16,000 at the Ivy League university since 1996, when Warren’s loan was granted. She also earned a $350,000 salary from the University last year, according to her disclosure forms.

Rabel said...

Sounds like you need a soapbox.

But you've got the blog for that, so it's all good.

Bob Ellison said...

"retronym" is an excellent word!

But Professor, get off your high podium! No, stay up there, and keep talking and writing, but please don't think you're all that and a bag of chits. Humility and the constant stream of artful words are your strength.

Tank said...

It's annoying because it's obviously meant to be a derogatory term. It puts you with the old, supposedly discredited [or evil] way of doing things.

You're outdated.

You're old.

You seek to maintain your superior position and dominance over "others."

Bad Annie.

prairie wind said...

The training world, in its headlong rush toward online training, calls old-fashioned classroom trainers "stand-up trainers."

Everybody loves a stand-up guy.

Kit said...

In the med school, these are referred to as 'didactics'. The other method, or hands-on training, is referred to 'clinical' training.

Bender said...

Any podium or lectern teaching ought to be discouraged, to the extent that it is the all too often encountered reading from notes, or worse yet, reading from the textbook.

No panel of appellate judges would ever let a lawyer get away with simply reading his argument. And trial work is all about thinking and speaking on your feet, without being able to hide behind your notes (although some courts do insist that you hide behind the lectern instead of being able to move around or stand at counsel's table).

Even nonlitigators cannot rely on simply reading, as if he were Mitt Romney or Barack Obama comfortably reading off of their teleprompters. They must know the material enough to speak at length and in logical order without reading from notes, even if they do occasionally glance down at an sparse topic outline.

Bender said...

As for Kennedy, from this limited excerpt, he sounds rather "critical," if you know what I mean.

As for what is taught and how it is taught, I discovered later how back asswards the traditional order of subjects is. Instead, one of the first subjects that should be taught is Remedies because that is how the law works in the real world -- you have a problem, and you try to figure out what kind of relief or remedy you can obtain. Instead, in the substantive law classes, you start with some rule of law, then try to apply it to fact-examples, and all the while confusing evidence, remedy, and the rule of law itself.

wyo sis said...

Isn't all this talk of illegitimate hierarchy just another name for replacing your theory with my theory? Dismantling the mechanics of the classroom contributes to the extent that it disorients everyone and makes us all think we're better off just because it looks different. Depersonalizing teachers is another way to distance students from actual thought.

Bender said...

I had heard the name Duncan Kennedy before, but certainly never looked at his "must-read" book (in point of fact, works by hard-core leftists, other than perhaps Marx himself, are never "must-read"). But in googling him (actually, wikipediaing him), my suspicions were correct --
"Duncan Kennedy (b. 1942 in Washington D.C.) is the Carter Professor of General Jurisprudence at Harvard Law School and a founder of critical legal studies as movement and school of thought"

His words are interesting in that know-your-enemy sort of way, but beyond that, it is all rather predictable and boring (although rather alarming for all of the total crap that law students "learn" from him or any CLS ideologue masquerading as a teacher of law).

edutcher said...

They had platforms for the instructors' tables and chairs at Villanova. I guess that's the same thing.

I think you're being a little touchy here. If you're a good teacher, it doesn't matter how it's done.

Quality will out.

Ann Althouse said...

"The term I've heard more often is "sage on the stage.""

But they took out the stages, back in the 90s. You're flat on the floor and the seats bank upward.

David said...

Let's all chip in and buy Althouse a ladder.

Roger Sweeny said...

The message is that the system is basically OK, since we have patched up the few areas open to abuse

This shows a severe lack of perception. The general culture of law school--and of academia in general--says that there are always new ways to "patch the system." In fact, one of the ways to get ahead in academia is to discover new problems and new ways to solve them. Not surprisingly, these ways usually involve more money and power to people with academic training.

There are no obvious stopping points in how "the system" needs fixing. So there is constant pressure toward a non-democratic social democracy, with the good and the smart and the credentialed making the decisions. "You like sugar? We'll cure you of that."

Law school does indeed push hierarchy, but it is not the hierarchy of the capitalists; it is the hierarchy of the non-profits. It is a hierarchy of people who have flowed through academia and are often offspring of academics.

Ann Althouse said...

" had heard the name Duncan Kennedy before, but certainly never looked at his "must-read" book (in point of fact, works by hard-core leftists, other than perhaps Marx himself, are never "must-read")."

You're making a terrible mistake. Think about how helpful Saul Alinsky's book is to people across the political spectrum.

And these really left-wing books are at least as antagonistic to liberals as they are to conservatives.

Don't be so stodgy! Think creatively!

Ann Althouse said...

"Let's all chip in and buy Althouse a ladder."

I'm fine. I ask for the room that doesn't challenge my neck and my sense of reality.

Perhaps the Americans With Disabilities Act entitles me to avoid the rooms that disturb me so much.

Bender said...

You're making a terrible mistake. Think about how helpful Saul Alinsky's book is to people across the political spectrum

When I was taking jurisprudence classes, I was naive enough to think that the law was about, you know, the law, that is, logic and right reason, rather than arbitrary power politics. Critical legal studies and legal realism were things to be argued against as the corrosive things they are, and not things that might be helpful. One did not need to read much more than a page or two to understand their entire power-oriented, quasi-Leninist approach.

Quaestor said...

ricpic wrote:
Get out from behind that podium and show us your pudenda!

Oh come on now, ricpic. Let's not be obtuse, vulgar and ungrammatical in one sentence!

Firstly, one can't get behind a podium. Secondly, if a lecturing woman were sufficiently unclothed to expose her genitalia the podium would offer no shelter, and lastly, at least two women are implied by pudenda.

There sure are a lot of latinate words in discussion here. Podium has been used here in the sense of a raised platform for a speaker. However, Althouse used the term in the context of a lecture hall built in the style of a Roman or classical theater, where the students are arrayed on ascending tiers above the speaker. Those tiers are the podia. The floor the professor stands on is the orchestra. The piece of furniture usually called a lectern, i.e. a pedestal or box suitable to support papers for a standing reader, is sometimes incorrectly called a rostrum, which properly is a raised platform for a public speaker. The first rostrum was such a platform in the Forum of Rome which was built as a victory monument to the First Punic War. The name derived from the decorations arrayed along the sides and behind the platform -- the rostra, i.e. the rams or beaks of captured Carthaginian war galleys. Thus the students are on the podium. If the professor needs something to stand on she should get a rostrum built on the orchestra.

BTW, the often-used term amphitheater is technically incorrect because in such a structure the audience surrounds a circular performance space. The Colosseum in Rome is an example of an amphitheater.

Charlie Martin said...

Buy a soapbox?

Chip S. said...

Are you sure that whoever is using the term isn't simply using it to mean "lectern"? After all, your link is to "common errors". Also, the degraded standards of Merriam-Webster accept "
"podium"
as a synonym for "lectern" in a secondary definition.

It makes sense that people would view standing behind or leaning on a lectern as the epitome of boring, droning lecturing--as opposed to simply standing on a raised platform. So this post seems more than a bit Litellan.

Bill Harshaw said...

Googling the term reveals there's competition for its meaning, as in a "podium teaching station or console". I'm visualizing a setup with PC's for everyone, but with the teacher having some super-PC to reflect her super position.

Smilin' Jack said...

Every elevated platform for a teacher to stand on was ripped out long ago because it was seen as noncompliant with the Americans for Disabilities Act...You have to keep reminding yourself to crank your head up now and then to make eye contact with the students in the back couple of rows.

Trying to make eye contact discriminates against students with autism spectrum disorders.

Zach said...

The Duncan Kennedy excerpt reads like someone who needs to get out in the fresh air and not spend so much time in law school.

If you want to avoid the reproduction of hierarchy in law school, develop some values that aren't contained inside the lecture hall.

Suburbanbanshee said...

All Western university teaching started with teaching from a lectern or ambo or what have you.

Of course, philosophers usually taught seated on a platform, while students had to stand or sit on the floor, or on benches if things were fancy. The "peripatetic" philosophers were notable for teaching on their feet and on the move, sort of like "doing rounds".

Actually, if people complain too much about "podium teaching", you could always walk your 150 students around the offices of whichever colleagues are complaining about it, while the colleagues are in the offices. I bet that would shut 'em up.