Saturday, April 30, 2005
A few days ago, I featured a provocative 2005 article by University of Tennessee College of Law Professor Robert Lloyd (see below, April 24 post). Professor Lloyd is not new on the scene; he has been publishing his critical views on legal education for quite some time.
He introduces his 1995 article, "Consumerism in Legal Education," (45 J. Leg. Ed. 551) with a line from Gilbert & Sullivan: "When every one is somebodee/Then no one's anybody!" (sic) Translated to law school lingo: "Administrators, pulled by conflicting and increasingly strident constituencies, try to satisfy everyone, and satisfy no one."
Who is not satisfied? Students and their parents, faculty, clients, law firms ... and, presumably, Professor Lloyd.
The root of the problem discussed by Professor Lloyd seems to be found in schools and colleges which "...now concern themselves more with fostering self-esteem than with teaching thinking skills." He wrote those words in 1995. A few months ago (February 2005) a school district in my state of Rhode Island banned spelling bees - the paramount reason cited by school administrators was that bees "humiliate those who compete but don't fare well." Is that the buzz around academia, or just in Tennessee and Rhode Island?
This model takes its toll on law schools, Professor Lloyd posits, because we are inundated with "people [students] who have never thought critically about anything yet think they know the answer to everything," and who are personally insulted by professors who have the temerity to expose fallacies in their reasoning, or challenge their premises. Treating law students as "consumers" leads to placating them in ways inconsistent with production of lawyers with high-end critical thinking expertise; many students receive a "...style of teaching that fits their liking."
Fitting their "liking," Professor Lloyd appears to think, is different than the more benign concept of fitting their "learning style." Students often "like" to take the easy way out - classes graded more generously; classes with papers rather than exams; classes taught by lecturing profs rather than challenging profs (or, as he puts it, "...twenty-five minutes of lecture and twenty-five minutes of 'let's pretend we're thinking about this case'").
So what do you think? Have our schools drifted away from rigor? If so, or if not, how do our academic support efforts relate to this drift?
I think I know where Professor Lloyd stands on this question. He writes, "By inflating grades," (which he believes most schools do), "we're making it harder on the bar examiners. It's hard enough for them to fail the bottom ten percent when those people are D students. As we approach the point where the bottom ten percent are B students, the bar examiners will be hard pressed to maintain any standards at all."
There are many tough balancing acts inherent in law school. What are your thoughts on this one?
(Consider addressing this issue on the Academic Support List Serve. djt)