Wednesday, October 12, 2005

A Reason to Sacrifice

Mario suggests that we not shy away from the word “sacrifice,” and I think he is right.  But to make that word ring true, our students must understand what makes the sacrifices worthwhile:  the reality that clients will soon entrust to them some of life’s most precious concerns.  That same reality should drive our academic support efforts.

Those who criticize the notion of academic support often do so because they perceive academic support as a “bag of tricks” for getting incompetent students through law school when flunking them out would be better for the profession and the public.  Whether we need to answer those critics is a topic for another posting; but it is imperative that, at the least, we strive never to deserve the criticism. 

As academic support professionals, we should be about the business of preparing our students to handle the serious, real-world problems of their clients.  Our students should realize from the first day of law school that they have but three years to prepare themselves to deserve their clients’ trust and competently handle their clients’ affairs. 

Like doctors, our students will spend their days diagnosing, treating, and preventing legal “illnesses.”  Like patients, their clients must not encounter shallow diagnoses, superficial treatments, or ineffective prevention. 

Our efforts, therefore, should ensure that our students are learning as deeply, completely, and accurately as possible.  Grades and ranks will take care of themselves.

Law school exams, legal writing assignments, upper-level research and writing requirements, and even bar exams are nothing more than the proving grounds for things much more important than grades or class ranks, interviews or first jobs. All of the ASP strategies for briefing, outlining, preparing for exams, using study groups effectively, and the like are really just exercises in deep, complete, and accurate learning. 

Certainly, grades provide powerful short-term motivation (and often short-term learning), but mature law students are motivated by the fact that people will soon depend upon them for thoughtful, accurate advice.  We can foster that maturity at the very time we are helping them prepare for exams – if we ourselves remember that the exam is just a means to an end and that the end is not better grades but deeper learning.

I am admittedly the new kid on the block in academic support – I am in my first year as an ASP director.  But I already know that if all I am doing is helping students find tricks to study faster and get better grades, I’ll be bored by Thanksgiving and working on an exit strategy by Christmas. 

If, on the other hand, what I am doing is helping students engage the law more deeply and effectively, ASP probably has its hooks in me for the long term.  Then my own sacrifices will be worthwhile.  (Dan Weddle)

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