Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Writing Their Lives

Professor James R. Elkins (College of Law, West Virginia University), featured on this blog before (Looking Before One Leaps), came up with an idea (more than a decade ago) that I think might have considerable usefulness in Academic Support Programs.

In "Writing Our Lives: Making Introspective Writing a Part of Legal Education" (on the web now under an abbreviated title, but first published at 29 Willamette Law Review 345 (1993)), Professor Elkins describes the value and power of the law school journal.

No, not that journal ... the personal, introspective one.

His journal concept is based on trust.  "If you trust your students, many will perform in ways that exceed the demands that you make on them. Ask students to teach themselves and significant numbers of them will do exactly that. Ask students to teach each other and they find a way to do it. Ask students to teach you and they will. They will surprise you and delight you in their good-faith attempt to do what excellence demands of them."

Encouraging students to keep introspective journals has a definite valuehe believes that it allows for a weaving "...into the tapestry of professionalism the feelings, perceptions, values, ideals, dreams, and fantasies of those who seek to make a life in law."  Professor Elkins explains that writing a journal does not necessitate disclosure of "intimate matters or personal secrets" (thank goodness).  Introspective writing, he correctly points out (to his students) "need not be overtly confessional."

Professor Elkins first asked students to write journals in an Intro to Law course, as an option in lieu of a final examination.

"The writings of my students about their experience in legal education and how it has affected their lives has touched me deeply. Their stories of concern, anger, and outrage, fear and anxiety, and resilient hope have made me a critic of what we do in the name of legal education. When students write about their lives, we learn that there is more going on in the barren hallways, regimented law school classrooms, and inevitable late-night musings of students than any one of us might have imagined. Reading the introspective writing of law students has changed my teaching and the way I think about legal education."

Did he, the Professor, place anything on the line?  Yes, indeed.  He explains succinctly: "I was writing along with my students."

Do you suppose there is a place in our Academic Support Programs for journal writing?  I'm interested in your comments.
(djt)

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/academic_support/2005/12/writing_their_l.html

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