February 7, 2006
You Had the Power All Along...
This weekend, my older daughter will be appearing in the school play (7:00 p.m. Saturday at the Pierce School in Brookline, MA, tickets are going fast....), the Wizard of Oz. She is a chorus member—as are all the 2nd and 3rd graders (it is a "Grades 2-6 production"). The 4th graders get to be munchkins and "winkies" (my daughter had no interest in being a winkie, because, as she pointed out giggling, she is a girl...). The chorus members sit on a riser throughout the play, patiently waiting to chime in where needed.
Now, I understand that giving big parts to little kids (no matter how talented, says the proud mother) is a big risk, but when you think about it, the "chorus only" system requires the youngest children to do the most difficult things: sit still, pay attention to the story (although not being a part of it) and remember context free words to songs and when to sing along. That is a lot to ask of 7, 8 and 9 year olds.
Then I thought, doesn't law school ask first year students to do the most difficult things as well? Does it make sense to give students with the least law school experience the most arduous tasks? We ask first year students to take year long classes and get very little feedback from professors until they have to hit their target on a final exam. We make them wait all year to find out if they understand the material and get a final grade. Although we do have midterms here, they are not half the grade but rather a quarter. We ask first year law students to master legal writing and analysis within the first month or so of law school and then we expect them to be able to do all this with increasing skill throughout the year. We ask them to read thousands of pages of what looks like English, but is really law language.
Certainly, in academic support, we warn students about the expectations and their propensity for exponential growth. But first year law students, fresh out of college or working, are still blown away by the amount of work. I am not one of those curriculum rebels who thinks Langdell should be hung in effigy from our fourth floor atrium (I haven't really given it that much thought, honestly), but I think we need to remind students at this time of year how far down the yellow brick road they have come.
To this end, I tell students to look at their first case brief or even their first writing assignment and let them see the progress they have made. They have all come a long way from those hazy days of orientation. They are now capable of things they could not do even a month ago. They have risen to the challenges and have mastered a great number of skills. (Case briefs and memos and outlines, oh my!!!) There are no magic ways to get what you need in law school; essentially the Wizard of Oz himself was just a nervous man with good common sense.
So on Saturday, I will happily hand my daughter flowers after her performance because even though she is "only in the chorus," she worked hard, took it seriously and did her best. Our students deserve this recognition as well. We need to remind them that: (as the endless soundtrack in my head says in a very high little voice...), "you're out of the woods, you're out of the dark, you're out of the night. Step into the sun, step into the light..." Ding dong. (ezs)
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