Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Do You Wanna Dance?

Remember the awkwardness of middle-school and high school dances if you weren't attending as half of a couple?  Males stood on one side while the females hung out on the opposite side of the gym.  To walk across the divide to ask for a dance was intimidating.  And mortifying if you got turned down flat under the watchful eyes of everyone else.

Some students had the herd instinct and stuck with a group of other unattached attendees.  At best they would get out on the dance floor en masse.  At worst they would chat with friends while being among the non-selected.

I was thinking today about how so many things in law school echo back to those days of social uncertainty.  (For some, college was no better; however, most felt a bit more daring and socially adept by then.)

For example, you are herded into an auditorium during Orientation with hundreds of other new 1Ls and expected to get acquainted or at least fit in somehow.  There may have been a major welcome luncheon on the first day.  If seats were not assigned by section, then the undergraduate friends who are now attending law school together clumped into little groups at the tables, secure in having "dance partners."  Everyone else felt as though a flashing, neon sign with an arrow exclaimed "unpaired."  If seating was by sections, then at least the unfamiliar 1Ls at the table knew they had something vague in common and could swap rumors about their professors and courses.

Socratic Method is a bit like a dance invitation - except you really shouldn't take the option of turning down the professor (pass is not any more exceptable than no thanks).  And at times students feel they are trying to follow their professor dance partner without any idea of the dance, let alone the actual steps.  Some professors are strong leaders - question by question as they show students the steps and lead them through the analysis.  Others seem to whip you around the dance floor until you are dizzy.  A few others even step on your toes so to speak as they point your errors out to the class.  Only a few students are brave enough to venture out on the dance floor by volunteering.

Then there is the legal research and writing dance.  One is supposed to learn the steps to an alien type of analysis and writing by doing it.  For those with two left feet in legal analysis and legal writing style, learning by doing seems totally unhelpful.  Research paths are supposed to be dance lessons for research, but some students are improvising too much to end up with the correct moves.  Arguing both sides of the issue seems a lot like not being able to decide who should lead.  And then second semester appellate briefs feel a lot like doing choreography before one knows all of the dance steps and appropriate rhythms.

Sections help with the herd instinct because you are all in it together.  Then with 2L and 3L years, everyone scatters to different courses, certificate programs, dual degrees, and student organizations.  Many law students find themselves in new courses with new professors and law students from other sectioins or upper-division students that they don't know except as vague faces in the halls.  They have to decide whether to stay alone in the experience or turn to other students and ask "Do you wanna dance?"  (Amy Jarmon)

 

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