Thursday, January 9, 2014
The woman sat on the other side of the desk from me. She looked angry, and I was starting to get sick as I saw all the things within easy arm-reach that she could club or stab me with -- my 1983 Safety Patrol award (marble), my "Bonecrusher" nameplate (sharp-looking wood and brass), two pairs of scissors (why do I have two pairs?), a tape dispenser, and a stapler.
She was mad, she was failing, and she was pretty sure it was her professor's fault. "He doesn't tell us what the law is -- EVER -- we have to figure it out for ourselves! If he's not going to teach us or tell us anything, what is he doing up there?"
My initial gut reaction was that the student was simply looking to be spoonfed the information, and that she had to learn that law school was not going to work that way. Part of me (probably my right ankle) started to think that this was due to laziness or a lack of intellectual curiousity or training -- all things I was going to fix with weekly meetings to keep her on track. Probably lots of practice questions. Maybe some multiple choice. Maybe some sample outlines.
But then, another part of me (my index finger on my left hand) began to think that maybe her problem, deep down, is that we live in an amazing world where techology has made everything instantly available. And then another part of me (forehead, just above the bald spot), thought -- SHE MAY NEVER REMEMBER A WORLD ANY DIFFERENT AND THAT MAY HAVE WARPED EVERYTHING.
A few years ago I was teaching a class on copyright (mainly music sampling), and I was sitting in front of the class playing them songs and samples. Someone brought up the mashup artist Girl Talk, and someone brought up Danger Mouse's Grey Album, and then we were off, bouncing around the Internet, finding this song and that sample so we all understood exactly what the cases and parties were talking about, and exactly what artists were trying to create.
And every time it took the three seconds or so to bring up whatever thing we were looking for, you would have thought we were sentenced to 10 years in a penal colony. Eyes rolled up to the ceiling, pencils tapped -- even I, the guy running the show who still remembered "4-6 weeks delivery" for a Boba Fett action figure, was getting frustrated with these minimal holdups.
I think this amazing, techno, jet-pack world we live in is actually doing a number on thinking and education. Students are not getting more needy or less intelligent or less prepared. They just can't wait.
The amazingness of our world makes many of the basic tasks of law school incredibly difficult because those tasks take time -- reading long and dry opinions, sitting in one place, listening to someone in front of you explaining something, looking at a tax code -- when one's mind wants to wander and ...
BING BANG BOOM -- I CAN INSTANT MESSAGE! WORDS WITH FRIENDS! A DRONE JUST DELIVERED MY NEW SHOES! I CAN INSTANTLY FIND OUT WHO WAS IN MORRISSEY'S FIRST BAND! I HAVE 400 BIRTHDAY MESSAGES AND 9 FRIEND REQUESTS! MY BEST FRIEND IS LIVE-TWEETING AND INSTAGRAMMING THE BIRTH OF HER FIRST CHILD! THIS CAT CAN JUGGLE FLAMING TORCHES! I CAN SEE AND SPEAK TO THE ENTIRE WORLD, GET ALL THE KNOWLEDGE THAT IS OUT THERE, RIGHT HERE, RIGHT NOW, QUICKER THAN IMMEDIATELY, FROM THIS VERY SEAT--I DON'T HAVE TO WAIT FOR ANYTHING!
We ask our students to swim deeply into the law -- we ask them to consider and calculate and ruminate -- all things that they will need in practice, but things they may have never had to practice in their lives.
"What should I do next semester? What do I need to know for the exam? Do you have an outline and practice questions I can do?" asked the woman, her fingers twitching just above Prosser and Keeton on Torts (oh no -- how'd that get there?)
"I think we need to work on waiting -- let's start with your daily schedule," I said, realizing we would need to start at the beginning, slowly. (Alex Ruskell)