Thursday, August 14, 2014
This week, besieged by news of injustice, violence, oppression, war, disease and death at home and around the globe, I have felt insulated in privilege and virtually helpless to bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice. I have cast about for ideas and action to take beyond shouting into the social media storms, and I remember this powerful weapon against injustice:
This is the new classroom for clinics at Pepperdine. We just moved into new quarters at the School of Law, and this room will serve our clinic seminars, case rounds and externship workshops. Presently, it is plain and simple, with temporary furniture and awaiting all of the technology of modern classrooms. Even without projectors, computers, wired tables and ergonomic chairs, it is sacred space.
Classrooms are our sanctuaries, and into that space we enter with students who are becoming lawyers, operatives and guardians of the Rule of Law. They will be the public citizens responsible for ensuring the fate of the Republic. Whether they are prosecutors or defenders, impact litigators or corporate counsel, in Congress or in a basement, they will enter communities with power and skills to shape society. In our classrooms, we do not indoctrinate, but we work with students to shape who they will be, to guide how they will use their gilded brains and technical prowess. This is holy ground.
This is why I insist that students call me Professor. The title marks the relationship, the obligations and purpose of our undertaking. Like we name judges, clergy and representatives, so we mark the office of teacher. We remind ourselves and our students of the important work of preparing for work in the world. They will take lives, families, liberty, fortunes and justice into their hands, so we do not take their training casually. This is justice work.
This week we had a brilliant full-moon. My nine-year old daughter and I went out to look at it rising over the mountains around our house. She said that she had never been able to understand the Man in the Moon. She couldn’t envision it, couldn’t make her mind see the shapes in an image that everyone else could see. I explained that the image was really shadows on the craters of the moon and described it as an abstract picture of a face that covered the whole circle of the moon, with wide eyes, a squiggly nose, an open mouth. She said, “Oh, I see it! Like it’s saying, ‘Oh!’” She saw it, and she will see it forever. She will forget that she could ever look at a full moon without seeing it.
This is our best teaching. We explain and demonstrate the concrete facts, the reality, but we infuse the cold, hard edges with ancient wisdom and the vision to see what might be. We inspire imagination as we impart knowledge. We interpret a vision that will forever shape the hearts and minds of students, and we must be careful. We must show them the world as it is but lead them to imagine what can be.
Our students go forth into the world to amplify our lessons to everyone in their worlds and to future generations. In dark days, when doing my job seems ridiculously inadequate to the task, I take hope from the realist wisdom of Reinhold Niebuhr:
The fight for justice in society will always be a fight. But wherever the spirit of justice grows imaginative and is transmuted into love, a love in which the interests of the other are espoused, the struggle is transcended by just that much.