Tuesday, March 13, 2018
Okay, I get cranky a lot. I find lots of reasons to be so, and that's not so good. Lately, my crankiness has come when students come in and ask for help with writing and have a different agenda then I want them to have. I want them to think about good ways to write—what they want to express; differences in writing for judges, clients, and policy makers; grammar and writing structure; persuasive writing in all contexts; purposes of writing; and many other things. They, however, want to talk about what I want to read so they can get a better grade. Do I agree with their position, which they think will raise their grade? Do I demand a certain writing style or I will grade them badly? In short, they don’t want to write well—they want to write what they think I want them to write so I will think they write well and they want and A. It drives me insane—I know it is a strategy that gets them through law school, and I know grades are important, but I want them to think and develop their own writing style
Now, I am getting my comeuppance as I realized I am thinking the same thing. Last week, I submitted a law review article to 109 law reviews. 109 separate groups of 2L, 3L, and 4L students are reviewing my work. Some have already or will soon dismiss it out of hand as unworthy of publication based on its topic not being doctrinal enough. It’s about teaching social justice by asking law schools to determine that all competent lawyers must see the social justice consequences in all of their work. It suggests learning objectives for law schools to adopt. It describes ways social justice can be taught in all classes that allows students to come up with their own definition of social justice, and it asks teachers as part of each class to help students create and modify a credo that includes their definition and the way they will practice toward it on graduation. This is great, right?
I think so, but that’s not what matters. It matters whether the 2L, 3L and 4L law students reading it think it is great. They may not. It’s not the hard legal analysis that law reviews are often seeking. Further, although I cite law reviews in the paper, I also cite educational theorists’ and other professions’ definitions of social justice—it may make it seem less lawyerly to them. Further, I tried to publish a similar work this fall under another title with a different focus. It may seem to some law reviews that look at both submissions as not a substantial enough revision to take another look. Whatever they think, I think it’s good. I want these students to read it and feel like their eyes are newly opened to a new and different perspective—mine—and that they want to publish it and live with it a few weeks as they edit it and share with me their ideas about it as we review it together and make it a better piece of work their input. I find it an original and interesting work but many law review editors may not.
Maybe that will be the tenor of 109 law review editors’ meetings—wait, 107, as two rejected it within 72 hours. They likely could not have assessed it that much—that’s why they turned it down, right? Or maybe I don’t understand what they want me to write. Maybe if I just was better at guessing or understanding what these editors wanted a little more, they would accept it. Maybe they didn't like the few typos I made—I sure hope they don’t rate me lower because for them. Maybe they are just comparing me to people with bigger names in the academy who probably get lots of help with writing and editing from their schools. Maybe one of the 107 schools—one of which responded and said they are reviewing me soon!—will think that an article about social justice teaching school wide is just what the law review needs.
Those 107 reviews—wait, 106, as another just emailed that they received many exceptional submissions and that although mine may or may not be one of them, they have to turn down several great articles and mine did not make the cut—maybe one of those 106 law reviews will decide to join me in my academic quest. And they may not. I’ll sit and wait on their whim.
And as I wait for the now 105 law reviews to decide whether they will publish me, I am reminded of my student meetings. Just like me, students want to know how they will be assessed so that their work will be valued. It is hard for them to break away and think that I or another teacher will just want them to dive into a topic and write well. I also wonder if the way I want to write matters, and know that if I could go into their editors’ meetings and learn what they wanted, I would write it. I would try to write what I wanted, but I would frame it how they wanted. And my work would get out. And I would have expressed at least part of what I wanted, even if it was their way and not mine.
And maybe I will be more empathetic when my students come and ask me what I want in their papers—I may not tell them, but I’ll understand it and try to help.