Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Four Lessons for Wrangling with "Wicked Problems" in Legal Education (Wegner 2)

In my last post, I gave the abstract to Judith Wegner’s important article Reframing Legal Education’s "Wicked Problems." In this post, I will discuss her conception of the problems in reforming legal education and her four lessons for wrangling with "wicked problems" in educational reform.

Wegner views several barriers to reform, including 1) "There is no generally accepted definition of the problems faced," 2) "There‘s no stopping rule for reform since there are so many interrelated questions that one can never be done, only exhausted for the moment," 3) "Solutions tend to be better or worse, rather than true or false, despite the tendency of many to wish for confirming evidence before acting," 4) "Every one-shot reform affects other dynamics within an ever-changing educational institution," 5) "There is not a set of standard solutions that takes into account the unique characteristics of individual schools," 6) there are many stakeholders ((alumni with different experiences in school and beyond; faculty; students (current and prospective); administrators; accreditors; bar examiners; bar leaders; funders; university leaders; trustees; and legislatures)), 7) "There is no standard nomenclature or understanding about what actually happens in various classrooms, how courses are best designed,. what happens in clinics or internships, what demands various types of future careers place on law graduates, or how prior experiences shape students' approaches to learning during law school," 8) there is a great deal of technical complexity," 9) "Law faculty members generally lack formal education about assessment and its importance," 10) "There is relatively limited meaningful assessment of student performance in individual classes," and 11) Rigorous institutional analysis of programs or overall trends is episodic at best.

Next, Wegner discusses four lessons for with dealing with these problems. First, learn about the commonplace. "Understanding core issues facing professionals can provide important grounding for educational reform undertakings. Understanding core strategies used by educators in a range of professional fields provides a range of best practices. that reach beyond legal education and are worth consideration as a result."

Second, problems (and their resolutions) involve both visible and invisible forces, and both need to be understood. "The lesson here is to pay close attention to all the dynamics that affect education, including those we take for granted. Approaches to teaching, learning, and assessment (what is and is not done) are central to the future of legal education, and must be better understood."

Third, remember the power of naming. "Legal education has embraced the notion that teaching students to think like lawyers is its principal claim to fame. However, it needs to delve deeper to appreciate what animates that powerful articulation of its purposes. In addition, the Socratic method has been cast as a bête noir within legal education. Recasting and explaining this pedagogical approach more clearly can help law faculty do a better job of developing critical thinking skills in the first year."

Finally, considering renegotiating when you hit a dead end. "Legal education reformers should likewise bear in mind that renegotiation strategies may prove essential to curriculum reform. Among other things, it is important to explore a key dichotomy (between theory and practice) in order to appreciate this reform."

Wegner’s four lessons are basically saying that we should stopping being entrenched in our worn-out ideas and try to think outside the box. As Daniel Kahneman has recently demonstrated in his book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, our unconscious, automatic methods of thinking (system 1) make it difficult for humans to do complex rational thinking (system 2). However, we can do better by dealing with problems slowly and deeply (becoming engaged thinkers), recognizing our prejudices, avoiding distractions, developing better problem solving methods, and working together. We need legal education reform. Our students are worth it.

(Scott Fruehwald)

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Thanks for sharing. Its really nice information.

Posted by: Steven Christian | Feb 3, 2012 4:00:35 AM

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