Monday, December 2, 2013

“What the Best Teachers Do”: A Review

Here is a review of the book, whose authors are Michael Hunter Schwartz, Gerry Hess, and Sophie Sparrow. The review appears in Columbia University’s Teachers College Record. The reviewer is Marjorie Heins, lawyers and sometime adjunct professor.

Here is the most striking passage: 

The 26 law teachers highlighted in this book are indeed paragons. If I am sounding just a bit cynical, it is not because I don’t respect the amazing talents and commitment that these 26 evidently possess, or the impressive results they achieve: students uniformly rising to the challenge, inspired by affection and respect to work hard so as not to disappoint their charismatic teachers’ expectations. Instead, I remain skeptical because I suspect that there might still be room in the academy, if not exactly for pedagogues of the Kingsfield variety, then at least for professors who are not particularly student-friendly, are not interested in inviting them to lunch or hearing about their personal troubles, but are simply brilliant lecturers, inspiring scholars, or, indeed, skilled practitioners of the dread Socratic method.

 My own style is far from that of Professor Kingsfield. Much of the criticism of law schools comes from lawyers who were taught by professors kept their distance from students. To change the resulting reputation of legal education, we have a lot of mending to do. I should point out that the book review is largely positive.


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Words like “nuture” and “empathize” might give the impression that the Best Law Teachers won their coveted spots by being softies. But the authors of the book make clear that “Most of the teachers use Socratic-style questioning as an important teaching tool to engage their students. Overwhelmingly, the teachers expect all students to speak in class regularly, and, regardless of whether the students have volunteered, call on students.” Sounds positively Kingsfieldian.

Posted by: otto stockmeyer | Dec 4, 2013 6:18:47 AM

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