Monday, August 27, 2007
Today, I began my second year of law teaching and it was also the first day of my year-long Property class. It's amazing what just one year of teaching the course taught me about what I would do differently the next time around.
The first change I made focused on the particular substantive area of property law with which I wanted to begin the course. Last year, following Joe Singer's suggestion in his article, "Starting Property," 46 St. Louis U. L.J. 565 (2002) and Steve Friedland's comments at last year's AALS New Law Teacher's Workshop, I decided to start the course by teaching the right to exclude first before teaching the origins or acquisition of property. The first case I assigned was Jacque v. Steenberg, followed by State v. Shack. By the end of the first semester, I thought that beginning the course on the right to exclude definitely helped to hone in the principle that property rights are not absolute and the students understood that the rights of ownership and possession also come with certain obligations.
There were times in the middle of the fall semester last year, however, when I thought that it would have been helpful for the students to have learned first the difficulties of acquiring or establishing the right to possess property. So this year, I decided to begin the course with acquisition of property. There are of course different cases one could use to start off this topic as discussed here and here. I chose to assign the first case on Singer's casebook, which like D&K's, is Johnson v. M'Intosh.
The second thing I changed is that I opted not to assign a case for the first day of class. Although I assigned Johnson v. M'Intosh as the first case, we will not discuss it until the second day of the course. For today's class, I assigned the excerpt of Erving Goffman's Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates in Perspectives on Property Law (Robert Ellickson, Carol Rose and Bruce Ackerman, 3rd Edition). I thought the essay was a great way to introduce basic property concepts of ownership rights (rather, lack of ownership and why one might want to have ownership over a thing) but also property theories (personhood, labor, first-in-time, distributive justice).
Thanks to Bethany Berger for giving me the idea!
The third thing I changed (and this one is not substantive at all) was that unlike last year, I did not bring a bunch of sticks to class. To highlight that property constitutes a "bundle of rights," I handed out a stick to different students with various labels attached to the sticks (leasehold, easement, future interest, etc.). Although I got great feedback on my evaluations for doing this last fall, I thought that I'll experiment with doing different things on the first day.
What do you do on your first day of teaching property?
Rose Cuison Villazor [Comments are held for approval, so there will be some delay in posting.]