Tuesday, November 5, 2019
A couple of years ago, there was a meme making its way across the internet encouraging people to describe themselves as a combination of three fictional characters. In a rare moment of lucid self-awareness, I described myself as part Encyclopedia Brown, part Johnny from the movie Airplane! ("I can make a hat, or a brooch, or a pterodactyl . . ."), and part Dewey Finn, Jack Black's character in School of Rock. It was a fun exercise, because it made folks think about what they considered their defining characteristics, and it gave us the giftie of finding out if others saw us the same way we see ourselves.
I thought about that game this week, when it randomly occurred to me that all Academic and Bar Support teachers must feel a bit like -- wait, spoilers; I'm going to save that character for last. But it led me to consider: Is there a combination of three fictional characters that would constitute the archetypal A&B Support provider? What are, or should be, our defining characteristics? And will everyone agree with me? And so, I submit for your approval my proposed set of three characters (though I am open to criticism and to suggestions for alternatives) that define Academic Support:
- Jubal Harshaw -- Harshaw is one of the main characters of Robert Heinlein's novel Stranger in a Stranger Land, a nifty, influential, and slightly heretical book from the 1960s that probably is not read now as much as it ought to be. Harshaw, who ends up protecting and teaching the naive but powerful protagonist of the book, is a notable polymath: a lawyer, a physician, and a popular writer -- among other things, but those three are the most relevant to our work. Basically, we have to know a lot about a lot of things. We have to be comfortably familiar with every subject that is tested on the bar, and at least know enough about other legal subjects to be able to support students struggling in those areas. A knowledge of the practice of medicine is not usually required -- thank goodness -- but, like a physician, we do have to care for our charges, to recognize symptoms of unease (of both mind and body), and to provide comfort, advice, and referrals when appropriate. And naturally we have to be communicators skilled enough not just to see and address the communication flaws in others, but also to capture the attention of the sometimes jaded, reluctant, or resentful. Take it from me: being a tax lawyer was hard, but at least you only had to know the entire Internal Revenue Code and all associated regulations. To be an Academic Support professional, you have to know something about practically everything.
- Mickey Goldmill -- There are a lot of great sports movies anchored by wise, inspiring coaches, but can any of them compare for our purposes with Mick, the man who coached Rocky Balboa to the heavyweight championship of the world? Because when it comes right down to it, no matter how much we encourage our students to support each other and learn together, no one takes a final or a bar exam as a team. The people we work with have to step into the ring alone. Like Mickey, we have to help our students find out just what they are capable, then help them find ways to make themselves capable of even more, and then help them to see that they carry that capacity within themselves. And, like so many Academic Support providers, Mickey was a great improviser: when he didn't have the latest hi-tech sports equipment, he got Rocky into shape by having him chase chickens and pound on sides of beef. Who else in law school but Academic Support has to squeeze so many results out of so few resources? And one last thing: remember, Rocky lost in the first film. He gave it his all, and he lost, and he thought, I guess I'm done with boxing. It was Mickey who convinced Rocky that he could step into the ring again, against the champ that had beat him the first time, and that he had what it took to pull out the win. Mickey Goldmill knew that just because you were down, that didn't mean you were out.
- Jiminy Cricket -- In the original Disney movie Pinocchio, Jiminy Cricket actually played two roles. He started off as the narrator, explaining to the audience that they are about to see the story of a wish coming true. Then, after the Blue Fairy visits the puppeteer Geppetto, and brings his creation Pinocchio to life, she tasks Jiminy with the job of being Pinocchio's conscience. If, with Jiminy's help, Pinocchio can prove himself worthy, then he will become a real boy. I feel we have a lot of Jiminy Cricket in us. We often start by explaining to our audience -- during orientation, or as part of a class or workshop -- what they are going to see and experience while they are in law school. But then, inevitably, we get involved with our students as individuals, trying to help guide them into making good choices. They still have to make the choices themselves -- how they spend their time, what they choose to focus on, how they plan and prepare -- and sometimes we can only watch as they make poor ones. Sometimes they ignore our counsel, and it feels like you really are just an insect buzzing around a wooden-headed ne'er-do-well. But we stick with our students, like Jiminy stuck with Pinocchio, because we want to give them the best chances to prove themselves worthy, so each can become a real . . . well, not boy, but lawyer, which practically rhymes.
As an Academic Support professional, I'd be gloriously content if I possessed the know-how of Jubal, the inspiration of Mickey, and the compassion of Jiminy. But that's just me. What three characters compose your AS ideal?