Thursday, May 20, 2021

More or Less: That is the Question...

Like you, I've been approached - many times over - by companies and publishers trying to sell resources to our law school, whether 1L materials, study tools, some sort of 2L assessment, or bar exam materials.  And, it rattles me because I start to think that I might need them.  That's sales for you.  

But our law school has not taken the dive into buying academic success or bar exam materials from commercial companies for one primary reason - none have yet asked about our students, our community and our goals.

It seems to me that purchasing tools without knowing how the tools fit a particular educational community is like trying to hit a nail with a banana.  

It makes for an entertaining video clip but lacks purpose and promise.  It's assuming that the problem, whatever the problem is, is one-size-fits-all.  But, at its root, many academic skills issues have less to do with content or skills and more than ever to do with learning to learn, well-being, and belonging.

I'm not saying that skills and content are not important.  They are.  And, I'm not saying that schools shouldn't partner with companies for tools.  After all, we do all the time, whether it's casebooks or a LMS platform like Canvas, or catering graduation receptions (at least before the pandemic).

But focusing on all skills and content without a co-commitment to developing the heart, mind, and spirits of our students leads to mechanical robotic lawyering.  Cut and paste lawyering, if you will.  And that's not what our communities need or expect.

Rather, society is desperate for the intervention of creative, compassionate attorneys, grounded in justice, who think big about the law, who know not just how the law shapes society but how they can shape the law.  That takes more that knowing the so-called black-letter law.  It requires understanding it, seeing its weakness and strengths and probing its contours. In short, the black-letter law is the start but not the end. 

So, with the end of the academic year upon us, a year like no other, take time out to reflect on your goals, your law school community, and your students, faculty, and staff.  Let this be a chance to learn from what you've experienced with your students and in the midst of your educational community.  

Then, based on what you learn, build your academic support program around those core observations with core principles.  Think big.  Act big.  But thinking big and acting big doesn't always require us to do more, to look for the next tantalizing possibility to help our students.  Rather, it starts with knowing ourselves and our students as learners, filled with passions and hopes and aspirations, as participatory partners in our educational communities.

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