Saturday, August 22, 2009

Thinking Pegagogy: Saturday Evening Review

As many of us prepare for the start of a new semester, we are thinking about pedagogy in our courses and our institutions.  One article on the "must read" list for any professor taking the pedagogical project seriously is Morrison Torrey's contribution to a recent Symposium in Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review entitled Radical Proposals to Reform Legal Pedagogy.   Torrey's "radical proposal" is the title of her article: Actually Begin To Satisfy ABA Standards 211(A) and 212(A): Eliminate Race And Sex Bias in Legal Education.


To this end, Professor Torrey (pictured above), has some concrete suggestions, including the physical space of the classroom itself:

Make classrooms welcoming. Every large, first-year classroom that I have ever been in has portraits of old, white men hanging on the walls. What exactly is the message being conveyed beyond the fact that “success” is for old, white men? What did the men in the portraits actually accomplish? Did they use the law to make the world a better place?

She also suggests that law schools

Require a first-year course that is centered on issues of subordination and privilege. All students, not just a self-selected few, must be exposed to critical exploration of equality and the role the law plays in challenging or perpetuating discrimination.

For those of us who teach Constitutional Law in the first year, certainly the ConLaw course might fulfill her prescription.  Moreover, she writes that "all teachers should be encouraged to address race and gender issues in all of their classes," a suggestion that seems easy (and perhaps inevitable?) in Con Law. 

Additionally, Professor Torrey has two suggestions worth considering as ConLaw Profs think about our teaching: eliminating the so-called "Socratic Method" for class "discussion" AND providing interim feedback.  

Torrey's brief article, available at 43 Harv. C.R.-C.L. L. Rev. 615 (2008), could spur some reconsideration by experienced ConLaw Profs and provide some innovative ideas for new professors.  Certainly, not everything Torrey recommends is within the power of individual professors, including eliminating grades or the sequencing of courses.  However, the article - - - as well as the other articles in this Symposium issue - - - make worthwhile reading as we prepare to enter our classrooms again.


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