Wednesday, May 29, 2019

"The Essential Skills to Teach Law Students in the Era of Fake News"

This is a new article by professors Beryl Blaustone (CUNY) and Lisa Radtke Bliss (Georgia State) and available at 19 Loy. J. Pub. Int. L. 139 (2018). From the introduction:

In 2016, Donald Trump, a former reality television star, began his first press conference as President-elect of the United States challenging negative media reports as “fake news.” Since then, he has regularly labeled the media as “fake news” and “fraudulent.” His medium of choice to communicate to the American people is the social media platform Twitter, where he has approximately 31 million followers. Following Trump's installation as President of the United States in January of 2017, U.S. citizens began experiencing a style of governing that has never been seen before. Trump's provocative and disruptive style defied conventions and norms of behavior that Americans had come to expect of their presidents. Trump, his then chief strategist Steve Bannon, and his administration pursued an aggressive agenda of “deconstruction of the administrative state.”


The tone for Trump's presidency was set early in an interview given by his Counselor, Kellyanne Conway, in response to charges that then White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer's statement about the number of people in attendance at the Trump Inauguration ceremony was false. She stated that Spicer was giving “alternative facts” in response to charges that Spicer gave a false statement about the attendance numbers at Trump's inauguration ceremony. Thereafter, the actions of Trump and his administration were subject to media scrutiny and public protest, an early example of which were the large and almost instantaneous protests at major U.S. airports in response to the first incarnation of the “travel ban,” enacted via Executive Order 13769 in early 2017.


As legal educators in the United States, we are challenged with the task of preparing law students to practice in a world in which democratic values, rights, protections, and legal processes are under grave threat. Our approach to raising these concerns among our colleagues and identifying how our teaching should change as a result, is a framework of rebuttable observations offered for discussion. Neither of us have dispositive answers to the fundamental challenges facing us as legal educators.


Legal educators are uniquely positioned to positively influence the ways in which students construct a professional identity that helps them deal with what may be experienced as helplessness or outrage. Law students must learn how to correct their misreading of actual circumstances and how to minimize their reactive behavior in response to the current overload of harmful governmental actions. They must also possess an accurate understanding of the framework that controls the changes they are experiencing. The pervasive use of, as well as the normalizing of, deception by our national government is eroding our shared sense that we all are governed by an adherence to the rule of law and a common approach to establishing facts. Our common sense of moral values is weakened, as well as our adherence to professional ethics.


. . . .


We share our reflections in this paper on the developing imperatives in legal education with the understanding that our landscape is rapidly changing in context. We also acknowledge that our articulation of the four essential lawyering skills are not new inventions in instruction. Rather, it is the importance of these skills in our new climate, as well as the need to teach them in this new context, which makes them higher priorities among our teaching goals. Furthermore, the teaching of these essential skills must be contextualized differently. We urge our teaching colleagues to make difficult teaching choices among competing topics and select these skills for more intense treatment.


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