Friday, November 13, 2009

Testing Theory on Property Exams

Does anyone offer a "pure" theoretical question on their property exam.  This semester I assigned 88 pages out of Commodity and Propriety to force students to undertake careful reading in a different context other than cases.   So we have weaved in through the semester this theme as it has been appropriate.  Then came the question, how was I going to test this material.  

One of my divinity school professors would give ten theoretical questions at the beginning of the semester, of which four would be on the exam. I decided to use this trick and give my students two questions in advance of which one of them will be on their final examination. The trick is that they don't know which one.  The other trick is that the exam is a word limit exam, and they do not know the word limits prior to the exam.  My rationale is that this material is such that I just want their knowledge to be expanded.  So if they are caused to think about the material in preparation of answering a question on the exam, they at least have been exposed to the material as more than an in class anecdote or a piece of nice trivia.  From the grading perspective, I hope that this causes better answers than if the students were presented the material and asked to create a thoughtful answer in less than four hours.  Since I have distributed the questions in advance, I can go ahead and post them here as well.  

Possibility 1

Alexander writes: “Commodification had ambiguous implications for the Rule [against perpetuities].”  On the one hand, it made sense to conclude that the Rule was consonant with a commodified conception of land, insofar as it made land more readily available to creditors.  On the other hand, the commodified conception of property was not strictly an economic idea; more fundamentally, it was part of a broader social vision.” Is the modern approach to the Rule Against Perpetuities a greater reflection of the economic nature of property or the social ordering aspect of property?  

Possibility 2

Alexander describes the tension of American civic republicanism and English common law institutions in the context of time and history. Alexander writes: “American republican lawyers, including not only Jefferson but virtually everyone who wrote on the subject of Property, answered with a historical understanding of property and individual freedom.  Individual autonomy, they said, was secured by individual property rights because the meaning of individual liberation was negatively framed as the repudiation of ‘feudal tyranny’ itself serving as the central metaphor for domination and hierarchy. So long as the meanings of individual autonomy and property and their relation to each other were articulated in terms of a negation, the dilemmas of individualized property rights were avoided. … History (particularly, the feudal past) was a trope by which property and human liberation were signified, a symbol for the past that Americans were transcending.”    Explain the Johnson v. M’instosh opinion as either a confirmation or a repudiation of this American Republican Vision. 

Does anyone do anything similar?


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I like your approach. In the past, I've given theory questions on finals. I stopped because I wasn't happy with the results on a timed, closed book exam. It can be hard for anyone to come up with something coherent about theory on the clock. Your approach helps eliminate this problem by giving the students plenty of time to think through the issues before the exam.

Posted by: Ben Barros | Nov 13, 2009 9:39:39 AM

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