Legal ed. seminar

by Paul Maharg on 17/03/2005

To Edinburgh U.’s Old College last week for a seminar on legal education organised by George Gretton in the Raeburn Room.  Late, because I mis-remembered it as the Lorimer room and almost joined a Public International tutorial there.  So I missed George’s piece.  But the others focused largely on who taught Scots law (especially the difficulty of recruiting Private Law staff) and what they taught (again, largely Private Law, but also concerns about the qualifying core subjects).  The concerns are real, and there were valid points made about the situation of Scots Law teaching.  But almost nothing about how we taught, or the gap between teaching and learning.  And almost no mention of educational research.  Still, the seminar got legal academics talking to each other about legal education, which is always helpful, and I’m grateful to George for that.  There just aren’t enough occasions for us to do that.

A couple of months ago I was in EUL special collections, reading Adam Ferguson’s Moral Philosophy lecture notes from the 1770s.  They are full of interdisciplinary readings, and the breadth of material, as well as the emphasis on a clear ethical structure, is quite remarkable.  His portrait hangs in the Raeburn Room, and when I sat down we exchanged nods.  What would he have made of the seminar, had he stepped out of the frame and into our midst?

Extracts from draft lectures, vol 1, Dc.1.84

Upon the whole I am happy to have received at so many different periods of our Course some proofs of your application and Proficiency .  I hope that you will continue in this manner to exercise your memory [and] your own faculties even when there is no one to expect or to require such exercise as a task. 

Now is your time to begin Practices and lay the Foundation of habits that may be of use to you in every condition & in Every Profession. 

The great Object of Literary Education is, Sapere & Fari quae sentiat. to [[ [?] the mind with useful knowledge and to quicken the Powers of expression]]

I have wished to engage you in the Observation [of] Facts relating to Mankind to the History of this Society and the Individual. And to trace those facts up to the General Conclusions that result from them & to acquire from thence either comprehensive views of human Nature or a Proper choice of our Characters, & a right judgement on matters of Public or of private Concern.

I shall be happy if in these endeavours you found a proper introduction to the study of human Affairs. 

Cp Ronald Barnett (1994), The Limits of Competence: Knowledge, Higher Education and Society, SRHE/Open University Press, Buckingham:

modern society is reaching for other definitions of knowledge.  Notions of skill, vocationalism, transferability, competence, outcomes, experiential learning, capability, enterprise, when taken together, are indications that traditional definitions of knowledge are felt to be inadequate for meeting the systems-wide problems faced by contemporary society.  Whereas those traditional definitions of knowledge have emphasised language, especially through writing, an open process of communication, and formal and discipline-bound conventions, the new terminology urges higher education to allow the term ‘knowledge’ to embrace knowledge-through-action, particular outcomes of a learning transaction, and transdisciplinary forms of skill.

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