Plenary lecture

by Paul Maharg on 24/01/2009

Fine keynote by Ian Ward (abstract, paper & slides at the link).  Thoughtful, provoking, and over a wide range of pedagogical issues. Two comments:

  1. the fundamental issue of knowing just how literature can promote ethics in the legal classroom.  In Transforming Legal Education I cite the example of poetry in chapter two, together with the Kodály method and standardized clients, though I use these in different ways.  W.S. Graham's poem on Johan Joachim Quantz is a realization and a meditation on an evolving student-teacher relationship, but also on music, and how we align ourselves to our art, whatever that art happens to be.  More of that in a later posting
  2.   Not mentioned by Ian, but possibly relevant to his general issues, is the fact that when he was in Teachers College Columbia U., Dewey worked with Realists in the law faculty (Oliphant, Patterson in particular) on joint seminars in legal logic (I’ve dealt with this in detail in chapter four of my book, Transforming Legal Education).  Several interesting points.  First, Llewellyn blames Patterson for the missed opportunity that the liaison became – Dewey was diverted into legal logic, and the endless search for a new method that would ‘out-Harvard Harvard’.  Second, the most radical and innovative method wasn’t going to be in legal method, but in educational method.  Third, and perhaps most interesting, a little after the Dewey encounter, E.L. Thorndike was hired on the basis, inter alia, that he could provide a solution to the problem that the law schools were then encountering with quality of intrants.  He proposed an examination which would identify who would be best qualified to enter the school and the profession, proposing that he would by the spring of 1932, provide ‘annual tests, different in content, but equivalent in significance and difficulty, for use, under suitable restrictions, by any institution desirous of exact information concerning the calibre of its student body’. in that last phrase one can foresee much of the subsequent history of the LSAT in US law schools – debates over the influence of law school rankings, weighting of LSAT scores, alongside grade point or other averages, ‘whole-person’ approaches, the real predictive value of the test, the effect on the entry of students of colour,  The role of the LSAT in affirmative action programmes, and over-reliance on the LSAT.  some elements of these debates were raised by the pioneers in the Law school; but it is fair to say that many of them were left unresolved.  It’s not entirely the whole story, but at times it’s difficult to disagree with Lagemann’s comment that one cannot understand the history of education in the United States in the twentieth century unless one realizes that Edward L. Thorndike won and John Dewey lost.


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