More thoughts on Japanese legal education

by Paul Maharg on 28/08/2009

In Schiphol airport waiting for the Glasgow flight, still thinking on the experience of the seminars.  A lot of what we talked about was grounded in Dewey’s educational pragmatism (more of Dewey & Japan in another post).  For Dewey, learning is a social process primarily.  As he points out in Experience and Nature, the achievement of social ends cannot be reduced to prior rational self-interest alone.  Human learning is inevitably drawn to the social sphere where it enacts itself within a social context, and becomes more sophisticated and at the same time more open to change and improvement:

Experience is the result, the sign, and the reward of that interaction of organism and environment which, when it is carried to the full, is a transformation of interaction into participation and communication. (LW, 10, 28)

Learning is experience, then; and throughout his career Dewey returned again and again to explore the nexus of learning, experience, participation and communication.  Experiential learning (something of a tautology for Dewey) is the foundation for the development both of professionalism and a commitment to democratic behaviour, whether in clinic, simulation or in some other pedagogy.  But as Dewey realised, commitment to democracy means embodying that commitment in the educational forms and values we use everyday within education.  Ralph Sleeper makes this point well: what mattered for Dewey in all human activity, he observed, was ‘the emergence of logical forms from the practice of inquiry’ (Sleeper, 1986, 202).  Dewey’s radical form of Pragmatism possessed a ‘ground-map whereby [social] inequities could be identified and diagnosed, as well as a method for resolving them’ (202).  It is also a map for educational transformation, as radical now as it was over a century ago in the Chicago Laboratory School. 

As Laurel Tanner (1997) shows in her fine study of the origins and practice of the Laboratory School, Dewey recognised the importance of collaboration and of mutuality.  The teachers played key roles in developing Dewey’s curriculum plan: their ‘associated life’ (see epigraph) stemmed from their ‘associated thought’ as professionals within an organization; and the relationship was deeply democratic. [Dewey may have borrowed the phrase from the Scottish Enlightenment tradition of social epistemology – in particular from Dugald Stewart, who analyzed the effects of ‘perceptible objects’ on ‘associated thoughts and associated feelings’ (Stewart, 1854, 2, 256.)]  As Dewey put it,

All those who are affected by social institutions must have a share in producing and managing them.  The two facts that each one is influenced in what he does and enjoys and in what he becomes by the institutions under which he lives, and that therefore he shall have, in a democracy, a voice in shaping them, are the passive and active sides of the same fact. (LW, 11, 217-8) 

Linked with the associated life is ‘associated thought’ (Dewey, LW, 5, 10) – which as Dzur interprets it (16), is collaborative working, particularly the collaborative problem-solving that Dewey especially prized as a heuristic in the Laboratory School (Tanner, 83). 

How might these Deweyan values be explored and used in legal education?  Look again at the diagram above here (earlier discussed in the context of the ANU seminars, here).  It’s a snapshot of a vertical process of constant movement between high ideals and deep implementations, moving through mid-level theory.  It describes what happens in a school as much as HE (see for instance the Futurelab report on a fascinating project to embed inquiry-based learning practices in classrooms).  The movement happens every time learning and teaching is enacted.  Set out like this, it reveals the necessary organic ecology between theory and practice.  It’s a challenge to legal educational processes, not just in Japan but everywhere, for it reveals how normative assumptions concerning the relationship of ethics and professionalism need to be re-thought, particularly in educational processes.

In Japanese legal education I suspect that this relationship needs deep thought before we begin to think about technical solutions to classroom problems, otherwise we simply technicize legal education.  Shallow implementations of technology will not work unless there is a sense of why as well as how that motivates everyone involved.  The seminars that I took part in were a good start, for we explored this relationship of Deweyan association through the lens of the innovations carried out in Scotland and the GGSL in particular.  The situation is implicitly political of course, from classroom (the politics of control, teacher-centredness giving way to student-centred learning and client-focused assessment) to institution (the negotiation of whole-curriculum change) to regulator (the relationship with educational providers, the public, the courts), to government (commitment to democratic engagement, justice, education).  Students know the new reforms are stumbling.  Universities are aware the new programme isn’t work, as is the profession.  Japan is going to the polls this weekend and it’s looking like a new government will come to power.  Interesting moment on so many levels. 


References to Dewey’s work, as always, are to the standard critical edition, The Collected Works of John Dewey, Boydston, J. A., ed. (1969-91), published as The Early Works, (EW), The Middle Works (MW) and The Later Works (LW).

Dzur, A.W. (2002) Civic Participation in Professional Domains, Paper delivered at the Annual Meeting of the Amercian Political Science Association, Boston, August-Sept 2002,

Sleeper, R. (1986) The Necessity of Pragmatism.  John Dewey's Conception of Philosophy (New Haven, CT, and London, Yale University Press)

Stewart, D. (1854) The Collected Works of Dugald Stewart, ed William Hamilton (Edinburgh, Constable)

Tanner, L. (1997) Dewey's Laboratory School: Lessons for Today (New York, Columbia University, Teachers College Press)

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Term Papers December 1, 2009 at 09:23

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