Professor Kingsfield may not be viewed as today's "model" law professor.

Professor Kingsfield may not be viewed as today’s “model” law professor.

In the category of “you never know where a good idea may come from,” I point you toward the review of a book on what makes a great law professor.

The review was pointed out to me by a very wise person, and she thought I’d be intrigued by the concept. She was right, just as I am intrigued by the location of the review: In the Teachers College Record, “a journal of research, analysis, and commentary in the field of education. It has been published continuously since 1900 by Teachers College, Columbia University.”

At TCR, they concern themselves with all kinds of teaching, even that dispensed at law schools. So always keep your eye peeled.

(And if you missed my recent coverage of a great article about law school, head over here to read it.)

what-the-best-law-teachers-do book cover

The new book is aptly titled What the Best Law Teachers Do, and the review is written by Marjorie Heins, “a former ACLU lawyer, the founding director of the Free Expression Policy Project, and the author, most recently, of Priests of Our Democracy: The Supreme Court, Academic Freedom, and the Anti-Communist Purge (NYU Press, 2013). She has been a visiting professor at both the law school and undergraduate levels. She currently teaches ‘Censorship in American Culture and Law’ at New York University.”

Here is how she opens her review:

“In popular imagination, the typical law teacher is the notorious Professor Charles Kingsfield, immortalized in the novel, The Paper Chase. Imperious, tyrannical, and a master practitioner of the Socratic method in its most rigorous form, Kingsfield aims to intimidate if not terrorize. But in one famous scene, the old codger turns out to be human: he shows approval, if not respect, to a student who has the temerity to talk back to him.”

Marjorie Heins

Marjorie Heins

“Well, we can say goodbye to the era of Kingsfield and to the joys of combat in the law school classroom. As the stories told and teachers celebrated in What the Best Law Teachers Do make plain, today’s model law professor is a nurturer, not a tyrant: loved, lovable, and passionately devoted to helping every student not only to understand the material but to enjoy it, to become a better person, and to embark on a future as a dedicated servant of the law.”

“The 26 law teachers highlighted in this book are indeed paragons. If I am sounding just a bit cynical, it is not because I don’t respect the amazing talents and commitment that these 26 evidently possess, or the impressive results they achieve: students uniformly rising to the challenge, inspired by affection and respect to work hard so as not to disappoint their charismatic teachers’ expectations. Instead, I remain skeptical because I suspect that there might still be room in the academy, if not exactly for pedagogues of the Kingsfield variety, then at least for professors who are not particularly student-friendly, are not interested in inviting them to lunch or hearing about their personal troubles, but are simply brilliant lecturers, inspiring scholars, or, indeed, skilled practitioners of the dread Socratic method.”

Read the complete review here.

Is your own favorite law professor described in the new volume? (or at least someone who shares the same sensibilities?) You may have to get your hands on the book to find out.

Do you agree with the description of what makes an ideal law professor? Does that match your own experience?

 

Professor Kimberlé Crenshaw

Last Thursday was the annual A. Wade Smith Lecture on Race Relations at Arizona State University. As I indicated before, it was delivered by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a professor of law at UCLA and Columbia University. The co-founder of the African American Policy Forum spoke before an appreciative audience in the Memorial Union.

Her lecture title and subject were “Educating All Our Children: A Constitutional Perspective.”

Crenshaw opened by describing how a Black man’s election as U.S. President means that we as a nation occupy an “important moment in the long struggle for equality in education.” But although that event cheered her, she had to conclude that as she assessed the body politic, “It’s ill.” She told the students and other audience members to “combat the idea that all is well.”

She also lent her considerable rhetorical powers to an attack on the notion that the United States now occupies a “post-racial sphere.” But she did admit that there was one recurring element of the post-racial ethos:

“Ignoring race: Now that’s post-racial. Race consciousness is out. It doesn’t matter if your goal is to segregate or to integrate,” the U.S. Supreme Court tells us. “They are both off the table.”

“How can we be ‘over race’?” she asked.

There was ample legal discussion for the lawyers in the room. She cited case after case that demonstrated the trend that educational equity arguments have moved over a generation. As she said, voicing a prevailing view, “All this talk about race and racism is counterproductive, and just makes people feel bad.”

Nat Hentoff

Finally, Crenshaw said, we have moved far past the urging of Justice Blackmun in Bakke that “You have to focus on race to get beyond race.” Instead, in a post-racial world, “Bankruptcy has been declared: The debt is wiped clean, and there is no social justice capital left to pay.”

Her position was most clear when she contrasted Chief Justice Roberts’ statement (“The way to stop discrimination based on race is to stop discrimination based on race”) with her analogy: The way to stop the problem of asbestos is to stop talking about asbestos, or seeking ways to mediate it.

Refuse the “narcotic of post-racialism,” she urged the audience.

“The language of gradualism has morphed into the language of arrival,” but those who most need help have not arrived.

Days after listening to Professor Crenshaw, I came across an article by Nat Hentoff in The Village Voice. In “Segregation 2010: Bloomberg’s Schools,” he examines where the New York City schools are in relation to Brown v. Board of Education, circa 1954. As you might guess by his title, he argues they’re not very advanced.

The picture he and Crenshaw paint is not a rosy one. It appears there is still much for lawyers to do in that realm.

Hentoff’s story is here.