Tuesday, February 22, 2011

You Can't Make Me Learn - And You Shouldn't Even Try

Back in the day, we took over buildings demanding that the school reform itself.
Yeah, I know.  That was then, this is now.
More, the school was college and the reforms we sought had to do with eliminating some racist practices, reducing active participation in the Vietnam war, and recognizing that history, literature, and political thought didn't end around the time we adopted the Marshall Plan.  There was some call for "relevance."
Oh, and while we were holding the buildings, we had lectures and classes on literature and politics and music and sociology and even the hard sciences.
Activism for geeks and nerds.
But you know, that was back in the day.
And that was then.  This is now.
Which brings us, courtesy of Elie Mystal, to the cleverly named "Law Student's Bill of Rights" proffered (and by now I suppose voted on) by students at the University of Miami School of Law.  
Now, not all bills of rights are created equal.  There's this one, for instance

Which law students at Miami probably saw sometime and gave them the idea for theirs.
But you know, hell, let's just compare the documents a bit.  
First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Law Students' first item:
The right of students to be given an unbiased legal education shall not be infringed.
I sense a difference in gravitas.
And then there's the difference between actual rights and a fantasy of entitlement.
There's room for squabbling in the First Amendment.  We as a people disagree about what's included in speech, for instance (see, e.g., Texas v. Johnson) and struggle sometimes over how to reconcile what may be seen as a disjunction between the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses.  But at least we generally understand the idea.  
But what the hell is an "unbiased" legal education?  One in which the objectively correct answers to all legal questions are offered?  Let's see how that works.  The objectively correct answer to all legal questions is (and NO THIS IS NOT LEGAL ADVICE):
It depends.
Got that.  Fine. You pass.  Go forth and be careful not to commit malpractice.
Or how about the eighth items.
Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.
OK, sure.  We can argue at length about what is and isn't "excessive" or "cruel and unusual" and how you decide.  But it's important stuff.  Now, put that up against this.
In class, students shall not be expected to know material that was not covered in the assigned reading for that day's class, nor covered in any of the lectures and/or assigned readings prior to that day's class.
That's a good rule since no judge will ever ask a question that wasn't covered in the research that was provided the lawyer prior to the hearing.
Wait?  That's not how judges operate?  Damn.  All these years.
I've got some sympathy for complaints about law school.  It's boring.  It's surprisingly intellectually vacuous.  It's demeaning.  It bears almost no relationship to mastering the practice of law (except that being bored and demeaned can be much like actual practice - which is also, often, intellectually vacuous).
Law students should, as all people should, be treated fairly and with respect.  But this bit of self-validating vapidity doesn't advance that.  This is about entitlement to ignorance.  It's all about the test, don't you know.  Don't make me know anything you won't test.  Don't test anything you haven't made me know.
For godssake.  If they think like this, no wonder law students can't find jobs.
You want to know about student rights?
Learn about Mario Savio.  Except that requires learning.  And he's not guaranteed to be on the test.
And then, of course, there's Phil Ochs.


  1. Write a brief, 1200 to 1500 pages...

    This "Student Bill of Rights" looks more like high school work than the best efforts of a college graduate, but then I'm not a law student nor a lawyer. Still, I think what might have motivated something like this are unreasonable demands by law professors who have tenure and who, in any case, do not report to anyone who might be remotely interested in customer satisfaction, which is what student complaints really are.

    I remember the protests from the old days, the long hair and the sit-ins. If you wore your hair below your ears you didn't dare walk through Ottawa Hills; you'd risk a beating. Old men would spit on you, cops would drive past your home real slow, staring at the house. Your telephone would behave oddly, with loud clicks and mysterious voltage abnormalities when the handset was off hook. Sending a few voltage spikes down the line would clear the trouble for a while.

    I also remember that I was paying good money to attend those classes at college, and I really and truly did not give a tinker's damn about some stupid protester's idea of a worth while activity, blocking my access to class. Oh well.

  2. I must confess that I cringed when I saw this student's video and Bill of Rights. Not because it is so silly, but because I was just like her back in the day. I disseminated a typo-ridden underground newspaper called The Dissent, where I demanded open admission on law review (not realizing how easy it actually is to get published in tomes that no one reads so long as you have 200 footnotes), insisted on a mid-term so that students could assess their progress (not realizing, until I studied for the bar exam, how there's a simple formula to issue-spotting on a law school exam), criticizing the "cruel and inhuman" Socratic method (yes, I confess, I called it that) and even bemoaning how I was forced to compromise my ethics when I had to take a side in moot court that I didn't agree with (little did I know how little my personal opinion of anyone's conduct or viewpoint would matter when I became their lawyer). At the time, it all seemed so important but looking back, I don't know what I was thinking!
    People do grow up, and while it may take longer these days, I think many of these young people will come around.

  3. I will admit that while in Law School there were certain professors that I thought were overly harsh for no good reason. However, I never felt that I was entitled to any different experience than my predecessors.

    I always believed that the "rite of passage" theory of law school applied, and never felt that I, or anyone else, had a right to change the manner in which classes were run or grades were determined. It was what it was.

    These students ought to just roll their eyes at professors they know are overly demanding and play the game.