Uncovering and Deconstructing the Binary: Teaching (and Learning) Critical Reflection in Clinic and Beyond

Clinical Law Review, Spring 2016 Forthcoming

25 Pages Posted: 21 Aug 2015 Last revised: 18 Oct 2015

See all articles by Carolyn Grose

Carolyn Grose

Mitchell Hamline School of Law

Date Written: August 19, 2015


The contours and contexts of the debates around abortion and gun control shift from year to year – when I started writing this, Sandy Hook and “legitimate rape” were fresh on everyone’s minds. Today, we mourn Michael Brown and the massacre in Charleston, and we rail against Hobby Lobby. Despite the shifting characters, however, these debates remain a constant presence in our national dialogue. I am writing this, then, as both a confession and an invitation. My confession is that I am prone to self-righteous and sometimes shrill proclamations designed to drown out the beliefs of people who don’t share mine. This is what I call binary thinking. At its extreme, binary thinking identifies just two ways to look at the world – my way and the wrong way. There is no room for compromise or connection or overlap. One of us will win and the other will lose. In this binary construction, we insist that words should mean the same thing whenever we use them. Legal scholars and activists before me have addressed the absurdities wrought by application of “formal equality” by looking beyond, around, underneath the words to consider context: facts, emotions, people, etc. What I am trying to do in this paper is to describe and experiment with a technique for learning how to look beyond the words to consider context. In other writing I have called this practice “critical reflection.” In the first part of the paper, I describe the binary debate between abortion and gun control advocates and opponents. In the second part of the paper, I lay out a version of client rounds I do in my clinic, that requires breaking problem-solving into four distinct phases before taking action. Part Three analyzes this practice as actually one of teaching critical reflection. I attempt to engage in this kind of critical reflection in Part Four, where I run my abortion and gun tension through a hypothetical client rounds. I conclude that clinical pedagogy offers us both as clinical teachers and as human beings, opportunity after opportunity to push ourselves to be less binary and more open to possibilities for growth and change. This particular experiment involving my personal struggle with these intense social issues is only one example of how we can use our expertise in clinical theory and practice to become the teachers and parents and coworkers and citizens we strive to become.

Suggested Citation

Grose, Carolyn, Uncovering and Deconstructing the Binary: Teaching (and Learning) Critical Reflection in Clinic and Beyond (August 19, 2015). Clinical Law Review, Spring 2016 Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2647512

Carolyn Grose (Contact Author)

Mitchell Hamline School of Law ( email )

875 Summit Ave
St. Paul, MN 55105-3076
United States

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