Beyond The 'Resiliency' and 'Grit' Narrative in Legal Education: Race, Class and Gender Considerations
8 Pages Posted: 15 Oct 2016 Last revised: 9 Nov 2017
Date Written: October 13, 2016
Law schools have been struggling to adapt to the “new normal” of decreased enrollments and a significantly altered legal employment market. Despite the decrease in traditional attorney jobs, as well as the possibility that artificial intelligence systems such as “ROSS” will displace additional jobs in the future, there still remains a significant gap in legal services available to the poor, middle class, and immigrants. The integration of social justice methodologies in the classroom thus has become critically important to the future of legal education and of the very practice of law.
Many commentators on the future of legal education have argued that today’s incoming students (often younger and with less life experience) simply lack the “grit” and “resiliency” required to succeed in the new “entrepreneurial” legal landscape. Motivated by the embrace of “grit” and “resiliency” principles by charter schools and public schools, the argument is often made that legal education should adapt to inculcate such skills in our students.
The narrative on modifying legal education to produce entrepreneurial students with resiliency and “grit,” however, often has a troubling class and race-regarding dimension. The “grit” reform initiative has the potential to rationalize future disparities, by shifting the focus in education from responding to the continuing impact of poverty and identity bias (race, religion, gender) on student outcomes to bolstering individual character traits and resiliency. Our country has a long and troubling history of adopting such post-racial “distancing moves” in order to discount the effect that systemic bias has on legal outcomes and social justice by focusing on personal responsibility and individual deficit. The “grit” and “resiliency” narrative, by way of example, has been regularly deployed this year to silence the voices of minority students protesting systemic racism at colleges and law schools throughout the nation. While there is certainly a need for future law students to be thoroughly prepared to succeed in the ever evolving techno-legal marketplace, a focus on modifying legal education to promote “grit” and “resiliency” seems misplaced at best, and dangerous to future social justice efforts at worst. This Essay will focus on the shortcomings of the “grit” narrative, while identifying progressive teaching methodologies that can help advance the social justice mission of law schools.
Keywords: race, class, resilient, grit, resiliency, education
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