Legal Education's Curricular Tipping Point Toward Inclusive Socratic Teaching
47 Pages Posted: 29 Nov 2021
Date Written: November 5, 2021
Two seismic curricular disruptions create a tipping point for legal education to reform and transform. COVID-19 abruptly disrupted the delivery of legal education. It aligned with a tectonic racial justice reckoning, as more professors and institutions reconsidered their content and classroom cultures, allying with faculty of color who had long confronted these issues actively. The frenzy of these dual disruptions starkly contrasts with the steady drumbeat of critical legal scholars advocating for decades to reduce hierarchies and inequalities in legal education pedagogy.
This context presents a tipping point supporting two pedagogical reforms that leverage this unique moment. First, it is time to abandon the presumptive reverence and implicit immunity given to problematic Socratic teaching despite the harms and inadequacies of such performances. Professor Kingsfield depicted an archetype of Socratic teaching where the professor wields power over students instead of wielding knowledge to empower students. He used strategic tools of humiliation, degradation, mockery, fear, and shame. Socratic performances that are professor-centered and power-centered do not merit the reverence and immunity they still receive after decades of sound critiques. This critique is framed as a call to “cancel Kingsfield.” Socratic teaching can (must) be performed inclusively. This Article proposes a set of shared Socratic values that are student-centered, skills-centered, client-centered, and community-centered.
Second, this Article proposes refining law school accreditation standards to ensure that students achieve learning outcomes equitably in inclusive classrooms. Accreditation reforms cannot happen around the architectural perimeter of legal education. Nor can reforms be implemented solely in episodic siloes by staff, external speakers, or even robust seminar courses. Rather, accreditation standards need to hold institutions accountable to measuring learning outcomes and addressing identified disparities and inadequacies in the curricular core of legal education.
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