4.6.13

DUMBING DOWN, BEGINNING WITH HARVARD.

I was under the impression that lawyers had to be particularly quick and improvisational speakers, whether cross-examining the other side's witness, or conducting a congressional hearing, or defending a malefactor at a congressional hearing.  In the name of inclusion, though, a useful mind-training tool comes in for criticism, despite the fact that law students have traditionally feared being called upon.
For many in the Law School, the Socratic method is an outdated teaching style that reinforces gender imbalances in academia.

“Women take longer to process thoughts before they feel comfortable to say them out loud than men do,” [law student Jessica] Jensen said, adding that men feel more natural in that kind of classroom atmosphere.
Not in my experience, and I suspect the man-o-sphere could produce all sorts of horror stories about nagging ex-wives or chatterbox ex-girlfriends, whether in the law or not.

I'm intrigued that, even among the self-selected overachievers that make up a Harvard Law class, there's still some sort of peer pressure not to engage with the course.
Others suggested that the pressures of the classroom environment contribute to women not raising their hands as often as men. “Women are more likely to be called ‘gunners’ or ‘teacher’s pets’ if they participate in class,” said Jean N. Ripley, second-year Law School student and co-chair of the Shatter coalition.

In his study, [law graduate Adam] Neufeld, who said he supports the Socratic method, found that women assessed themselves significantly lower than men did, suggesting that different confidence levels may account for the disparity in classroom participation.

“Volunteering is a fairly socially aggressive act,” he said. “You are making all the other students listen to your comment, you think it is unbelievably important and something that no one else has thought of.”
Sometimes it is. Sometimes it isn't. If you're at Harvard Law, and fearful of saying something for fear of being thought a pudd'nhead, perhaps you have no business at Harvard Law.
“It’s an extreme form of sexism to say that essentially women in general aren’t capable of dealing with the demands of the Socratic method,” said Harvard Law professor Alan M. Dershowitz.

Dershowitz noted that some of the best Socratic students in his classes have been women. “You cannot generalize about men and women when it comes to their ability to be law students or practice law,” he said. “We have to keep inquiring as to why this disparity exists but we have to do it without divulging into stereotypes.”

Dean of the Law School Martha L. Minow pointed to an ongoing debate over the possibility of gendered dimensions of certain forms of argument and reasoning, saying that it “can’t be the case” that “certain types of reasoning are beyond the reach of a group of students.”

And many professors, including Dershowitz, defend the Socratic method as a critical component of the Harvard Law School education.

“The whole practice of law is Socratic,” he said. “You can’t be an effective advocate without mastering the Socratic method.”
Apparently, there are advocates who think differently. In an era of expanding reserve armies of unemployed lawyers, perhaps there's an opportunity for Harvard, or other law schools that aspire to high standing, to hold the line on standards.

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