Law in Contemporary Society
Use the Law School Experience More Broadly

The premise of this paper is that the disciplined and Socratic thought process, along with the advocacy skills learned in law school, could be an important ingredient for educators at much earlier levels of education to adopt, and that doing so could serve as a foundational “reform” of the entire education system. This paper advances the notion that a background in analytical reasoning and the teaching of effective advocacy, coupled with a greater emphasis on acquiring the skills of challenging the status quo, could be a substantially beneficial improvement relative to the prevailing approach to education at all levels.

The response comments to this paper were very much in keeping with the approach to driving improvement in the education system that the paper had intended to advance – they served as an excellent example of the very cause of teaching those skills of reasoning, advocacy and broad-minded questioning.

Education Reform Has Failed

This paper rests on the idea that various approaches to so-called “education reform” have not been successful. There is a substantial amount of education reform that is aimed at improving the “performance” of inner city schools, lowering dropout rates among lower income students, and raising proficiency levels in minority communities. These efforts have had little impact because they have failed to define the underlying causes of the problems accurately. However, the goal of the paper is not to focus on the root causes of why “education reform” has so badly missed the mark, but to suggest an approach to education that would contribute to an improved experience for students at all socio-economic and grade levels.

Law School as a Model for Educational Change

As a first year law student entering Legal Methods, being in the process of my own personal "education reform," it occurred to me that the essence of the analytical and Socratic thought process we were being introduced to had the makings of a potentially widespread education system approach. How did we all get through so much school, yet were for the first time being exposed to the idea of analytically reasoning our way through material and articulating arguments based on it? Wasn't there something seriously wrong with our educational system that it would take getting to law school, which so few are privileged enough to do, for our minds to be exposed to this kind of training?

One might ask what goal this approach to education would achieve. The answer is that it would serve the goal of equipping our citizens far better with the intellectual tools necessary for society to function in a way that brings about progress and change. As John Dewey argued in Democracy and Education, “the teacher is not in the school to impose certain ideas…[but to] become a partner in the learning process, guiding students to independently discover meaning.” Critical to Dewey’s thinking is the connection between the role of schools as social institutions and as “instrumental in creating social change and reform.” Dewey would certainly see the current state of American education as no longer serving as a means to help bring about “social reform,” and would also observe that the current parameters of the debate on “education reform” do not embrace ideas which have any chance of reigniting the country’s educational system as a force for social change.

One might ask how does one pursue a history or literature major and contend that our education system does not directly address the skills of logically and compelling framing an argument? Maybe it is because if you ask students what the way to get good grades is (and the “success” that flows from such grades), they will say it is to make sure all analysis conforms to what is “politically correct” or to regurgitate a professor’s point of view.

So does this mean that the elements of Legal Method ought to be taught in middle school? Or that undergraduates ought to have exposure to a fabricated pre-law curriculum? Or that having the ability to throw around legal terms is useful training for plumbers or concert violinists? Of course not, but every citizen does need to be equipped with the intellectual tools not to just retain information, but to analytically assess it.

How do the elements of legal training foster this? Sure, as a first year law student, there is a lot of learning of “law talk” which is of no value to someone not pursuing a legal career. However, law school training in its broadest sense is about educating students to be able to distinguish the relevant from the irrelevant, to present and articulate thoughts logically, and to do so in a persuasive manner. Techniques aimed at teaching these broader skills could be brought to most subjects at far earlier stages, devoid of legal words and concepts, which would result in students who think more clearly and challenge/question far more often than they passively accept.


A successful education system lies at the heart of a functioning democracy. If we want our citizens, from the privileged to the poor, to be equipped to improve our society, they are going to need to be educated in a way that is more likely to bring that about. The current debate on “education reform” narrows the issue to an argument over matters that miss the reasons why our educational system is deficient, and offers unconstructive proposal for change. We need to adopt an approach to education where we are equipping our citizens with the skills of analytic reasoning, challenging, questioning, and the tools for persuasive advocacy. These are the non-legal teachings of a law school education that can be uncoupled from the “law talk” of a law school curriculum and devised to apply more broadly. It should not take 20 years of education for anyone, like me, to get rebuttal comments of this magnitude on a paper toward the goal of forcing one to analyze, challenge, persuade.

I'm totally unpersuaded, still. This neither captures what the pedagogy is about (do you really think that a method of instruction that is difficult and emotionally challenging for twenty-somethings of very high intelligence and drive is appropriate for teaching at-risk eight-year-olds?), nor what the social dialogue is about. You responded to my criticisms by removing what I doubted and replacing it with mere rhetoric. I don't think it's possible to convince a doubter on this argument, although someone who was unconvinced that algebra was what seventh graders in rural Mississippi need to learn might for some reason fall into the belief that what they needed instead was law school.


Webs Webs

r5 - 14 Jan 2015 - 22:15:33 - IanSullivan
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