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Monday, March 14, 2005
  All of the People, All of the Time : Brian has outlined a debate for the two of us with help from all those who would like to add comments. And I'm on board. But, before he carries us away, I would like to give a little preamble about the comments of the student just quoted by Brian. There is no doubt that the law school curriculum works very well for some people. This cannot be lost in our conversation about reform. As an example, let me share some of the opinions about the Socratic Method that have been shared with me.

Our first-year curriculum is dominated by large lecture classes taught with some version of the Socratic Method*. Generally speaking, this is when a professor asks a student questions to elicit the points that the professor would like to make. This method usually involves some amount of "cold calling" which has the purpose of motivating students to be prepared for class.

This method works for some people because the chance to participate and test one's own knowledge creates an active learning environment, which I believe is key to learning. This is particularly true when there is a real and constant threat of being called on because the student's attention is peaked by the need to be ready to answer questions at any moment. Moreover, this same threat motivates students to be prepared for class.

However, for other students this is a terrifying experience. The constant fear of being called on is somewhat debilitating. The pressure to perform makes it difficult to concentrate on the reading material, even when studying at home. There is social science data that suggests that for these students there is lower knowledge retention and that such student feel very uncomfortable in classes that use the Socratic Method. In short, it is a bad educational experience in any of the normal ways of measuring.**

How does one provide an educational method that deals with these two types of students? I personally think those faculties who use a great variety of methods tend to be most effective. Cold call on students for half an hour, then try breaking up into teams to do a role playing exercise. Then, maybe assign some people to do a demonstration and ask for critique from the rest of the class. Maybe a fieldtrip. The possibilities are great and hardly explored. My point is that it does not have to be an either/or situation (though I'd say that when one uses the Socratic Method, then it should be done with cold calling).

One difficulty is that faculty are supposed to cover a certain amount of material (a certain number of concepts) in a course and some of these alternative methods may make it more difficult to feel confident that this is happening. Apparently, it requires a bit of faith to believe that you can use the problem method instead of the case method, or a role playing exercise rather than the Socratic Method. Again, a mix of methods might be best and maybe not done all by the same professor in a single course.

*I hate the use of this term here because it is at best a perversion of what Socrates actually did, which was, basically, attempt to help people see the internal contradictions in the beliefs people had about important things. The "internal contradictions" part was important because Socratic (or Platonic) epistemological theory is based on the idea that no one can teach you anything - you have to learn it. In today's terms, this would mean (roughly or at least in part) that there is no such thing as "passive learning." If you want to teach somebody something, then you have to find someway to motivate them to learn, because just telling them stuff is relatively ineffective. Socrates' method was to help people see that their beliefs had internal, logical inconsistencies. This realization creates a powerful motive to learn because you are not arguing against someone else, but rather against yourself, and you honestly believe both sides. What Socrates does then is a matter of the greatest philosophical debate with boundaries that extend through most of philosophy, and divide philosophy departments across the world. And, maybe not relevant at all to legal education.

**Responses that some faculty members have taken is to avoid cold calling altogether or to modify their calling method so that it is in some way more predictable. This certainly helps to reduce the anxiety of being called on at any moment, but also largely destroys the active learning benefits associated with that same anxiety.On a related note, some people attempt to defend aggressive methods of cold calling by arguing that students need to face their fears of spontaneous, public, oral argument because, as an attorney, they will be called upon to do this regularly - that the very nature of education is to learn to do things at which you are bad. The obvious response is that there are many - if not most - legal careers that require no spontaneous, public, oral arguing, and that even in court it is very rare that cold calling will be like it is in a Socratic Method class (i.e., judges tend to be much more relaxed than Walter Dickey).
Comments:
I thought the Socratic method was wonderful and wished that more professors would use it as in the old days. Professors Desai and Whitford were very effective. Desai would actually shuffle name cards. But I found that very few professors used the Socratic method because they feel it is mean or intimidating. This is too bad.

But we have an adversarial legal system, so it makes sense to make legal education adversarial as well. It's not really about speaking in public, although that is certainly the most feared element of the socratic method. It's more about 1) coming to an understanding the material; 2) expressing your understanding verbally; 3) defending your position. If having to verbalize your thoughts is an impediment to gaining an understanding of the material, then I might suggest switching occupations. While we are not always in court, we always have to speak with partners, opposing counsel, clients, and in the all-important business development setting. If you don't know how to talk in front of people, make sense, and defend a point of view, then you will have a serious handicap even in a paper-pushing transactional practice.

Law school focuses so much on writing that the opportunity to speak in class should be cherished, not feared. Moot court is another great example of the undervaluing of speaking skills in law school. It is easier to get on moot court than law review, but this shouldn't be the case.

Another benefit of the Socratic method is that it gives everyone a chance to be heard. I know that everyone gets sick of hearing from people like me who sit in the front row and always raise their hands. But there is always the silent genius that sits in the back and will never raise her hand unless called upon. Like the person who graduated first in our class, for example.

We like to hear from everyone, and we want everyone to be prepared. What good is admitting a diverse student body, with gays, lesbians, african americans, disadvantaged, advantaged, the handicapped, mormons, atheists, former doctors, experts in physics or metaphysics, or Chinese immigrants if 90% never speak up in class or don't do the reading? You might as well be in an Internet law school.

While the Socratic method doesn't guarantee preparation and participation (you can always "pass," which I did a few times when I wasn't prepared) it does encourage it like no other teaching style.
 
Hatch,

I like the Socratic Method too. It works well for me. But I think we would do well to consider the merits of the other position as well. You wrote:

"If having to verbalize your thoughts is an impediment to gaining an understanding of the material, then I might suggest switching occupations."

I don't think we are dealing with people who normally have trouble verbalizing their thoughts. Many of the quiet people are just terribly uncomfortable doing it in front of 100 of their peers against a faculty member they cannot see as a potential equal. I believe that this Socratic classroom environment is significantly different than any of the adversarial conditions you listed. If you talk to those who don't like the Socratic Method outside of class, they often can tell you exactly what the holding is and what the arguments were on each side. If you have them in a seminar style class they will participate just fine.

I do understand that many, if not most, legal employment is adversarial in some way. But, as I mentioned before, not all law is adversarial - and not just transactional work (there is also legislative drafting, government administrative law, GAL, etc. - Not to mention entire world of work done by lawyers that doesn't even require membership in a bar association.

I'm just asking that we consider how to best educate everyone when we are thinking about how to improve the curriculum.
 
Well if the Socratic method works for you, and works for me, then why dilute with role playing or other games that are not effective for us?

Tonya Brito tried this in our Civil Procedure class and it failed, at least for me. I know the Socratic method may not work for others, but let them deal with the problem because I believe it is the best teaching style.

You recommend cold calling for half the time, then switching to other activities like teams or demonstrations. In my experience, these other methods are inferior to the socratic method in the hands of a good professor. And if some students are so terrified of the Socratic method that they cannot learn the material, then switching from 100% socratic method to 50% socratic method isn't much better. You would really have to do away with it entirely, at our expense, to create a good learning environment for this minority.

If these students are fine one-on-one or in a seminar setting, but clam up in front of a large group, then maybe they should join toastmasters and improve their public speaking skills. The solution is not to water down every one else's education because of the phobias of a few.

And I believe all law is adversarial, in that you must always consider the fact that you are wrong and the other side is right. In any given policy argument, there will always be an "other side" even if it is some unrepresented interest. Socratic method develops this important thinking style through the dialectic.
 
Hatch wrote:

"Well if the Socratic Method works for you, and works for me, then why dilute with role playing or other games that are not effective for us?"

My answer is that I am not compelled by appeals to selfishness. And, maybe you and I are not so good at working in a group, or at giving a prepared presentation, or interacting with clients. Maybe we need to be challenged to develop these skills via other teaching methods.

My obligation here is to try to make the law school's curriculum better, if I can. Not better for me or for you specifically, but better overall.

You also wrote:
"And if some students are so terrified of the Socratic Method that they cannot learn the material, then switching from 100% Socratic Method to 50% Socratic Method isn't much better. You would really have to do away with it entirely, at our expense, to create a good learning environment for this minority."

I see no reason to think this. It is not that the Socratic Method doesn't work at all for most people; it just works significantly less well for some people than others. The same is true of other teaching methods. The Socratic Method should be used, as should other methods.

Also, we are not talking about a "few" people for whom the Socratic Method is less effective. In fact, it may be more than half of the student body.
 
I agree with Ethan's last point--I think that it must be at least half of the student body that is turned off by the Socratic method.

Also, for the record, the role playing exercise (dismissed in comment three, above) was the best part of Brito's Civ Pro class--probably the best part of any class we had that whole semester.

But, kudos to you for using a word I had to look up--dialectic.
 
Only emperical data can answer the question whether the Socratic method works. So let's see:

It works for Hatch.

It works for Ethan.

It works for Brian.

It's 3 to 0 in favor of the Socratic method. Anyone else out there care to chime in?

Surely there are many people who don't like the Socratic method and claim it does not work for them, that is is somehow less effective. Maybe this is even half the student body, as you suggest. I would not doubt it. But do they even give it a chance, or is it only less effective because begrudge having to prepare for class? Do they come to class prepared? Do they take five minutes to think about the implications and possible questions on a case after reading it? Do they actually brief the case? At the end of the semester, can they predict what questions the professor will ask about a given case, and do they think of possible answers to these questions before hand? Do they tie the cases in with general themes, prepared to offer insights about the case in relation to previous cases? Do they relish the opportunity to engage their peers in a class discussion, or do they sit and tremble with fear at the thought?

The most popular methods are not necessarily the most effective because, as Brian points out, students naturally resist efforts to challenge them. This is especially true in these days of "A for effort" grade inflation, when everyone gets a gold-plated trophy for just showing up and handing something in. You can breeze through high school and college this way, and many expect to breeze through Law School too. Your whole life, people have constantly told you how smart you were, and you have never lifted a finger. You feel entitled to good grades without any work. But Law School is a rude awakening for many people, and the desire to reform it is natural, to smooth out the rough edges and make it softer, more egalaterian. But Law School is challenging, and it should remain this way for the good of the profession.

I'm sure we all would best like Chris Rock to come in and do stand-up for 50 minutes. That would be the most popular method of instruction, for sure. But is it effective? Is it challenging? Law school's curve and the Socratic method are like the last holdouts of what, in my opinion, a real education should be all about: intellectual challenge, vigorous debate, good natured competition with your comrades, and the fact that, yes, half the class will be in the bottom half. Perhaps this is the half for which the socratic method is not effective, I don't know. But your career is on the line, and we should not play games with it just to be politically correct. If it is selfish to give these things up, then I'm a selfish person. I accept that label gladly, the inevitable allusions to Ayn Rand notwithstanding. I applaud professors who have the guts use the Socratic method and maintain that it should not be watered down.
 
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Rhodiola Rosea is the latest natural remedy to join the arsenal of natural anxiety and stress (rhodiola herb) reducers.

Rhodiola Rosea, also known as Golden Root, is a native plant of arctic Siberia. For centuries it has been used by eastern European and Asian cultures for physical endurance, work productivity, longevity, resistance to high altitude sickness, and to treat fatigue, depression, anemia, impotence, gastrointestinal ailments, infections, and nervous system disorders.

The first recorded medicinal applications of rodia riza (renamed Rhodiola Rosea) was made by the Greek physician, Dioscorides, in 77 C.E. in 'De Materia Medica'. Rhodiola Rosea has been included in official Russian medicine since 1969.

Despite its long history, the Western world has only recently become aware of the health benefits of Rhodiola Rosea. It has come to the attention of many natural health practitioners because of studies which tested its affects on combating anxiety and stress.

Rhodiola Rosea is considered an adaptogen. This means it has an overall stabilizing effect on the body without disrupting other functions. Its ability to normalize hormones may be effective for treating depression and anxiety.

Studies of Rhodiola Rosea show that it stimulates neurotransmitters and enhances their effects on the brain. This includes the ability for the brain to process serotonin which helps the body to adapt to stress.

Since adaptogens improve the body's overall ability to handle stress, it has been studied to identify it's effects on biological, chemical and physical stress.

A study was performed to test the effects of Rhodiola Rosea when stress or rhodiola herb is caused by intense mental work (such as final exams). Such tests concluded that using Rhodiola Rosea improved the amount and quality of work, increasing mental clarity and reducing the effects of fatigue.

The effects of Rhodiola Rosea have also been tested on stress and anxiety from both physical and emotional sources. A report by the American Botanical Council states that "Most users find that it improves their mood, energy level, and mental clarity." They also report on a study that indicated Rhodiola Rosea could increase stress tolerance while at the same time protecting the brain and heart from the physical affects of stress.

This report included details of studies which highlight the overall health benefits of Rhodiola Rosea.

The generally recommended dose is 200-600mg/day. The active properties should be a minimum 0.8 percent salidroside and 3 percent rosavin.

It is important for consumers to know that Rhodiola may be sold using other species that do not share the properties of Rhodiola Rosea, rhodiola herb, or at ineffective strengths for treatment. Anyone with depression or anxiety should also check with a health professional when treating these symptoms.

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