Paul L. Caron

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Law Prof: Undoing The Dis-Education Of Millennials

New Boston Post op-ed:  Undoing the Dis-Education of Millennials, by Adam J. MacLeod (Faulkner):

I teach in a law school. For several years now my students have been mostly Millennials. Contrary to stereotype, I have found that the vast majority of them want to learn. But true to stereotype, I increasingly find that most of them cannot think, don’t know very much, and are enslaved to their appetites and feelings. Their minds are held hostage in a prison fashioned by elite culture and their undergraduate professors.

They cannot learn until their minds are freed from that prison. This year in my Foundations of Law course for first-year law students, I found my students especially impervious to the ancient wisdom of foundational texts, such as Plato’s Crito and the Code of Hammurabi. Many of them were quick to dismiss unfamiliar ideas as “classist” and “racist,” and thus unable to engage with those ideas on the merits. So, a couple of weeks into the semester, I decided to lay down some ground rules. I gave them these rules just before beginning our annual unit on legal reasoning.

Here is the speech I gave them.

Before I can teach you how to reason, I must first teach you how to rid yourself of unreason. For many of you have not yet been educated. You have been dis-educated. To put it bluntly, you have been indoctrinated. Before you learn how to think you must first learn how to stop unthinking.

Reasoning requires you to understand truth claims, even truth claims that you think are false or bad or just icky. Most of you have been taught to label things with various “isms” which prevent you from understanding claims you find uncomfortable or difficult.

Reasoning requires correct judgment. Judgment involves making distinctions, discriminating. Most of you have been taught how to avoid critical, evaluative judgments by appealing to simplistic terms such as “diversity” and “equality.”

Reasoning requires you to understand the difference between true and false. And reasoning requires coherence and logic. Most of you have been taught to embrace incoherence and illogic. You have learned to associate truth with your subjective feelings, which are neither true nor false but only yours, and which are constantly changeful.

There is no formula for this. Each of you has different weeds, and so we will need to take this on the case-by-case basis. But there are a few weeds that infect nearly all of your brains. So I am going to pull them out now.

We will have to pull out all of the weeds in your mind as we come across them. Unfortunately, your mind is full of weeds, and this will be a very painful experience. But it is strictly necessary if anything useful, good, and fruitful is to be planted in your head. ...

One of my goals for you this semester is that each of you will encounter at least one idea that you find disagreeable and that you will achieve genuine disagreement with that idea. I need to explain what I mean by that because many of you have never been taught how to disagree. Disagreement is not expressing one’s disapproval of something or expressing that something makes you feel bad or icky. To really disagree with someone’s idea or opinion, you must first understand that idea or opinion. When Socrates tells you that a good life is better than a life in exile you can neither agree nor disagree with that claim without first understanding what he means by “good life” and why he thinks running away from Athens would be unjust. Similarly, if someone expresses a view about abortion, and you do not first take the time to understand what the view is and why the person thinks the view is true, then you cannot disagree with the view, much less reason with that person. You might take offense. You might feel bad that someone holds that view. But you are not reasoning unless you are engaging the merits of the argument, just as Socrates engaged with Crito’s argument that he should flee from Athens.

So, here are three ground rules for the rest of the semester.

  1. The only “ism” I ever want to come out your mouth is a syllogism. If I catch you using an “ism” or its analogous “ist” — racist, classist, etc. — then you will not be permitted to continue speaking until you have first identified which “ism” you are guilty of at that very moment. You are not allowed to fault others for being biased or privileged until you have first identified and examined your own biases and privileges.
  2. If I catch you this semester using the words “fair,” “diversity,” or “equality,” or a variation on those terms, and you do not stop immediately to explain what you mean, you will lose your privilege to express any further opinions in class until you first demonstrate that you understand three things about the view that you are criticizing.
  3. If you ever begin a statement with the words “I feel,” before continuing you must cluck like a chicken or make some other suitable animal sound.

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“I have found that the vast majority of [Millennials] want to learn. But true to stereotype, I increasingly find that most of them cannot think, don’t know very much, and are enslaved to their appetites and feelings. Their minds are held hostage in a prison fashioned by elite culture and their undergraduate professors.”

Interesting observation. I’ve interacted with hundreds of Millennials. Perhaps not as many as Professor MacLeod. Many of the Millennials I have interacted with are very knowledgeable and brilliant thinkers. And many of them appreciate the education they received from their undergraduate professors. But like any generation, the Millennial generation consists of smart individuals, average individuals, individuals of below average intelligence, creative individuals, hard workers, lazy individuals, etc.

Perhaps Professor MacLeod’s observations are based on a small sample size that is not representative of the Millennial Generation. Let’s take a look at Faulkner’s ABA Required Disclosures:

2013 ABA Required Disclosures, GPA and LSAT scores of the entering class:
75% GPA 3.42
Median GPA 3.14
25% GPA 2.77
75% LSAT 151
Median LSAT 146
25% LSAT 142

2016 ABA Required Disclosures, GPA and LSAT scores of the entering class:
75% GPA 3.45
Median GPA 2.92
25% GPA 2.51
75% LSAT 149
Median LSAT 145
25% LSAT 142

So Professor MacLeod is basing his observations on his classroom interactions with a small subset of Millennials, many of whom scored in the bottom third on the LSAT and struggled academically in undergrad. His observations may also be skewed by the declining standards at Faulkner.

Posted by: anon JD/MD | Dec 5, 2017 5:31:48 AM

Always great to start a course insulting your students.

Posted by: Peep | Dec 5, 2017 9:08:28 AM

Faulkner students are at the low end of law school student quality, but probably that is nearer to the quality oft he average millenial than students at other law schools. Never forget, most people are average.

Posted by: Eric Rasmusen | Dec 6, 2017 6:28:39 AM