Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Critical Teaching

Jay M. Feinman (Rutgers), Critical Teaching:

This paper is a discussion of the engagement of the critical legal studies movement with law school teaching, focused on the teaching of private law. It describes how CLS criticized and offered alternatives to every element of the existing model of law teaching. Because the teaching project was driven by the broader CLS scholarly project, the critique and alternatives were thorough-going, integrated, and explicit in a way that gave them power, heightened the contrast with traditional approaches, and resulted in better teaching.

I would like to think our approaches to legal reasoning, legal theory, and teaching methods as embodied in the CLS teaching project profoundly influenced later teachers, even if they were not CLS adherents. I’m not sure. But without tracing chains of causality too carefully, a few thoughts. First, over the ensuing years and today there is more attention to explicit definition of craft; we may have laid some of the groundwork for that. Second, there is much more innovative teaching and use of learning theory than there was before us; we may have opened up possibilities here, even if the particular paths are different. Third, we may have modeled the possibility of presenting theory and politics as central to the classroom; at the time, only law and economics was doing much of this, and its adherents often denied the political nature of what they were doing. Today there seems to be much more use of theory and discussion of politics, although both of them tend to be more narrowly focused and less all-encompassing. Perhaps the conference session on “Aftermath and Legacies” will have more to say about that.

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