Wednesday, February 2, 2022
Rory D. Bahadur (Washburn) & Catherine Bramble (BYU), Actively Achieving Greater Racial Equity in the Law School Classroom:
2020 and 2021 continue to illustrate the pervasiveness of implicit and explicit racism in our society. Less well-acknowledged and recognized is the extent to which Socratic pedagogy also reflects those pervasive racist realities while simultaneously resulting in inferior learning based on a teaching method invented 150+ years ago. Despite this racist and outdated reality, the legal academy has been reluctant to alter the traditional method of teaching. Tangible, empirical evidence obtained from data-driven cognitive learning science research demonstrates that active learning not only improves learning outcomes for all students, but also mitigates the structural effects of racism in the classroom thereby increasing racial equity. Most law professors do not fully understand what active learning entails and underestimate how different an active learning classroom looks from a traditional Socratic class. Once educators explore the evidence in this article supporting active learning as a pedagogical method for increasing greater racial equity in the classroom, understand why most of the rationales frequently cited in support of Socratic teaching are unsupported, and implement the tangible and feasible techniques discussed to facilitate the transition away from Socratic towards active learning, the inertial resistance to the change will be overcome. In so doing, law professors can embrace best teaching practices, experience maximum learning gains for their students, and create classrooms where every student is engaged, included, and supported in a truly equitable learning environment.
Conclusion Jean Jacques Rousseau said, “true education consists less in precept than in practice. We begin to learn when we begin to live; our education begins with ourselves... ”
We must, as educators, begin with ourselves. We must become invested, passionate, and committed to understanding and then applying best teaching practices as supported by cognitive learning science and the explosion of research from the past few decades in order to model and create an environment in which our students begin to learn by beginning to live themselves both in the classroom and out of the classroom as brilliant, capable, and engaged individuals who lead the learning as we guide them through the process. We can no longer be passive learners of teaching or passive professors. The time has come for active learning to take center stage to improve the learning outcomes of all of our students and to build a bridge to greater educational equity for our underrepresented students.
Rosa Parks said, “[t]o bring about change, you must not be afraid to take the first step. We will fail when we fail to try.” It is time for legal educators to take the first step.