20 December 2008

Little Ole Mean Anti-Intellectual Me

Yep, sadly that must be who I am. So sayeth a lawprof (via Simple Justice, via Feminist Law Professors, in reaction to a public defender). And, of course, there are no indications that I've continued to value the ability to think. None. Not a one.

What a load of bunk.

Sure, I have to more practical about it now, but I value my ability to think and discuss ideas and ideals with others. If anything, law school was the beginning of the limitations on my intellectualism. My undergrad experience at Centre was amazingly good. There's a reason Forbes ranked Centre 13th among all the colleges/universities in the United States (ahead of MIT, Stanford, Brown, Smith etc. - I've already crowed insufferably about this here). My senior year I was translating and comparing passages from the Quran and the Hebrew Testament (published in a school journal). Classes which stick out in my mind are Ancient Greek, History of Western Religion, 2 "Classics" courses (roughly, one class on the ancient world and one on European culture), and a particularly enjoyable advanced sociology course about the construction of "modernism" and "post-modernism." I've been a few places around the world and done a few things, but as for pure intellectual pursuit nothing so far has surpassed my time at Centre.

Then came law school. We were supposed to read a book before arriving. I did what I would have for a class at Centre. I dissected the book, pinned it down, and examined every theory in it. I had the major theme down pat; I had the secondary theme down pat; I had the chapters' themes all laid out. My law school roommates freaked out a little when they saw this because they had barely skimmed the book - the guy from Morehouse (another school which deserves its rep - I've personally never met a Morehouse graduate who did not impress me) actually went back and did more work on it because of me. Then, during orientation, we got split up into groups and went to classrooms with a professor to discuss the book. The professor in my group did what seemed like a 7 hour riff on the title of the book. Didn't discuss a single theme in the book - not one. It was painfully obvious that he hadn't read and didn't have anything more than an extremely shallow understanding of it. Welcome to law school.

Then there was the day in my first semester that my extremely well respected contracts professor proclaimed to us that the conjunctive "and" is the same as the disjunctive "or." He proclaimed it as a doctrine of interpretation and that was that. No discussion of the conditions when this might be true (scrivener's error or inclusive disjunctions) - it just was. Anyway, it was about this time that I realized that (1) they really weren't trying to help us think, they were teaching us to blindly ape what we were told, (2) the amount of education we were getting was staggeringly small (the convention of having a professor discuss one case with one student for one hour to get the one pertinent sentence out of the case condenses a couple weeks of education into a semester), and (3) the only thing law school taught people to be was law professors. And that malarky about teaching students to "think like lawyers" was about the purest line of BS I've ever heard. I could think when I got to law school; I needed to be taught the tools and conventions for applying those thoughts in the practice of law and during my 1 year of education (compressed into three years of law school) teaching along those lines was pretty skimpy.

So, I joined the rugby club and gave law school the requisite amount of attention it deserved after that. Sadly, once I started ignoring the professors, skipping the worst classes, and reading the black-letter law books from the book store rather than the actual text books my grades went up (the only class this backfired in was a seminar on estate taxes wherein I made the mistake of picking up a couple books from the library on the subject which used the same terms to mean different things from the approved text book and argued different theories and got me so screwed up that I still don't know how I passed that class). Then I graduated, learned more law through self study (Micro-Mash) than I had at law school, passed the Bar, and began to learn the tools and conventions of practice by observing and actually participating in court and trials.


BTW: I have been purposefully not putting my law school's name in this post because I don't want them to turn up in a google search and it appears that my law school has been taking steps to greatly improve itself. As well, talking to other practicing lawyers I get the same opinion from just about all of them about their schools as well so it would be unfair to single my school out.

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