Stare Decisis - "Maintain what has been decided and do not alter that which has been established"Why do so many law professors continue to use the Socratic method?
[T]he tradition-based argument for the Socratic method fails even on its own terms. It ignores the fact that virtually every academic discipline other than law has a long tradition of not using the Socratic method. That includes professors who teach courses on legal issues in political science, economics, history, and philosophy departments. Similarly, the Socratic method isn’t generally used by law professors in other countries, including other Anglophone common law jurisdictions such as Britain, Canada, and Australia. There is no reason to believe that either non-law classes in the US or legal education abroad suffers because they don’t inflict SM on their students. Nor is there any significant movement to adopt the Socratic method in any of these other academic departments and foreign law faculties. Relative to the traditions of most of the academic world, the widespread use of the Socratic method in American legal academia is an outlier.Orin Kerr thinks this overestimates the use of the Socratic Method by law school profs. Ilya Somin responds.
As a current law student and a past and future educator, I completely agree with Somin. I have had a class or two in law school that was not so different from Professor Kingsfield's class in the video above. And most several others that were more than shadows of this. Now that I'm in my third year, I've finally gotten used to it (maybe that's part of the point?), but it has not been an enjoyable road getting here.
Problems I see with the Socratic Method:
- Much of class time is wasted hearing students who have been called on trying to guess what the professor wants them to say. Other students often completely zone out while this is going on. Those who do pay attention can have trouble figuring out what, out of what the student who is on call is saying, the professor actually wants them to learn. Quite often, the professor never clarifies.
- It causes students to spend their scarce time over-preparing for class and under-preparing for the exam. (In law school, 100% of your grade is based on the final. Another anomaly in law school that I think is counter-productive to learning.) For students unprepared for this, it can severely impact their first-year grades which can set the course for their entire legal career.
- It needlessly stresses out and sometimes humiliates students. This is particularly true for 1Ls. Law school can be bad enough without this.
- It is a highly inefficient method for teaching students to be prepared to answer a judge in court. I have gone through at least one class having never been called on and several having only been called on once in a semester. That's hardly what I call rigorous training at answering spontaneous questions from an authority figure.
Law is the fourth discipline I've studied. (In addition to engineering, business, and economics.) Out of all them, law is the only field that uses the Socratic method. I have yet to figure out why.
Our professors know far more than we do about the law. Why don't more of them spend more class time actually teaching us instead of
Other quirks in law school that make absolutely no educational sense to me:
- 100% of your grade depends on the final exam. This is not an effective way to provide meaningful feedback to students to facilitate their learning.
- A large chunk of your future career is determined by your first-year grades. (To be fair, this is probably less a feature of law schools, than of law firms and other organizations hiring law students.) This is a level of path dependency that I find disconcerting and makes law school a bad financial bet for all but the top students.
- Law professors are incredibly slow (slower than professors or any other discipline I've studied) in returning law school grades. Is this an intentional feature of the legal education system to ensure that students who preform poorly in their first semester don't find out until it's too late to drop classes in their second semester and get a refund? This puts many students into such high levels of debt they feel they must finish law school so they can make enough to pay off their loans, even though by that time they've figured out they'd rather do
anythingsomething else. No wonder so many law students are unhappy.