Food For Thought: Best Practices and ABA Standards

An argument has been made by some, who oppose what they view as forced imposition of Best Practices instruction, that this practice  violates academic freedom mandated by ABA Rule 405(b) ( “A law school shall have an established and announced policy with respect to academic freedom ..).  This argument raises some questions:  Does encouraging integration in the “doctrinal” curriculum of law-practice skills and other approaches to the classroom encouraged by Best Practices and the recent Carnegie Report violate academic freedom? Does evaluating teaching based on use of the teaching methods encouraged by those Reports violate these freedoms?

ABA Rule 403(b) provides that “[a] law school shall ensure effective teaching by all persons providing instruction to students.”  “Effective teaching” as used here is not defined.  What does the ABA mean by it?  Is it the pure Socratic method? Is it “stressing” students so that they fear their experience in the law classroom?  The authors of both the Best Practices Book and the recent Carnegie Report thought not.  Both found that effective teaching encompasses a broader and more holistic approach to students and the classroom.

To take the argument to the extreme, if the traditional Socratic method of teaching is NOT effective, can it be said that Socratic teaching to the exclusion of other methods constitutes ineffective teaching, and thus actually violates 403(b)?

Food for thought.

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One Response

  1. Nowhere in the Best Practices book do we promote “forced imposition of Best Practices instruction.” Nor do we conclude that Socratic dialogue is an ineffective method of instruction. We do say that Socratic dialogue is overused in American law schools . . . and often ill-used.

    The key recommendations of Best Practices for Legal Education are that law teachers: 1) should have clear educational goals, 2) should chose the most effective and efficient methods of instruction for accomplishing those goals, 3) should employ the selected methods skillfully, and 4) should evaluate the degree to which they accomplish their goals.

    If someone wants to debate whether imposing these criteria or using them to evaluate law teachers is a violation of academic freedom, bring them on.

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