Fall and Spring Reading Group Suggestions

 

As we ready ourselves to begin a new academic year, I wanted to offer some suggestions for inspiring reading.  Perhaps you will even consider, as I am, starting a faculty reading group to grapple with related issues.

 

Implicit Bias and its Consequences.    I suspect that many of you have continued to reflect about how “black lives matter” and how we might encourage our law students to grapple with related issues.  I strongly recommend a new book, out in paperback just last week, from one of the principal researchers on implicit bias.  The authors are Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald, and the title is Blind Spot:  Hidden Biases of Good People (Bantam Books, 2016, $17.00, available from Amazon.com and elsewhere).  The authors are experts on the ”implicit association test”  (available at https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html ), a tool used to explore the relationship between visual stimuli and perceptions.  For more background, see https://www.projectimplicit.net/index.html .  The test involves responding to various sets of paired visual stimuli, such as black and white or Asian and non-Asian faces.  https://www.projectimplicit.net/stimuli.html This highly accessible book explores the sources and nature of hidden biases, the dynamics of stereotyping, and the social implications of widespread implicit bias.  The book is highly accessible, and its research is also well-documented in footnotes.  I’m working with a former student to develop a continuing legal education program on cultural competence and implicit bias, which we hope to roll out in February.  I’m also thinking of inviting faculty and staff colleagues (and perhaps some students) to come together for lunch time reading group using this text.  I’ll keep you posted on how these efforts proceed.  I’d also encourage others to post about ways that they may be working to engage similar issues.

 

A Culture of Assessment.  Culture plays an important but potentially negative role in shaping implicit biases and stereotypes.  Culture can also be shaped in positive ways to improve institutions.  I recently read Professor Andrea Funk’s manuscript for “The Art of Assessment,”  forthcoming in January 2017 from Carolina Academic Press (http://www.cap-press.com/books/isbn/9781611637359/The-Art-of-Assessment).  This book, too, would be a wonderful choice for a faculty/staff reading group.  As most readers know, the American Bar Association now requires law schools to set “learning outcomes” for students, adopt more comprehensive forms of assessment and develop plans for “ongoing evaluation” of their “program[s] of legal education, learning outcomes, and assessment methods.”  Many in legal education fear that these new standards will result in intensified bureaucratic burdens.  Professor Funk, on the other hand, sees them as offering a new arena of creative activity, a space for engaged inquiry, a means of helping students learn more effectively, and a framework for building institutional pride.

 

Professor Funk’s book focuses on how individual faculty members and their schools can create a culture of assessment, perhaps the most crucial but often invisible element in achieving an energizing and constructive assessment process.  She is very effective in deconstructing opaque language and concepts, suggesting methods for getting started, and creating a sustainable assessment cycle.  She offers important tips on building on existing practices, gathering and using information, grappling with doubts about why and how assessment can work, and building institution-wide interest and commitment.  This is a book that gives readers important tools, but goes further, by illuminating the real potential of assessment for teachers, learners, and educational institutions.  It puts me in mind of Parker Palmer’s wonderful The Courage to Teach, with its uplifting willingness to confront fears but build on hopes that are dear to the hearts of the best law teachers:  helping students learn, working with colleagues, and “teaching from the heart of hope.”

 

I hope your coming year will be a fruitful one.  Important conversations with colleagues, spurred by books like these, can help make it so.  Please share your own suggests with others on the Best Practices Blog!

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2 Responses

  1. These are excellent ideas, and I will share a few of my own, most of which are useful in both categories in my opinion. Several have been discussed in our own Penn State Law”faculty and friends” reading group:
    Daniel Kahneman, Thinking: Fast and Slow
    Malcom Gladwell, Blink and The Tipping Point
    Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me
    Bryan Stevenson, Just Mercy
    Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah
    Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed
    Stephen Grosz, The Examined Life
    Sy Montgomery, The Soul of an Octopus
    Yann Martel, Life of Pi
    Michael Hunter Schwartz, What the Best Law Teachers Do

  2. Agreed. And I will add another topic to consider, that of personality types, and how they affect students, and our perceptions/biases about them and our interactions with them. In reading Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking, I was struck by how strongly issues of introversion/extroversion resonate in student success in their externship placements, relationships with supervisors and other colleagues, job fit, etc. The book raises issues that intend to explore more intentionally with students in my next class.

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