Teacher First

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Written by: Jessica Silbey

It is that time of year again, a glorious time for professors when classes are over and exams to be graded have not yet stacked up. We plan our summer and the projects we aspire to complete. I have always felt so blessed this time of year for the time the summer affords me to think hard and long about problems I see with the law and about possible solutions in the way we think or act in regards to it. This summer I am taking some time also to think more about teaching. I was at the annual conference of the Association of Law, Culture and the Humanities some time ago and was discussing with folks on a panel about “Law and the Humanities and the State of  Interdisciplinary Scholarship” how to make our scholarship on the subject resonate more in the practice of educating and in the practice of law.

As law professors, many of us teach first year or high-demand curricular courses and then, if we are lucky, we can teach a seminar on the subject of our research.  Often, our big classes provide a foundation for our research and writing, but it is hard to get beyond high-level basics in an introductory course.  Nonetheless, it seems that the field of law and the humanities — a study of the reasoning we bring from engaging high and low culture — should be integrated into our first year curriculums and, indeed, into the study of law more broadly. What is law but a form of reading and writing, a social engagement rich with emotions and stories, moral, psychological, historical and fantastical? That this field is so far from the center of our law school curriculum worries me.

So I am going to spend part of my summer working with my own first year and high-traffic curriculum-driven courses (constitutional law and IP courses) to integregate the reasoning and rationale from the field of law and the humanities into my course syllabi and class preps. Once done, I will have to contend with the smirks from students who will be worried I am ill-preparing them to be lawyers. It will be my challenge — and my gift to them — to show them how the craft and pleasure of cultural production is akin to the craft and promise of law.

Thoughts, suggestions, cheering section or words of warning welcome.