"Teaching Across the Curriculum"

Written by Kathleen Bergin

This is a phrase public school administrators use all the time.  It captures the idea of integrated learning which is supposed to help students retain important information and develop the ability to visualize the forest without missing the trees.  In grade school, for example, a teacher might include a math problem in a health sciences class:  if a candy bar has 270 calories, and you burn 95 calories each hour riding a bike, how long will it take to burn off the calories consumed by eating the candy bar?  Math is a component of science, and science requires the application of math, so integrating both into a single lesson plan makes for more effective and efficient teaching.

There are plenty of opportunities for integrated learning in law school, especially if you’ve been around a while and taught a variety of courses. 

Just this morning I sprinkled a little Civ Pro into my Property course by asking students how they’d go about acquiring necessary facts for a hypothetical case.  We were studying the role of “industry custom” in a case of competing property claims.  I asked whether the owner of a fishing vessel that harpoons a whale had a viable claim against the members of Greenpeace who come along and rescue the whale or divert it from the vessel.  Students need more facts before they can begin to answer the question, and importantly, they have to know how to get them.  Was the vessel in open water?  Did they mortally wound the whale?  Who says you can hunt whales to begin with, surely that’s illegal, right?  And if the vessel asserts an industry custom that supports their claim to the whale, might conservationists have their own custom that supports their competing interest?

In real life, a lawyer could surely find the answer to some of these questions on her own, but every case inevitably involves facts that must be gathered from someone or somewhere else.  And that’s where we talk briefly about discovery strategies and the use of depositions and interrogatories.

It’s a brief diversion, just a couple minutes at best (alas, the rule against perpetuities awaits)!  But the point is simply to make a connection, to create a link between doctrine and practice that students might not necessarily make on their own.  Overall, I think it’s time well spent.  It certainly makes for more interesting teaching, and hopefully more effective learning on the part of our students.

disclaimer: I can’t take credit for originating the Greenpeace hypo.  That goes to Dukeminier et al., who introduce it in their Property text.