Why impose a course on constitutional law on our students?Because it is ...
Zietlow, Rebecca E.
RZietlo at UTNet.UToledo.Edu
Tue Jul 10 06:47:53 PDT 2007
I find it very helpful to discuss the constitutional implications of current events, especially in my Con Law I (structural issues - SOP, federalism and SDP) class. One of the best class sessions I ever had was the day we discussed the constitutional implications of the Schiavo case (I thought it would take 15 minutes but it lasted a whole 1 1/2 hour class period), and of course there is always a lot to talk about regarding executive power these days. These discussions help students to see the relevance of Con Law, and add to the "citizenship" education aspect of the course, which I find to be particularly important at my school where many students are first generation professionals.
From: conlawprof-bounces at lists.ucla.edu on behalf of RJLipkin at aol.com
Sent: Tue 7/10/2007 7:02 AM
To: curtism at bellsouth.net; SLevinson at law.utexas.edu; conlawprof at lists.ucla.edu
Subject: Re: Why impose a course on constitutional law on our students?Because it is ...
Let me raise an almost dissenting voice. I have always taught conlaw including a great deal of history and political theory. One reason I've taught the course that way is simply because doing expresses how I conceptualize the domain. Another reason is the importance, or so I thought, of history and theory in the study of almost anything--in law and beyond--but especially in a humanistic field such as conlaw. In my view, constitutional doctrine derives from history, philosophy, political science, and so forth. Finally, I agree with Sandy completely about the relevance, no the indispensability of conlaw, to the education of citizen-lawyers.
This pasts semester I've been on sabbatical working on a book manuscript and some articles. Each time I became passionate about the importance of something I've learned from my research, I immediately thought of how great it would be to return in the Fall and pass the information on to my students. And like a speed freak's use of crystal meth, this enthusiasm would invariably be followed by a crash. Why the crash? Because I realized that my students would have no idea what I was talking about when I passed my research on to them. It drove me to seriously considered, even if momentarily, whether they would be better off if I taught conlaw like a virtual bar course, something I've always denounced.
My question is this: Should we teach conlaw as it would be taught in ideal pedagogical circumstances in which it is clear history, political theory, and political science must be included or instead should we teach it virtually stripped of these elements so that the students learn how to conceptualize constitutional conflicts by applying principles, rules, terms of art, and so forth? I know some might insist, as I always have, that conlaw just can't be taught virtually stripped of history, political theory, etc. That's surely right if one emphasizes "virtually." But rather than assign non-caselaw materials which can be explained as they arise in the caselaw, should we make doctrine salient filling in bits and pieces of history and so forth when necessary.
Another way of expressing my difficulty is by considering the complaint that conlaw professors teach conlaw the way they do for themselves not for their students. Doing the latter would stripe much of the fascinating, intriguing, and ultimately indispensable (for scholars) materials from the course.
I've taught conlaw for over twenty years, always including heavy doses of history, etc. as a central part of the course. I tell me students that they will be unable to use constitutional principles and rules to analyze a case without these other elements. But now I'm not so sure. I dream of the glazed faces of students when I try to explain the differences between, for instance, the federalists and anti-federalists and shudder. Of course, I might just be a lousy teacher.
If I were to sign the post anonymous, it would be "A Disillusioned and burnt out (even after a sabbatical) conlaw professor." I would be grateful for any advice.
Robert Justin Lipkin
Professor of Law
Widener University School of Law
Ratio Juris, Contributor: http://ratiojuris.blogspot.com/ <http://ratiojuris.blogspot.com/>
Essentially Contested America, Editor-In-Chief http://www.essentiallycontestedamerica.org/
See what's free at AOL.com <http://www.aol.com/?ncid=AOLAOF00020000000503> .
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