Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Toward Eternal Tonehenge

November 30, 2017 Leave a comment

In the introduction to the seminal work entitled An Introduction to the Creation of Electroacoustic Music, Professor Sam Pellman wrote:

For thousands of years, the predominant medium of musical expression was the human voice. In the past few centuries, however, musical instruments have become increasingly important. The sophistication of these instruments has paralleled the development of technology in general. Early musical instruments were relatively simple devices constructed of wood or of the horns of animals. By the 19th century, the level of mechanical ingenuity had progressed to the point that remarkably clever instruments made of a wide variety of materials, including metals, could be perfected or invented. The piano is perhaps the best representative of the technology of that time. Modern wind and brass instruments, such as the saxophone and the trumpet, reached maturity during this time as well. One thing that all of these instruments had in common was that they depended on the power of human breath or the muscles of the arms to create the waves of sound that could be heard as music.

The preeminent technology of the 20th century has been electronic. It seems inevitable, therefore, that musical instruments would be developed that would apply the power of electricity and the control capabilities of electronics to the task of creating musical sounds. The field of scientific study that deals with the transformation of energy between electrical forms and acoustical forms is called electroacoustics. This term has been borrowed by musicians who use electronic instruments, so that their music has come to be known as electroacoustic music. Such music may consist of sounds that are produced naturally and then transformed electronically . . . or of sounds that are created synthetically, by oscillating electrical circuits . . . . Most typically, perhaps, it includes both kinds of sounds. Indeed, the array of resources available to contemporary musicians working in the medium of electroacoustic music is an impressively rich and immense one . . . .

Samuel Pellman, An Introduction to the Creation of Electroacoustic Music xv (Wadsworth 1994).

Earlier this month, Pellman died suddenly at the age of sixty-four.

Here is an example of his recent work:

Sam’s Music for Contemporary Media course remains one of the most memorable educational experiences of my life. I offer here two of the projects I created as a part of that course.

Categories: Current, Education, Listening, Music

The Department of Education in the Age of “Hamilton”

June 30, 2017 Leave a comment

I wrote this headline back in December, along with the note “federalism” and a link to an editorial criticizing Donald Trump’s nomination of Betsy DeVos for the position of Secretary of the U.S. Department of Education. Surprisingly, seven months later, those two breadcrumbs were not enough to lead my brain back to the space it occupied at that particular moment. The “Hamilton” connection I had in mind likely will continue to escape me, but I think the basic point probably went something like this:

hamilton chicagoFor those who prefer a smaller federal government, the Department of Education is a popular target. The basic line of thought seems to be that public education traditionally has been the province of the individual state governments, and that it is ineffective to try to set uniform national policies when it comes to public education. Perhaps as a result of that targeting, or perhaps for independent reasons (and likely a combination of both), those who favor a more expansive federal government also favor a strong Education Department, believing it is the best vehicle for preserving and supporting the public school system and for bringing what they see as outdated education policies (particularly in the area of school curriculum) in line with modern standards.

For the latter group, one problem with consolidating power in a single, central office, of course, is that there may come a time when the person who occupies that office does not share that group’s policy preferences. This somehow seems to be a point of cognitive disconnect for this group, which does not appear to have considered the possibility that a political opponent like DeVos might one day occupy the office of the Secretary of the Department of Education and use the substantial authority attached to that office to advance her own policy preferences.

Politics ultimately may be a game of short-term gains, but the cries of those bemoaning Secretary DeVos’ newfound ability to support a deregulated charter school movement and other school-choice plans because they believe those policies will undercut already-struggling public schools ring at least partially hollow; after all, they bear some responsibility for the expanded scope of her authority to do so.

Categories: Education, Politics, Privatize

LST Speaks Out On Recent Law School Class Actions

October 12, 2011 3 comments

Plaintiff classes of recent graduates have brought suit against more than a dozen law schools across the country, including Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, New York Law School in Manhattan, and Thomas Cooley Law School in Michigan (Miami, FL campus coming soon!). The directors of Law School Transparency published a column in yesterday’s New York Post commenting on the suits and the larger state of legal education:

These problems affect more than just the legal profession. This year, ABA-approved law schools will get at least $4 billion in taxpayer support, thanks to the government’s decision in 2010 to directly lend to students. But when graduates can’t find jobs that allow full loan repayment, they either default or sign up for hardship programs. The taxpayers are on the hook for the lost interest income and unpaid loan principal.

In all of this mess, one thing is for sure: Continued pressure from lawsuits, Congress and other reform advocates will push law schools to honestly evaluate the American legal-education model. And reimagining a broken model will take a lot more than simply getting people their day in court.

Kyle McEntee & Patrick J. Lynch, “Do law schools defraud students?,” New York Post (Oct. 11, 2011). Read the full column here. More on LST here. More on legal education here.

Categories: Current, Education, Legal

Stanley Fish and Rejecting the Call for Justification

August 2, 2011 Leave a comment

Following my chance to hear the latest from Michael Sandel last month, I had the opportunity to listen to a lecture by Stanley Fish, currently a professor of law and the humanities at Florida International University and a New York Times columnist. Like Sandel, Fish also has the passing distinction of being someone I read as a part of my undergraduate thesis. Unlike Sandel, this was not the first Fish lecture I had attended, as I also heard him back in the fall of 2007.

The Chautauquan Daily has complete coverage of Fish’s lecture on understanding the role of the arts and of studying the arts in contemporary society. In particular, Fish is concerned with those in and out of higher education who seek to defend the liberal arts approach to education against its critics. In a very well-crafted lecture, Fish rejected the usual arguments of the defenders of humanities education: that it inspires critical thinking, builds oral and writing skills, prepares students for later life, fosters cross-cultural understanding, and generally makes for a better citizenry.

I enjoyed the totality of the lecture, which also included a stanza-by-stanza deconstruction of George Herbert’s 1633 poem, “The Forerunners.” There was one statement from Fish, though, that particularly struck me. When explaining his position in favor of arts education but in opposition to the usual justifications for it, Fish said:

The demand for justification is always a demand that something be justified in terms not its own.

He went on to explain that even its supporters fail to “acknowledge[] that the arts and humanities might operate according to their own terms or that these terms might be the basis both of the value they have and of the pleasure we take in them.” Although he closed by offering a justification of sorts that seemed to mostly satisfy him (“If the study of the arts and the humanities is to be justified, it will be because it keeps alive and refurbishes glorious human artifacts that might well be lost or less available to future generations if they were no longer taught.”), the thrust of Fish’s view was that continued funding of arts education requires no justification.

Fish’s statement about demands for justification reminded me that those who accept a challenger’s invitation to justify often do a disservice to that which they are attempting to justify. For example, Christians who indulge their critics’ various demands for proof of God’s existence usually don’t especially succeed in advancing the Christian cause. Even if they do present a satisfactory justification, they have cabined their religion to the critic’s imposed terms. The Christian faith surely encompasses the rational– the scientific, the observable, the tangible, the historical– but for adherents, Christianity is broader than that. Jonathan Edwards, the eighteenth century American theologian, recognized that, to the extent humans can know and understand God and the world, that understanding comes through both human reason (a gift from God) and revelation from God. To limit a “defense” of God would be both inadequate and misleading, since Christians do not know God through reason alone.

An examination of Edwards’ epistemological views on reason and revelation could fill its own post. See, e.g., here and here. The simple goal of this post is to highlight the broader application of Fish’s statement as cautioning those who would justify their views and questioning the helpfulness of asking for justifications.

Categories: Discourse, Education

Justice Stephen Breyer: Making Our Democracy Work

November 16, 2010 1 comment

U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Stephen Breyer visited Vanderbilt University Law School today to deliver a lecture, teach a class on administrative law (the subject he taught while at Harvard Law School, where he was a professor from 1967 to 1980), and sign copies of his book, Making Our Democracy Work: A Judge’s View. I have yet to read the book, but I have loosely kept up with Breyer’s recent interview tour. My interpretation is that the Justice, very frequently in the the minority in his years on the Court, felt the need to explain and preserve his judicial philosophy in an extrajudicial manner. There is precedent for judges setting out their jurisprudential views in book form, and even though Breyer probably wouldn’t admit it, Making Our Democracy Work feels a little bit like a response to A Matter of Interpretation: Federal Courts and the Law, a 1997 book by Breyer’s colleague, Justice Antonin Scalia. I plan to post a review here once I finish Breyer’s new work, and I am hopeful that it will be more timely than my last book review.

Breyer’s lecture began with an explanation of Alexander Hamilton’s vision of the role of the Supreme Court in the federal government, and, taking this as a launching point, sought to illustrate through examples the ways in which we have tried to answer a practical question the Founders could not: how will the justices navigate their role as unelected officials charged with making decisions that may contravene the actions of the elected branches. Breyer compared Worcester v. Georgia, 31 U.S. (6 Pet.) 515 (1832), Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954), and Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98 (2000) with a focus on the enforceability of unpopular decisions. Following Worcester, President Andrew Jackson refused to adhere to Chief Justice John Marshall’s ruling that Cherokees living in northern Georgia were allowed to stay on their land, instead sending them on the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma. The tumult in Arkansas following the Brown decisions is a well-know part of American civil rights history. This time, though, the presidential use of the military was in obedience of the Court’s ruling. Finally, Breyer observed that, while anger and resentment followed the Bush decision, a peaceful transfer of power in accordance with the Court’s decision took place. Then and today, Breyer said that he thinks Bush was wrong, but he also noted his agreement with Senator Harry Reid’s view that this nevertheless was an appreciable moment in American history for the public’s response. See here. Breyer also commented on two additional controversial cases: Dred Scott v. Sanford, 60 U.S. 393 (1857) and Korematsu v. U.S., 323 U.S. 214 (1944). For Breyer, these two cases illustrate conflict between the Court and the Executive in a war context. Disagreeing with both outcomes, Breyer acknowledged that Korematsu raised the question of which governmental branch should be running a war– placing his theme of democratic deference in a difficult light– but seemed to argue that the facts were such that the Court could have deferred to the Executive without reaching the outcome it did. Despite a supposed attempt by Chief Justice Roger B. Taney to rule in such a way as to avoid a civil war, Dred Scott, Breyer said, is the Court’s worst decision.

I enjoyed Breyer’s remarks, and I liked how he incorporated rule of law and civic discourse and dispute resolution themes into the Hamiltonian framework he referenced throughout his talk. I also found helpful the way he presented the three cases in chronological order to highlight a developing answer to the question the framework implied. It was good to see the Justice, age seventy-two, in strong form, and I am looking forward to reading his book.

UPDATE: VULS has made available a video of the entirety of Breyer’s lecture:

Blogging About Blogging (at Law School Transparency), Vol. II

October 26, 2010 1 comment

As mentioned, I am doing some blogging for Law School Transparency (LST), and my latest post there now is available. It discusses recent comments by Steven Zack, president of the American Bar Association:

Mr. Zack’s statements were exciting because they signaled to me the spread of the sort of discussion LST has been working to develop regarding the nature of the employment data reporting problem and the steps necessary to resolve it. While LST is working towards a solution on multiple fronts, including encouraging schools to comply with our Standard, the furtherance of a discourse of transparency serves to advance our cause.

I found Mr. Zack’s comments heartening because they showed his recognition of the more nuanced aspects of this conversation. When it comes to prospective students, he said that “there’s a total lack of awareness” about earning potential and career options. He suggested that law schools have an incentive to present their employment data in the best possible light to attract applicants.

You can read the full post at:

In Memoriam

October 10, 2010 1 comment

It was with great surprise and sadness that I learned of the sudden and unexpected passing of Vanderbilt University Law School’s Professor Richard Nagareda this weekend. Perhaps the Law School’s top professor, he was a leading expert in complex litigation (e.g., class action lawsuits), and was widely published and quoted on that and related topics. He was peerless in the classroom and demonstrated a care for and interest in students and life beyond the classroom as well.

In recent years, Professor Nagareda taught a class called Complex Litigation, which dove deep into the world of class actions, mass settlements, and other forms of aggregate dispute resolution with the goal of understanding what was happening in this constantly evolving area as a matter of constitutional rights, statutory development, and business interests. He also directed the Cecil D. Branstetter Litigation and Dispute Resolution Program, which included his leadership of the Civil Litigation Capstone Seminar for third-year law students.

In an official notice, Chris Guthrie, Dean of the Law School, said:

Richard was a personal friend as well as an esteemed colleague, and those of us who were fortunate enough to know him and work with him for the past several years are devastated by his death. The legal academy has lost a gifted scholar, and our students an extremely talented teacher. Our faculty members have lost a good friend and exemplary colleague, and his family a beloved husband, father and son.

More early reaction is available here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

I had the extremely good fortune to study under Professor Nagareda. Time spent in his courses is among the most valuable of my last three years. (A summary of the work I did in his seminar is available here.) For everything he taught us about law and legal practice– things that significantly advanced and changed the way I understand the law– he was always careful to remind us that what matters more than work or anything else is the opportunity to spend time with loved ones.

Categories: Current, Education, Legal

Blogging About Blogging (at Law School Transparency)

October 8, 2010 Leave a comment

As mentioned, I became a member of the Law School Transparency Advisory Board earlier this fall. My latest post, which explains that all law schools have an interest in complying with the LST Standard, is now available on LST’s site:

LST recognizes that there is much more to the placement discussion than employment in the nation’s largest law firms and federal Article III clerkships. In fact, only 15-18% of 2009 graduates were employed by these firms or as Article III clerks. While many prospective law students want these jobs, other students want to attend law school because they want to work in a particular community or region, or because they want to pursue a particular career in a district attorney’s office or an environmental advocacy position for example….Prospective students are interested in comparing these employment opportunities. It should be surprising, then, that the current reporting standards do not emphasize placement with the government, regional and local law firms, and state and local clerkships….

You can read the full post at:

Incentivizing Discourse: Bringing Scholars and Policy Makers to the Table

April 12, 2010 Leave a comment

Incentives direct behavior because people act in response to them. Successful systems provide incentives that direct people to act so as to bring about the desired outcomes of the systems’ creators and implementors. Systems sometimes break down because of an internal misalignment of incentives. Other times, breakdowns or other undesirable results happen when two interacting systems have internal incentives inconsistent with the desired nature of the external interaction between the two.

The relationship between the scholarly world and the policy world has a problem of the latter variety. The academy incentivizes scholars to publish and publish often, job security and advancement depending upon publication. These bright minds produce volumes of material that are themselves voluminous, but, beyond satisfying publication editors, they have little incentive to ground their work in any semblance of reality. Meanwhile, policy makers (legislators and their advisors) need the latest and best scholarship, but the growth of government has put them in a position in which they have very little time to peruse the wide array of scholarly journals and publications. When they believe that the bulk of  the material is not helpful to the high-pressure, results-oriented world of legislation, they may be even less likely to seek out this information. In short, both groups need to channel Siddhartha Gautama and leave their pleasure palaces and come in contact with the nitty gritty of the real world. Aside from the possibility of communitarian nirvana, however, they have little incentive to do so.

Professor Michael Vandenbergh identified the environment as an area in particular need of functioning interaction between academics and policy makers and sought to create a new set of incentives that would bridge the described gap between the two. The result is the Environmental Law and Policy Annual Review (ELPAR), a once-a-year publication that republishes condensed versions of the best articles in environmental law and policy, along with short, responsive commentaries from governmental, industry, legal, and academic voices. By providing a prestigious venue for (re)publication and the knowledge that policy makers will read their work, ELPAR incetivizes scholars to produce realistic, implementable policy proposals for and solutions to current environmental issues. In addition to a publication, ELPAR brings the two groups face-to-face with annual conferences on Capitol Hill. See here (2010 conference schedule); see also here (discussing ELPAR’s new Nashville conference, held for the first time this spring).

The 2010 Washington, D.C. conference is this Friday, April 16. Details are available here.

Law “School”: Education or Professional Filtering?

December 4, 2009 4 comments

Although offhand criticism of lawyers is uncontroversial and commonplace, critics of legal education are less common. One reason for this distinction might be because few people who have not attended law school have the requisite motivation and information to engage in such criticism. Additionally, many who have attended law school do not have the requisite motivation. This is because people who invest up to three of the vital years of their lives, hundreds of thousands of their dollars, and their health (especially that of their eyes and hair), cannot approach the possibility that it all might have been a bad idea. This is understandable, which is to say that I am able to understand it. Even a mere critique of the legal education system is but a first step down that forbidden path.

That criticism of legal education is not especially common is not to say that legal education is less deserving of criticism. One of the values of a forthcoming assessment is that it can provide useful information to those who are being blindly led like lambs to the slaughterconsidering applying to law school. Another value is the possibility of advancing law education reform which, by extension, could lead to positive changes across the legal profession and in improvements in the broader society.

In America, legal education did not always take place in the university cash engines that are our modern law schools. Law school is best understood as a professional school, rather than a graduate school (real graduate students, like English and philosophy Ph.Ds, like to remind law students of this), so it makes sense that lawyers once trained in an apprenticeship regime reminiscent of Paul Revere or, more topically, Abraham Lincoln. Before the Civil War, aspiring attorneys apprenticed with an established lawyer, a custom known as “reading law” or “reading the law.” The shift to modern law schools began in the late 1800s, and the transition from apprenticeship to institutional training was a gradual one. (The transformation is not complete: even today, in places like Vermont, apprenticeship remains a recognized path to the legal profession.) In the process of making this transition, did the nature of the mission of legal training change as well? What, in other words, is the real purpose of modern law schools, and does it have any connection to the original apprenticeship model?

Legal professionals today commonly say that law school does not train students for the actual practice of law. Despite the ubiquity of the federal government in citizens’ lives, the majority of law is state law, and the majority of legal work takes place on the state and local levels. The differences are not so striking, but states do have their own discrete sets of laws and rules. Even where states have adopted the federal or model rules that are often the basis of law school classes, they rarely do so in whole or keep the same numbering and organization. In short, to be a functioning attorney, one must study and become expert in the laws, rules, and policies of the particular state or states in which one is practicing. See also state bar examinations. Disassociation with a particular locale was not a problem under the apprenticeship model, but there may be no better way to handle this aspect of law school education if schools are going to continue to send graduates to a variety of states for employment than to teach only the federal rules or model codes.

It is one thing if law schools cannot feasibly teach, in a single course, the specific rules of evidence and procedure for multiple jurisdictions, but it is another if the basic educational approach is misdirected. Law school is, in some ways, an uncomfortable nexus of the academic and professional worlds. Trainers are professors, (usually) not practitioners, and they must grade students’ work, not simply give feedback. The entire grade for a course usually is based on nothing more than a final examination, a written test that could last as few as three hours or as many as twenty-four. The letter grade on a transcript and, maybe, a look at the marked up answers, frequently are the only feedback a student receives.

Less formally, law school classrooms are not so often the hosts of heavy and widely participatory discussion as some might expect. The combination of the Socratic Method and access to wireless internet (though it may be nothing more than a twenty-first century substitute for daydreaming) often renders class a one-on-one exchange between the professor and the “on call” student. Common first year courses like contracts are broad, and have complicated histories such that it may be difficult to get through enough basic material in one semester to reach a point where discussion is useful or possible. On the other hand, the black letter foundation of each of these courses is well-established and mostly uncomplicated. Why, then, do professors so often obscure it or otherwise “hide the ball”? The answer might be understood by returning to the formal conflict between the professional and the academic in the area of grading. There are complicated parts of contract, tort, and criminal law, and of the procedure and evidence rules, but their core tenets are fairly easy to understand. The core tenets are also the main focus of the exams. This presents a problem when one is concerned about grade distribution, and law school administrators are concerned about grade distribution. Presumably, students’ raw scores are mostly clumped around a certain number. Grading professors must work to find distinctions between exam responses to force the clump apart and into a neatly organized bell curve of standard deviations. If they hide the ball during the semester, this will make the to-be-tested material harder for more students and the exam responses easier to curve.

If law school defers necessary apprenticeship instead of replacing it, wouldn't aspiring attorneys rather cut to the chase and strike while the iron is hot?

Obscuring the material may be a rational response, if the problem is one of grading and grade distribution. If the goal is professional legal training, however, this all seems a bit crazy. What could be the goal of a training system based on generating a particular grade distribution, other than professional filtering? A law student’s grade point average is the most important factor in hiring decisions. There are other relevant factors, but none nearly so important as GPA. To work to fashion a particular spread of GPAs is, when combined with the employer emphasis on grades, to operate a system of professional filtering.

If this is what is happening in law schools, it still might not be a problem if the professional marketplace values the skills the academic approach rewards. As presented, this approach rewards skills detached from the substance of the course, which mainly come down to hard work in the form of the ability and willingness to think independently and teach oneself the material. Hard work is a virtue and is relevant to any form of employment. This approach only rewards hard work, it doesn’t teach it, however, and it obscures the substantive legal material. If this presentation represents reality, it is hard to see the true value for students in an institution that looks like a professional regulatory hurdle.

In the end, there is little opportunity for practical, learning-by-doing education in law schools today. Clinical courses are not emphasized, legal writing is relegated to the first year and widely derided, and legal research education is outsourced to WestLaw and LexisNexis staffers whose goal is to hook law students on their service with free access and rewards programs. The overall situation is one of deferred apprenticeship. During summers and after graduation, students complete the apprentice-style, on-the-job training they need, learning the profession’s skills in their work with practicing attorneys.

There may never be a good time to ask someone what they think of law school, but now– when students are preparing for finals, prospective applicants are considering their futures, and those who graduated or left early are reaching a point of end-of-year reflection– is as good a time as any to have a conversation about the way we train people for work in a service industry that is both the butt of many jokes and one of the most well-respected professions in the country.

Categories: Education, Incentives, Legal