Another year of classes and exams has come to an end, which puts me in a reflective frame of mind; recently a topic that has been turning over in my mind is curriculum reform, which is a hot button topic on this Blog and at many law schools across this country and North America in general. As I survey the conjecture on the topic there is one thing that I do not see addressed that bothers me and that is the topic of preparatory reading or rather the lack thereof.
As anyone who has a law degree, or is pursuing one, can tell you it requires a lot of reading; we have a precedent based system which means that you have to be familiar with the precedent before you can act on the current situation, or in the law school context you need to read all of those decisions with the precedents your prof wants to you know. Regardless, which form of learning is being followed, practice based, theoretical based, etc., the reading still has to be done, and in my experience it is not happening with a significant portion of students. I will admit off the top that my evidence is anecdotal and observational; however, I have recently taken classes in other faculties and I’ve seen first hand from, the student perspective, what it does to a class and I can also attest that this is not unique to law students but we are talking about law in this forum and it holds to law students as well.
Readings are assigned as preparatory work so a student will show up to class somewhat familiar with a topic and able to engage in discourse on the topic by forming an informed opinion; unfortunately this is not occurring; readings, if they get done at all, are being done in cram sessions after the fact or in annotated notes endeavours at the end of term and this is not the purpose of assigned readings. The purpose is that they be read prior to the topic being covered in class so that some knowledge is brought to the discussion not just opinion (there is a significant difference between an informed opinion and merely “an opinion”). Education is a two-way street, you should not just show up and expect to have knowledge imparted to you with no work on your part, there is an obligation upon the student to prepare properly for the class because the class has been prepared with the expectation that the students will have done this. When a majority of students in a class show up not having done the preparatory work it leads to some of the breakdowns that are being discussed in various forums on curriculum reform but I haven’t seen many of these discuss the lack of preparatory work being done on the students part. I fear that regardless of the outcome of these efforts at curriculum reform this fundamental breakdown will continue and the complaints about law school education will continue as they have unabated for over 100 years. It is a significant point and I would like to see it addressed.