Monday, August 02, 2010
Something You Ought To Know if You Teach a Class that Sounds "Sexy"
If you teach a class like Mass Media Law, or Entertainment Law, or Sports Law that sounds "sexy" or "fun" to students, you owe it to the students and yourself to go in the first day of class and dramatically lower students' expectations before the class begins. In Mass Media Law, for example, I give a speech that goes something like this.
Mass Media Law is about the law that affects the mass media as a business. This is not primarily a media policy class. We will discuss new technologies and the changing role of mass media in society, but only as it relates to legal developments. You will leave this class having been administered a heavy dose of First Amendment law and First Amendment theory, so if you hated Constitutional Law, you will probably hate this class, too. You will read Supreme Court cases as difficult and complicated as any of those you've studied in law school so far. So I don't want to hear any complaints that I didn't warn you when we are piecing our way vote by vote through long and complicated constitutional cases. On the other hand, if you are taking this class because you love Constitutional law, you may be disappointed to find out that you will have to learn about several other bodies of law, too. Media Law, for example, has a heavy tort law component. Some of the torts we will study, such as defamation, are more complex and convoluted than any you studied in your first-year Torts class. Again, don't say I didn't warn you when we get there. And if you are happy with the torts and constitutional law aspects of Media Law, you may be disappointed that we will also address various other bodies of law, including statutes and administrative regulations that affect the media. Finally, at the end the day, if you do find you love Media Law as much as I do, you'll probably be depressed to find that there are very few jobs in the area. That said, Media Law will definitely improve your ability to analyze constitutional cases. For some of you, it will be the only First Amendment Law you ever study in law school. And a number of the things we will discuss may appear on the Bar exam in some way, shape or form. But that's really all I can promise.
By the time I've finished this grim speech, I've no doubt driven a number of students to drop/add. The remaining students and I then get to have all the fun!
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I think addressing student expectations is critical even for unsexy courses (like tax). On the first day, I make clear that we will not learn how to prepare tax returns and that I don't even know how to do so (I use HRBlock.com). Yet, I've still received a couple student evaluations complaining that "we didn't learn how to fill out tax forms." Frustrating.
Posted by: andy | Aug 2, 2010 6:01:14 PM
While it may be a bit much to call my "comparative world religions" class "sexy," I do go out of my way to scare off students on the first day of class who assume it will be an easy course, perhaps the academic equivalent of holding hands in a circle and singing Kum ba yah. More often than not, these are the same folks who think it necessary to effusively affirm some sort of fuzzy New Age belief that "all religions are different paths to the one God," hence bereft of any meaningful or interesting differences between them. Many of these individuals will proudly inform me that they have constructed their own religious worldview from the among the "goods" or "resources" mined from a handful of worldviews they happen to be superficially acquainted with.
So, my grim speech informs them of the absurdity of introducing seven major world religions in the course of one semester, of how we will only deal with matters in a stylized, often highly abstract and selective manner that may appear far removed from "religion on the ground," or even unrecognizable in comparison with their own religious tradition, such as it may be. I then remind them that because the course is offered in a Philosophy dept., it may be a bit disconcerting or difficult if they've never had a philosophy course (no prerequisite of same is required). What is worse, they learn that their exams are in the form of essays (short and long), in addition to the 7-10 page research paper.
Well, you get the picture. This usually suffices to scare away the more faint-hearted or weakly committed, just the sort of individuals who would otherwise find themselves dropping the class well into the semester. "The remaining students and I then get to have all the fun!"
Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Aug 2, 2010 6:51:38 PM
The closest thing to a "sexy subject" that I teach is Employment Discrimination. This class contains a surprising and to many depressing amount of civil procedure: burdens of production and persuasion which either shift or don't shift, summary judgement standards, etc. Then there is statistics -- basic stuff, but still intimidating to many -- that students need to know something about. I tell my students they will have to sit through what will seem like Civ Pro III for a month and then Statistics For Dummies, but that we'll eventually get to sexual harassment and the other stuff they were expecting.
Posted by: Joseph Slater | Aug 3, 2010 1:44:37 PM
Here's a sexy article by Sophia Z. Lee for your students (c/o Mary Dudziak): http://legalhistoryblog.blogspot.com/2010/08/lee-on-race-sex-and-rulemaking.html
Posted by: Patrick S. O'Donnell | Aug 3, 2010 7:06:24 PM
Posted by: Joseph Slater | Aug 4, 2010 3:26:20 PM
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