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Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Crazy coaches=Professor Kingsfield?

The video of (now former) Rutgers men's basketball coach Mike Rice physically and verbally attacking his players has been widely viewed and parodied on SNL. It also has started some conversations of coaching styles then and now and of the demise (whether welcome or not) of the "bullying" coach. At some level, what Rice did was not unusual in the world of college basketball, at least historically. One of the great sports books is John Feinstein's A Season on the Brink, which followed Bob Knight and the Indiana Hoosiers for the 1985-86 season. The book described Knight berating players (his insult of choice was "pussy" rather than the anti-gay slur favored by Rice, but the principle seems the same) and on at least on occasion throwing basketballs at a player. And no one (other than Knight, who was livid about the book) batted an eye. That was just how coaches were back then. The difference with  Rice at Rutgers--besides two fewer national championships than the two Knight had won when Brink was published in 1987 (he won his third that same year)--is what we as a society now are willing to accept as appropriate behavior, especially from adults placed in control of young people and in an educational environment.

I'm thinking of this as an extreme analogy to the demise of the Professor Kingsfield-type Socratic law professor. Mike Rice is something of a basketball version of Kingsfield in the classroom; both now are perceived as bullies, intimidators, inapproriate and ineffective teachers who should be avoided and discouraged, if not removed from the classroom altogether.

At the AALS hiring conference two years ago, multiple candidates described their teaching style as "Modified Socratic," which we all took as code for "I'm challenging without being mean." Like crazy coaches, intimidating professors are no longer a wanted part of the law school experience.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 9, 2013 at 09:31 AM in Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink


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