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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

What to cover and when

There is a connectedness among the pieces of the law-school curriculum, one that may have increased as we have expanded course offerings, eliminated required courses, decreased hours (at least in 1L), and varied the types of offerings. Sometimes this is personal--I used Fed Courts to cover stuff (such as the Grable line) I cannot get to in Civ Pro and Civil Rights to cover stuff (all of § 1983 and Bivens) I cannot get to in Fed Courts. Other times it is broader, as some courses rely on other courses for foundation and connection--we want students to know crim law and procedure before we send them to work in a prosecutor or PD office.

And sometimes this touches not only on what we teach in doctrinal classes, but the order in which we teach it. There is a never-ending debate in the Civ Pro world about whether to start with pleading and the FRCP or jurisdiction (and then whether subject matter or personal). I am in the former camp, initially because the person I learned Civ Pro from is in that camp and now because I believe it is the best approach, although I see the merits to the alternative. My FIU colleague who teaches the other section of Civ Pro begins with Pennoyer. In Evidence, I begin with Relevancy and do not reach Hearsay until the final month of the semester, again because that is how I learned the material. My FIU colleague who teach the course reaches Hearsay much earlier in the semester.

I was speaking with my colleague who runs our outstanding Academic Excellence Program, working with marginal spring 1L and fall 2L students (this program is a big reason for our Bar-pass success). He links his support class to particular doctrinal classes--Civ Pro for spring 1L and Evidence for fall 2L; the special extra assignments and close support he provides are for writing assignments linked to those classes. And this difference in order of coverage is causing him some headaches. If he assigns a question on Hearsay or P/J or discovery early in the semester, only half the class will know the material from the doctrinal course.

I am not sure how to resolve that problem. I have considered reasons for teaching in the order I do, as do my colleagues, and I doubt either of use will convince the other. Order, it seems to me, affects how I teach the material and changing the order changes how I teach. I can teach Hearsay a certain way because, by the time we get there, my students have a basic understanding of relevancy; I can teach Personal Jurisdiction a certain way because, by the time we get there, my students have a basic understanding of what a civil action and what it looks like. Again, my colleagues would say the same in reverse.

But our choices, however well-founded, have downstream effects.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on April 25, 2018 at 09:25 AM in Howard Wasserman, Teaching Law | Permalink

Comments

Your "outstanding Academic Excellence Program" again led FIU to the top pass rate on the February bar. Congratulations! This demonstrates that, if you adopt proven educational techniques, law schools can grow better lawyers.

Posted by: Scott Fruehwald | Apr 25, 2018 11:21:38 AM

Wow. That escalated quickly!

Just a question, Howard. Didn't mean to strike a nerve.

Posted by: Marcus Neff | Apr 25, 2018 10:50:30 AM

To piss you off, apparently.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Apr 25, 2018 10:43:17 AM

Why do you keep capitalizing the word hearsay?

Posted by: Marcus Neff | Apr 25, 2018 10:42:25 AM

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