Friday, September 12, 2003

More Dr. Hair Shirt

I keep trying to classify this instructor. I usually end up with a headache. He is just so frustrating. There appears to be no concrete method of grading. I've talked with several former and current students and the consensus appears to be that if he knows your name by the end of the class, you'll probably pass with a good grade. I'm a relaxed person, but this is a little too relaxed for me. I can't help feeling that it would be too easy to grade a student according to bias, not objective performance.

There were supposed to be tests. They were to be 25-question quizzes on each chapter -- the syllabus even gives the specific scan-tron we're supposed to use and informs us of the types of questions we can expect. We haven't had a single test. Nothing. Nada. Not one.

We turn in two to four case briefs a week. We haven't gotten any of them back, so we don't know if we're writing them the way he wants them. If we're totally off base, we could get an F without having the chance to correct what is wrong. I suppose his defense would be that he tells us exactly what he wants. As my Interrogation instructor has noted, however, in quoting George Bernard Shaw: "The greatest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place." As I have learned during the course of my marriage (and again in my Interrogation class), what you are saying is not necessarily what the other person has heard. They aren't being obtuse and you aren't being difficult -- it's just that everyone is working with different definitions of the words being used. I've learned the hard way that it really is important to say, "This is what I've heard; this is what I think you're saying. Am I right?" This gives the person I'm talking to the chance to say yes or no -- it also lets them know that I *am* listening and that I'm trying to understand. This is also something that teachers and students do all of the time. My father used to say, "You tell the student what you are going to teach them; you tell the student what you are teaching them; you tell the student what you have just taught them. Tests are the feedback to see if they are learning. If they aren't, you probably need to adjust your teaching style." There is no meaningful feedback in this class and it's leaving me feel unanchored and anxious. Because I think he's full of B.S. and I suspect he knows what I think.

For instance, he got on a rant about the seperation of church and state as it relates to the Alabama 10 commandments case. He believes whole-heartedly that it's illegal for the federal system to tell the states what to do in this case. "If a state wants to declare itself Christian, the federal government cannot tell the state that it can't." (I might also add that I don't think he's of the Christian faith; I think his obsession is state's rights.) He may be right; he might be wrong; he could be both. The law can be a sticky thing to pin down and a phrase that meant one thing 100 years ago could have a completely different definition now. He's entitled to believe what he wants. Here's the caveat: he started comparing the Alabama state building (a government building for governmental purposes) with property owned privately by individuals or religious entities. He said (and I shall paraphrase here) that if the federal government could make the states take religious icons out of state buildings under the seperation of church and state clause, then the government could tear down or otherwise remove buildings or icons of any religion anywhere because it might offend someone. In other words, if a neighboring mosque, or a Catholic church, offends *your* view on religion; or even your view, period, under the federal guidelines you could have that offending building torn down.

Huh? None of the constitutions I've read says such a thing nor even comes close to implying it. That's tantamount to saying: Because the city of Hesperia won't let building occur in a ecologically sensitive area, I have a right to burn my neighbor's house down. It's a non-sequitur argument; it does NOT follow. And this is my law teacher?

If he makes a mistake in class regarding a case he will attempt to silence the student who questions him about it with intimidation or ridicule. His voice gets louder; he implies the student is ignorant or willfully wrong; he gets confrontational and argumentative. When it turns out the student is right he behaves as if nothing was ever said; it is as if the student had never attempted to clarify the matter in the first place. You would be right if you thought this had happened to me a few times. I don't know why he gets this way; I'm not trying to undermine his authority or show him up as an idiot. I don't think he's an idiot. I think he's insufferably arrogant, and it's my opinion that this arrogance gets in the way of his being a good teacher. Having humility means that you acknowledge that you don't know everything and that you are willing to learn. It means keeping an open mind. All arrogance does is put a padlock on the brain. Nothing gets in that doesn't meet a rigid set of filters, and nothing gets out that isn't distorted by those filters.

I do have an undecided issue with him. We are regularly given cases and told to "think outside of the box" and to "find every issue that can *possibly* be argued with these facts". We work like dogs on these; last session the class was divided up into several groups and we had a debate on case issues. After three hours of exhausting work (trying to think around corners is HARD) he told us that while all of our issues were good, they were 'obvious' issues and all 'C' work. It appears that unless we come up with a victim who is unspecified in the original set of facts, a victim complete with a slew of unexected legal issues against both the plaintiff/victim and the defendant, we are not doing 'A' work. I can't make up my mind on this one. It's aggravating to work so hard and then be told that this work is, at best, mediocre. I know that it could be my pride at fault here. I also can't help feeling, way back in the nether regions of my brain, that he's setting standards for us that he isn't fulling informing us about, not giving us the wherewithal to reach those standards, and then grading us as if he's actually taught us properly. It's very much like "...being involved in an obscure and complex version of poker in a pitch-dark room, with blank cards, for infinite stakes, with a Dealer who won't tell you the rules, and who *smiles all the time*." (Good Omens, p.4, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Read it. It's very, very, very good. The funniest account of Armageddon that I've ever read.)

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