Legal Educator to Encourage Student-Led Learning in Legal Doctrine

Our system of examinations is also designed to encourage student-led learning. The second task of the legal educator must be to encourage the student, not only to be versed in legal doctrine, but to be its constant critic. A law school must operate as a part of the broader University and with a view to its proper role in the legal system.

Legal Educator Student-Led Learning

Legal Educator Student-Led Learning

Legal Educator to Encourage Student-Led Learning in Legal Doctrine

Our system of examinations is also designed to encourage student-led learning. A student is never knowingly examined by the person who has taught her a particular subject and so there can be no strategic advantage to her in reproducing the ideas of her tutor. She may find that the person who marks her paper, an anonymous person from somewhere else in the University, holds quite the opposite view of a particular legal subject to that held by her tutor and so she must decide which of the available views she wants to hold and to defend for herself.

Of course, I am aware that at Oxford we are very privileged in that our student numbers are comparatively low and we are able operate this system of instruction and examination. Small group teaching, in particular, is a luxury that not all can afford. But whatever the method of teaching and of examining an institution can afford, this first task of the legal educator remains the same. The task is not an easy one. students everywhere would rather be told the ‘right answer’ than to work at developing their own understanding. Similarly, law schools are under pressure everywhere to teach an ever expanding range of subjects. We are now expected to acquaint students with more subjects than might once have ever been thought appropriate as a part of a university curriculum. Some universities compete to demonstrate how many courses they offer and students are keen to show potential employers that they understand the latest thinking in many very specialised subjects. Last year we reviewed our curriculum and decided to maintain our commitment to teaching only the more foundational legal materials, giving our students the space in which to grapple with, and to reflect upon, them. The first task of a legal educator is to equip the young to get on with the business of teaching themselves.

The second task of the legal educator must be to encourage the student, not only to be versed in legal doctrine, but to be its constant critic. A law school must operate as a part of the broader University and with a view to its proper role in the legal system as a whole. Students should be taught to ask why the law might have taken a particular course and whether it could have taken a better one. They ought to ask whether the law is coherent and just. It is the task of the legal educator to encourage the student in her critical assessment of the current legal regime.

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