A Pre-Memorial Message on Law School Teaching


Booker T. Washington was fond of conveying his philosophy of Negro self-sufficiency in a parable. A lost ship had sailed for weeks before finally sighting another vessel. Frantically, the lost ship’s crew signaled their need for water, for they were dying of thirst. The rescue boat signaled back: “Lower your buckets where you are.” The crew did so and found them filled with the fresh water of a vast river into which they had unknowingly sailed.

Whatever the wisdom of Washington’s advice to a people whose dire physical plight was the result, not of storms abroad, but an overwhelming racial hostility at home, the admonition: “Lower your buckets where you are” can be the salvation for those working to reform and revitalize legal education. Law students are the academic equivalent of the fresh water in Washington’s parable. To benefit from this resource in our midst, we mustreplace the hierarchical structures in lav school classrooms with innovative forms of teacher-student collaboration that enable students to share in theteaching enterprise and thereby make real the pedagogical principle thatstudents learn best by doing.

Students provide the key to the needed transition. Through their ex-tracurricular, academic activities (i.e., law journals, moot court competi-tions, legal aid, negotiation projects, and similar enterprises), law studentsdevote countless hours of hard work without credit, pay, faculty supervision, or much chance of individual recognition. Law graduates almost always count such activities as the most rewarding learning experiences oftheir law school careers. Clinical programs at NYU and other progressivelaw schools also offer students a level of supervised learning by providingopportunities unmatched in most traditional classroom courses. Paradoxically, voluntary student projects and clinical courses define the challengefor law school reform. It is to restructure traditional course work to includethose components that make extracurricular work and clinical training soappealing and educationally effective.

Suggested Reading

Culture provides a foundation for the way we experience the world.[1] Rooted in traits such as ethnicity, race, religion, and gender identity, culture influences people’s values, behaviors, and beliefs.[2] Scholars have described culture as something akin to “the air we