In yesterday’s Sunday Review, Andrew Hacker, a professor at CUNY, asks if algebra is necessary.
He argues that a brand of math that sets students up for failure does more harm, in the form of needlessly lowered academic esteem, than good–untested, unfounded notions that algebraic thinking is an essential life skill. People who go on to use algebra in the workplace are typically offered on the job training, and they number few. People who cannot pass standardized tests required for high school graduation because of algebra, on the other hand, number high.
My thoughts turned to another high attrition learning experience: the first year of law school.
Without invoking the print research vs. online research debate: are we teaching skills that are no longer needed, that actually increase the anxiety of our students? There are legal research skills that require a bit of extra vigor, and there are legal research skills that are downright unpleasant, but are there any that we’re pushing (because we had to learn how) to the detriment of an efficient, complete, modern course of legal research?
Hacker proposes replacing algebra with statistics and consumer economics to produce better citizens. I propose replacing decennial digest research with FDsys, THOMAS, state legislatures, state and federal corporate filings, state and federal court research for the same reason. Much like the argument for ensuring that 1Ls are proficient in both Lexis and Westlaw (you cannot predict which one a future employer will subscribe to), the argument for teaching print resources is that you cannot predict whether a future employer will subscribe to either, or that a law student will be employed post-graduation. In that spirit, let’s include more free online resources to support future legal practice on a shoestring, setting out your own shingle wherever you have an Internet connection, pro bono work, and community legal service in communities that really need it (and who may not have a decennial digest laying around). There is value in print legal research, but lawyer saturation in markets where print resources are available will likely push people in a more rural direction. Including free law in basic 1L legal research is one way of preparing students for that eventuality.