The Second-to-Last Day of Class: Witnessing Students Achieve Mastery

“The Student Has Become The Master.” (Note: this is the second appearance of the awe-inspiring Bruce Lee on this blog.)

We met on Monday to “workshop” my students’ final papers prior to them submitting their papers the following day.  As usual, I had prepared a number of exercises for them to go through that would prompt a new perspective on their writing, and thus more effective self-critique and editing.

One of these exercises inspired wide eyes when I announced it.  My students had been struggling—in a winning battle—with the complexity of equal protection doctrine and, in particular, the concept of unconstitutional animus.  In this final paper, they were required to reduce multiple statements from several cases down to a single, workable rule for identifying animus as the motivation behind particular state action.

Nearly all of the students were still in the thick of trying to determine what principle to apply in reconciling the various notions of animus, and were overwhelmed with the complexity of this task.  Against this backdrop, I asked them to draft a single IRAC syllogism that reflected the thesis of their paper.  (They rightly recognized that any such summary would omit detail necessary to the complete analysis, but that it was nonetheless possible to articulate a statement that encompassed and ultimately lead to an exploration of that detail.)

I gave them a few minutes to jot down their ideas, and then I went around the room and had them present their statement out loud.  And to a student, they had formulated a viable, nuanced rule statement for identifying animus and applied that rule to the specific facts of our case, focusing on the facts that were most relevant in light of their rule formulation.

And best of all, they did so with confidence.

This represented so much progress from the beginning of the year, when their contributions in class were more tentative, and their relationship to legal analysis was fraught with uncertainty.  In short, they demonstrated mastery, and it was an amazing thing to see.

Every semester I learn so much from my students, and it all goes towards making me a better teacher.  Thank you all.

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