Beginning of the End – Thought #1 – Democratizing the BUSL Curriculum

Five weeks left of instruction.  After that, it’s exams, commencement, the bar, and then life.  And, probably, finding a new law blog to settle down and write sporadically.

I’ve started to take stock of a lot of things, but one tangent I want to go on today is one thing I’ve really missed at BU Law – students getting directly involved in the educational process.  Now, this isn’t to say students aren’t involved – students serve on a number of academic committees and influence certain limited aspects of the curriculum.  And the curriculum isn’t necessarily rigid – particularly in seminars and independent study programs.  But there is something that I always felt was missing.  There’s a teaching methodology called “Watch One, Do One, Teach One”.  The title is self-explanatory.  In the traditional law school environment, there’s a lot of watching and listening.  If you join a clinic or a journal, there can be some doing.  But there is never really any opportunity to teach or spread knowledge if you so choose.

As an undergraduate at the University of California, I became attached to one program on which the school always prided itself – the Democratic Education at Cal program – DECAL.  Since 1965, the program has allowed groups of students – with faculty sponsorship – to teach courses for credit.   The program has since spread to different universities across the country.  This year, at Berkeley, there are over 7000 students in nearly 200 classes ranging from Knitting 101 to Hip Hop History and Activism.  The program allows for active engagement by students to learn enough to teach, and for students in those classes to challenge themselves and learn from different perspectives.

And, it’s not as if students at BU Law haven’t ever pushed for new and different classes.  During my 1L year, a number of students went through a petition process to get an Animal Law class offered.  It was a long, involved process, and by the time the course was finally offered, I don’t remember how much enthusiasm still remained.  But what if the students who initially brought the idea forward were required to learn enough about the subject to teach it to their peers with a professor’s supervision?  How much could we increase engagement in the material by combining fresh momentum in the syllabus with student-to-student interaction?

On a side note, this would be a great way to keep the curriculum at the law school fresh.  By having the law students react to trends in society and the economy, there would be an opportunity to have more courses on energy law, environmental law, social activism law, national security law, and any number of pertinent modern topics.

Ultimately, it’s a pipe dream, and not one where I will have an opportunity to work towards or see any progress.  But it’s a concept that could really bring a whole new dimension to the future of legal education at BUSL.