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January 01, 2013


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Sad and ironic, given all the talk on this blog about the need to increase law schools' accountability to their students, that you would decide to teach a useless political "module" in your property class. Students at your school have difficulty getting legal jobs; they need as much real training as possible, not "modules" on emancipation proclamations in their core first-year curriculum. If you want to teach emancipation, get yourself a seminar and do it there, to students who want to spend their time this way. It's frustrating that the faculty continues to look for excuses to use teaching for self-entertainment and as a pulpit for their pet causes. I assure you, most of your property students don't want -- and don't need -- a "module" on emancipation in a core mandatory class. Apply accountability to yourself first.

Alfred Brophy

Taja-Nia, I really enjoyed your posts and look forward to reading more of work in the near future. Hope you come back soon!

Anon--maybe there's something to law students learning a little bit about central parts of our nation's constitutional history as it relates to property.


Alfred: maybe there is something to it -- in a seminar! Recall that all your students have undergraduate degrees, mostly in humanities and social sciences, so, they don't need -- and don't want -- to receive another round of general-purpose liberal-arts education in law school. They already had a chance to get such education in college. Your job is to train them to practice law -- and in the current market, it means teaching the nitty-gritty details of actual practice, not pontificating about constitutional history in a first-year property class. This should be the rule at least for mandatory first-year courses where students have no say over the choice of instructors!

James Grimmelmann

You know who else had trouble getting jobs? The slaves.

Slavery was the single largest injustice perpetrated in this country through law, and its end was also implemented through law. Any lawyer who does any anti-discrimination law -- so that includes all employment lawyers and all landlord-tenant lawyers -- needs to know this history. Yes, this is something that students should learn about in high school or in college, but many of them don't. (I have taught entire classes who had trouble explaining why the United States fought for their independence.)

I don't teach the Proclamation, but I do teach the 13th Amendment in my Property class. I use it as a lead-in to property issues involving people, including rights of publicity, body parts, and moral rights. I like to think that law students ought to learn what can and can't be property, but perhaps you disagree.


James: as I said, your students all went to college and had ample opportunity to learn all about the greatest injustices of the world there. If they didn't learn it in college to your satisfaction, that was their *choice*, and you should show some respect and tolerance for other people's intellectual choices and back off. Today, your students want to learn a practical skill, for which they are shelling out a lot of borrowed money. Keep your heat, rhetoric, and moralistic badgering to yourself, or at least save it for a seminar. The students who want to be lectured on general-purpose liberal-arts topics at the sticker price of a law school will have a chance to do so in a seminar.

Alfred Brophy

Anon--this isn't "another round of general-purpose liberal-arts education." It's about property law regarding the largest transfer of wealth in our nation's history.

As for moralistic badgering: what are you talking about? A lecture on the 13th amendment's implications for property is moralistic badgering? Is a segment on the Fair Housing Act is moralistic badgering? The implied warranty of habitability? The property owner's right to exclude others? A home owner's association's right to enforce restrictive covenants against homeowners? The rights of mortgagors? Or mortgagees? A segment on takings?

James Grimmelmann

Don't worry, anon: I save the moralistic badgering for the blogs. In class, I focus on teaching the doctrines, concepts, and skills that law students need to master to become effective lawyers. If that means covering something they "should" have learned earlier, so be it: I'm not going to leave those law students behind. If someone walks into my Property class not knowing that railroads used to be a major thing in this country, I'll make sure to hit on that fact in class, if briefly, so they have some context for knowing why a parcel that doesn't look like it's anywhere near train tracks might still be encumbered.

The same goes for the origins of modern civil rights laws, which of course come up all the time in legal practice. Or for for the use of lead sentences in paragraphs. I'm not about to say, "Sorry, you had your chance to learn how to write a well-structured paragraph in high school; not my job to correct it if I see you're doing it wrong."

I'm trying to do what I think it is you want me to do; we just, it appears, disagree on the means.

Jon Weinberg

I teach the Emancipation Proclamation in Constitutional Law (straightforward for those of us who use the Brest book).

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