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The joys of the Socratic method

Posted by T. Greg Doucette on Sep 16, 2009 in Fail

Envision for a minute that you’re watching television.

A Pay-Per-View channel specifically.

And not just any Pay-Per-View channel, but one with shows that are kind of a blend between a UFC match and the movie Gladiator.

Where the bad guy is a robot, wielding a 500ish-page Torts textbook in one hand and a 500ish-page Contracts textbook in the other, trying to bludgeon its opponent to death, and the only way to stop it is to utter the right combination of cryptic phrases like “shopkeeper’s privilege” and “sua sponte” and “offer / acceptance / consideration / mutual assent”.

And the hero dies in the end.

That’s a rough approximation of how I envisioned the Socratic method of teaching law.  Fortunately it hasn’t turned out nearly that bad — no one’s died so far as I know :) — but as I mentioned yesterday I’m a little worried I’ve become a marked man.

It all started this past Monday in Torts.  Remember a couple Fridays ago when I volunteered to go over Pearson v. Dodd, flubbed my response, and Professor Torts noted with a Cheshire Cat smile that she’d be “coming back to [me] very soon”?  Yeah, that was Monday.

We’re going over defenses to intentional torts, and the case being reviewed was Bonkowski v. Arlan’s Department Store (12 Mich. App. 88). Unlike my last crash-and-burn experience, though, this time I just knew I had outmaneuvered Professor Torts! Figuring she’d call me at some point in the week, I not only (i) had hand-written case notes but (ii) instantly pulled up my typed case brief on my laptop and (iii) flipped to the well-highlighted pages in my textbook.  I was going to nail these questions.

I went over the case summary without a hitch.  Answered the first couple questions without a hitch.  Then got asked why the Court brought in the Montgomery Ward case for comparison (Montgomery Ward & Co v. Freeman, 199 F2d 720), and… splat.

There were/are essentially 3 “take-home points” from Bonkowski as far as defense goes:  validating the shopkeeper’s privilege, a distinction regarding the length of time a customer is detained, and a distinction regarding where the customer is located at the time the shopkeeper attempts to detain them.  I had all 3 points written down with corresponding notes, but never put in my notes the source documents the Court was comparing against with each (the Restatement (Second) of Torts, the Montgomery Ward case, and the R2T again, respectively).

So after making it through shopkeeper’s privilege and getting the M. Ward question, I realized the shortcoming in my notes, mentally freaked, couldn’t find the right passage in the textbook quickly enough, figured I had a 50-50 shot at guessing 1 of the 2 remaining points I wrote down, and picked the distinction re location (aka the wrong answer).  The Professor gives me the raised eyebrow that says “You’re totally wrong and trying to BS me.” I notice, then promptly correct myself by referencing the timeframe of detainment.  The Professor confirms but notes that “Whenever the Court is bringing in another case, you need to make sure you understand why the Court is bringing in the case” (“Yes ma’am.”).  Now I’m thinking I’m in the clear… when she asks what other take-home points, if any, I found.

In my mind I’m thinking I already brought up the location issue so that covered the 3 issues and there shouldn’t be anything else. But since the location issue was the wrong answer at the time I brought it up, I found out after class that the Professor was expecting me to repeat it at the appropriate time… and instead I had said I didn’t have any other points.  Which prompted a less-than-happy string of commentary to the class that we’re clearly not reading the material and if we don’t stop playing around with her and the course we’d regret it by midterms.

Professor Torts:  2.  TDot:  0.

And like the last time someone flubbed a response that indicated they hadn’t read, who was the first person to get called on the next day in Contracts?  Yours truly.

Not only was I the first person called, but I felt like I hadn’t even been attending the class because the questions asked didn’t line up at all with the notes I had written down.  By the time my 5 minutes worth of fumbling for answers was finished, it was pretty well-cemented in my mind that I need to do a better job picking the salient points to jot down in my notes…

Anyhow, hopefully I’ll at least have a reprieve for the next few classes :)  I’ve been spared recent humiliation both in Property and in CivPro — though in the search logs for law:/dev/null I noticed 2 separate visitors who came here yesterday after searches for Mean Dean Green, so I might be on the hit list now for that class too (Prof Green, if you happen to read this: the entire Gang of Eight, myself included, thinks you’re a phenomenal teacher.  And I had nothing at all to do with the nickname.  Don’t kill me plz.)

Hope all of you are having a great week so far!  Have a good night everybody!! :D

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