A Blog Covering D.C. Education [ABCDE]

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jun 13 2011

Life at the Intersection of Law and Education

I know I want to stay “in education” for as far out in my future as I can reliably commit to. To this end, I’ve chosen to go to law school this fall. Of course, curious people continue to ask, “If you’re interested in education, why are you going to law school?”

Though I may have some trouble fully articulating the many reasons someone dedicated to education would choose to go to law school, Martha Minow–Dean of Harvard Law School and someone who lives at the intersection of law and education–couldn’t have made a better case for doing so in a recent Harvard EdCast episode entitled “Lawyer and Teacher (hosted by Matt Weber of the Harvard Graduate School of Education).

Here are four quotes from Dean Minow, accompanied by text-to-self connections (reading strategies, FTW!) that confirm my decision to go to law school.

(I offered a brief reaction to Dean Minow’s recent book, In Brown’s Wake, here.)

One of the first questions Dean Minow responds to is about the “strongest trends in the  interaction between law and education”:

Besides the areas of civil rights and desegregation, [there are] very important connections and collaborations around finance, around bilingual education, around issues having to do with teachers and their status and their rights. So there are many, many fields [connect law and education]. For better or for worse, education in this country is a sector that is highly regulated. And its relationship to the federalist structure–so state/local control with federal aid–is one very important tie to law, but also the highly regulated nature of classrooms and schools.

Connection #1: Law is connected to most, if not all, of the major issues in education today. Given this pervasive influence (I think of NCLB, IDEA, state laws on education, union contracts), I’m convinced that developing a thorough understanding of the law–both its theories and its practical realities–will help me continue work in the field of education.

Later on, Dean Minow, drawing from her experience as a professor, since 1981, at both the law and education schools, contrasts the students from each:

I like having students from both schools in the same class because I think they bring wonderfully different perspectives and approaches. You know, legal education is very much focused on analytic skills, with less of a focus on particular substantive commitments or purposes in life. And many people who go to school of education actually have substantive purposes that they are trying to achieve. And so that’s why, often, it’s good to bring them together.”

Connection #2: I definitely feel as though I’ve found my purpose. These past two years have been transformative in so many ways. But I think I could develop some additional skill-sets–one that a legal education will provide (I’m thinking analysis, problem solving, negotiation, advocacy, and communication skills here). Hopefully, I’ll come out of law school with both purpose and skills.

When describing what the education sector can learn from the law sector, Dean Minow claims that people trained in the law can contribute a “practical problem solving approach”:

Often, the external perspective about lawyers is that lawyers are adversarial and extreme. In fact, mostly what legal training equips people to do is to think very practically about [the questions], “What are the different ways we can solve this problem?” “How can we design the institution differently?” “How can we come up with an intermediate solution?” That’s something that I think can be very helpful in the education sector.

Connection #3: Here, Dean Minow breaks one major misconception about lawyers: it’s not all about courtroom drama and battles. Ultimately, lawyers spot issues in, and find solutions, to complex problems. Education has many quandaries. A legal education will better equip me to solve them.

As a bonus, here’s a quote on the similarities between law students and kindergartners:

[My mother-in-law] used to say that you need to tell a kindergarten something about a hundred times for that student to remember. And then she’d say, after pausing, law students are not that different. And I think there’s really a very good point there.

Connection #4: I’m glad that, even as I grow older, it is still acceptable for me to need something to be repeated a hundred times. Contrary to the lyrics to this song, repetition does not kill you.

So, for all of you CMs out there who are at a crossroads and are trying to figure out what to do next, or for those who are already thinking ahead to the end of your commitment (hint: it comes fast), here was some justification, no less from one of the brightest education advocates around, for a legal education as part of a career in education reform.

(You can listen to the full podcast here.)

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    Really, "A Blog Covering Dilemmas in Education": A (former) English teacher's reflections…

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