Questioning the use of the Socratic method in law school Reply

Though I don’t teach in a law school (nor have I attended one), I read with great interest the recent Room for Debate feature in The New York Times on the Socratic  method as used in law schools. None of the participants–Guy Uriel Charles, Robin West, Robert Dinerstein, David Wilkins, and Amanda Pustilnik–favors abandoning the method entirely, but rather questions the excessive exclusive reliance on it and the narrow wrange of topics to which it is applied.

Pustilnik’s contribution was my favorite, focusing on the core idea of deep questioning at the heart of the Socratic method, which is also relevant to Charles’ point about the various uses of the term itself. Pustilnik’s point can also address West’s concerns about the Socratic method leading law students to investigate the internal logic of the law without engaging in external critique; used right, it can certainly do both.

This also brings us to Dinerstein’s and Wilkins’ points, that it is not the method itself, but how law professors use it, that determine its value. If it is augmented with other methods and brought to bear on all aspects of legal education–or, I would argue, education in general–the Socratic method (in its most basic and ideal form) is timeless, not only leading students to an answer, but also highlighting how to find it.

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