Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Class Differences: Part 2, Replay

Keep you doped with religion and sex and TV.
And you think you're so clever and class less and free.
But you're still fucking peasants as far as I can see.
A working class hero is something to be.
Working Class Hero, John Lennon

In part one of this three part series, I discussed the different perspective of those who were economically disadvantaged people. I also noted that I am not confident that e.d.p.s (OK, no pun intended) share a view of how specific issues should be decided. Instead, I wrote about bringing a needed perspective to teaching and research. I should have included service as well, especially faculty governance. At the outset, however, consider the proposition that is opposite of the one I will discuss: The quality of legal education is increased by systematically excluding e.d.p.s from the profession. I doubt many would say they agree with that view. On the other hand, maybe actions speak louder than words.

With respect to governance, I have noted that when in the company of other professors with working class backgrounds, we seem to have a greater understanding of the fact that we are making decisions about spending the money of others. Colleagues with senses of entitlement, on the other hand, are less likely to have a vision of those who actually pay the bills. (Do they ever think of the convenience store worker or stock person at Wal-Mart when deciding that a summer program in France would be just the thing?) Recognition of concepts like “can we afford” something or “is this the best use of the money” seems to follow more readily when someone has been forced to deal with those same issues in his or her own life.

This sense of fiduciary obligation affects the way in which e.d.p.s approach teaching as well. A sense of entitlement seems to go hand in hand with canceling classes at the drop of a hat, taking off a couple of weeks in the middle of the semester for a foreign conference, teaching a self-indulgent course with a tiny enrollment, and feeling annoyed if students ask too many questions. It comes down to a view, shared by the children of privilege, that law schools exist for the faculty as opposed to the reality that faculty are but an input. Think how everything changes when faculty realize that they are not there to be served but to serve – and their jobs depend on serving. For those who have had a lifetime of being served, this an alien perspective.

When it comes to the substance of teaching and research, it is not that e.d.p.s are better, only different, and that teaching and scholarship are enriched by different perspectives. For example, a contracts teacher who has experienced being on the losing end of an exploitative contract is better able to understand the illusion of Pareto superiority and discuss, in real terms, the failings of contract law (as it has been shaped to serve those of privileged classes). My hunch is that this same perspective carries over to any course in which there is an interactive element.

Finally, on scholarship. Where do the ideas for articles come from? What fuels the analysis? That spontaneous flash that leads to questions or that leads to analysis and research is akin to “taste” – here a taste for which questions one will devote his or her life to. Taste is hardly the result of eight or more years in college. Different life experiences result in different tastes. Look at most faculties. Which people are writing about race? About woman and families? About environmental questions? There is a self-referential and oft times a self-interested element to how tastes are formed. In each case, there is a story that connects the person’s life with the direction his or her research has taken. Now compare a faculty that has screens out an entire segment of life experiences and compare its diversity and quality with one that purposefully includes all qualified people, whether or not they increase social comfort. My case is simple: when it comes to the analysis of law and the teaching of future attorneys, the second faculty is superior.


Anonymous said...

After reading this post it made me curious about something. What specific class background do you think most law school faculty come from? I started to wonder because I consider myself to be from an upper middle class background but I do think I have a sense of perspective about money.

I was supported 100% through my undergraduate education by a parent with a professional degree. I also lived in better accommodations than many of my peers. I then borrowed about 20% of the money I needed during my years in law school. Even though I have been somewhat privileged I know what it is like to not be able to afford things. I also know what it is like to budget.

It made me wonder if most law school faculty are from the upper class/trust fund type backgrounds or more of an upper middle class background. It seems that having parents with professional degrees wouldn't allow most people to have a total disregard for money.

What is your opinion?

Jeffrey Harrison said...

I can only guess. I am more or less assuming upper middle or higher although I think there are many who are just middle class. I almost never run across someone who was working class or poor.

Recently I attempted to correlate scholarly productivity with the level of law school attended. I hit a snag because once you get to the top 40 schools or so it hard to find someone who did not attend an Ivy League or highly ranked schools. The pathway to those schools is usually not by way of a working class upbringing.

It would be interesting to know.

Anonymous said...

It would also be interesting to know the exact relationship between SES and law school attended. I am sure there is a relationship. However, the relationship would likely be lessened if loans were widely available to cover tuition and living expenses since law school admissions offices mainly focus on undergraduate GPA and LSAT (with the rare exception of the legacy admits).