|William Osler at Grand Rounds|
Modern professional education was developed in the late nineteenth century in bursts of creativity by talented but flawed teachers. The insights they came to and the decisions they made continue to determine what both students and teachers experience today in professional schools. This article explains how that happened and why, focusing on medicine, law, and architecture.
Medical education in its current form was created primarily by William Osler at the Johns Hopkins medical school, who led the development of bedside learning in a teaching hospital around which the medical school curriculum is centered. The enduring image of medical education is that of a medical student in a white coat working with patients in a hospital ward.
Legal education as we know it was created primarily by Christopher Columbus Langdell at Harvard, who invented the casebook, the classroom based on Socratic questioning, and the essay exam and is associated with the development of the student-edited law review. He negotiated the Langdellian bargain, through which the financial resources of a law school are supported by the economies of scale in the large law school classroom, providing the enduring image of a teacher professing to and occasionally interrogating an audience of a hundred or more students. The required portion of the law school curriculum today has changed little since 1870, even though law, law practice, and the world in which law operates have been transformed during the intervening 140 years. Law school today is largely as Langdell left it.
Architectural education is descended from the Parisian atelier, a design studio where students learned from a master architect and from what one scholar calls the “emotional power of the design studio experience.” The enduring image of architectural education is that of a student learning to create alone at a designing board with occasional comments from a teacher who might also sketch silently with the student.
The article explains how education in these three professions differ because of varying value systems. It also describes the special conditions needed for paradigm-shifting breakthroughs like the invention of the casebook and the teaching hospital.