Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Pound on the Socratic Method

During a recent trip to the Harvard Law School Library, I had the opportunity, thanks to the thoughtfulness of Special Collections Librarian David Warrington, to read "The Harvard Law School Deanship of Roscoe Pound, 1916-1936" (1999), a thoroughly researched paper written by then third-year HLS student James F. Clark for a seminar directed by Daniel R. Coquillete. I was struck by one of Mr. Clark's quotations, a letter from Pound to John H. Rowell, dated April 11, 1934, in which the Harvard law dean defends the Socratic method. Without endorsing Pound's (gendered) pedagogy, I thought I'd reproduce the quote as a revealing window on what the Socratic teachers of the early twentieth century thought they were about.

Pound writes that "one who is to practise law absolutely must" be able to
stand up manfully to judges who are often tired and impatient, sometimes fussy and nervous, and, unhappily, sometimes tyrannical, and make one's points respectfully and firmly and assuredly in the face of a pretty severe fire of questions. Our classroom exercises, if the student takes them aright, are the best preparation in the world for this. Nerves and sensitiveness have no place in the forum. The sooner the law student stops thinking about himself and comes to think about the concrete questions of law presented to him the better.