Cluck, Cluck: Law Professor Challenges Students’ Feelings
Published : November 28, 2017
After seeing a regression of intelligent responses for the past seven years, Adam J. MacLeod, associate professor of law at the Thomas Goode Jones School of Law, decided to inform his students of a few ground rules in his Foundations of Law class. Two weeks into the fall semester, MacLeod read a speech to his students about his observations with millennial students. He stated that his students want to learn, but that they simply have not been educated in logical reasoning, critical thinking, or basic American history. The Foundations of Law course was created specifically as a remedial course for first-year law students.
“Our foundations course is pretty unusual in law school these days,” MacLeod said in an interview with Healthy Republic. “It’s the sort of stuff that used to be taught at the undergraduate or even high school level, knowledge that students a couple generations would go to law school with already in their pocket—classic texts.”
Opening the speech and essay, MacLeod said this:
Before I can teach you how to reason, I must first teach you how to rid yourself of unreason. For many of you have not yet been educated. You have been dis-educated. To put it bluntly, you have been indoctrinated. Before you learn how to think you must first learn how to stop unthinking.
MacLeod found himself frustrated during the first two weeks of the semester, at the students’ lack of reasoning for the comments they made about classical texts, including the Code of Hammurabi.
“Students have increasingly been resistant to the wisdom contained particularly in the older writings,” MacLeod said, referencing Aristotle, Sophocles, and the Bible. “… Very, very dismissive of these things.”
To help students learn and succeed as they progress through law school, MacLeod laid out three ground rules for the remainder of the semester.
1. The only “ism” I ever want to come out your mouth is a syllogism. If I catch you using an “ism” or its analogous “ist” — racist, classist, etc. — then you will not be permitted to continue speaking until you have first identified which “ism” you are guilty of at that very moment. You are not allowed to fault others for being biased or privileged until you have first identified and examined your own biases and privileges.
2. If I catch you this semester using the words “fair,” “diversity,” or “equality,” or a variation on those terms, and you do not stop immediately to explain what you mean, you will lose your privilege to express any further opinions in class until you first demonstrate that you understand three things about the view that you are criticizing.
3. If you ever begin a statement with the words “I feel,” before continuing you must cluck like a chicken or make some other suitable animal sound.
MacLeod’s final rule has garnered national attention.
“I thought I was being very accommodating and diverse; I told them they can either cluck like a chicken or choose some other barnyard animal,” MacLeod said. “… The basic point that I’m trying to make there is which my students encounter in Aristotle in the first week of class, and that is that what it means to be a human being, as opposed to some other kind of being, is to be both an animal and a rational animal.”
MacLeod wanted his students to understand from Aristotle’s perspective that humans have a nature that is embodied and that we have feelings, but that human excellence, virtue, and the study of law inherently includes reason. People who have disagreed with Aristotle on this point are also studied in the course.
“I want my students to understand the argument that to be human means to reason,” MacLeod said. “There’s no reason feelings by themselves should command our respect or attention.”
Having carried out the ground rules for the entirety of the semester, and having received just two clucks, MacLeod said he will likely continue to structure the course in the same manner. He said this semester has been educational for him.
“This semester was to exercise some authority and lay down the law. Lo and behold, it worked,” MacLeod said. “We’ve had the best semester I’ve had in years in this course. The students by the end, their first instinct was always to reach for some reasoned argument, always to appeal to some great thinker that we had read during the course of the semester or some landmark judicial decision or proclamation.”
To read Professor MacLeod’s entire speech, CLUCK HERE. (See what I did there?)