Diversity in Academe – lessons for law teaching and practice?

The legal profession and the law schools that feed it have traditionally been something of a male preserve, but that is changing. Before anyone panics or heckles, I am not about to quote statistics or any research to back up that very broad and no doubt porous opening sentence. In fact I would rather not engage in a debate about that at all, other resources can be found to consider any trend that may be emerging. Rather than writing a feminist piece, I am going to write a short piece about the different learning approaches of male and female students. I profess no expertise in this matter, but an article from across the pond caught my eye. The Chronicle of Higher Education, which describes itself asthe No. 1 source of news, information, and jobs for college and university faculty members and administrators“, recently carried an article by Libby Sander that explored research which in turn provided “fascinating—if often maddening—hints at how differently male and female students experience college.” I commend the article, entitled “Colleges Confront a Gender Gap in Student Engagement, to you.

Have you read the article now? Well, even if you have not or, or if you have only skimmed it, I ask you this:

Should different teaching approaches be adopted based on the gender of the student?

Now that you have formed your initial thoughts, and if you have not please do, I will offer a few thoughts.

1) I have never (consciously) adopted a different teaching style based on the gender of the student, and I suspect there might even be a vague risk of raising a perception of discrimination or lecherous behaviour if I did. (Keeping bad jokes about lecherous lecturers away from formal staff disciplinary hearings is a heretofore unexpressed but now expressed goal of mine.)

2) Learning styles, which are perhaps most associated with Honey and Mumford, in general are controversial, even before you add in a gender twist. That might render this a complete non-starter.

3) Have I fallen into a gender stereotype? Apparently “Women work harder to meet expectations, spending more time on drafts of papers, say, before turning them in.” I rattled off this blog post rather quickly. I recall a (male) student colleague of mine telling me he could never be bothered proof reading as he found it rather boring: I offer no comment on this now that I regularly mark student submissions. Would this post have been better/worse/no different, or would it exist at all, if I had felt the need to smooth the rough edges?

4) The article concludes “colleges need men to show up”. I heartily agree, with reference to a letter of advice that Michael Crichton apparently sent to students, which applies to both genders (image credit to @LettersOfNote).

Now that you have the benefit of my views, or rather now that you have been tainted by my views, what do you think? Have your views changed? Do let me know what you think.

Update 6/11/12: @urbaneprofessor provided some characteristically insightful comments on my blog via Twitter, to the effect that using gender as a category of analysis in pedagogy might reinforce patriarchal gender constructions and roles rather than empower everyone to be themselves. That is rather deep and/or theoretical, but it is also a very important comment. In my defence my post was suitably succinct, hence I did not acknowledge that in the first instance. I hope this is now rectified.

About basedrones

Bachelor of Laws. Scots lawyer working at the University of Aberdeen. English law qualified. Took far too long to write this bio. Blogs on legal issues, with occasional veering into other purportedly intellectual stuff from time to time. Tweets about legal issues, education, law clinics, fitba, music, rogue cell division and not at all about politics at @MalcolmCombe.
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