Have you heard of Streetlaw?
If not, what springs to mind? When I first heard the term my thoughts veered from: (a) being streetwise about the law; (b) the law that governs you when you are on the street (and believe me there are a few); to (c) an altogether more flippant analogy with the old computer game Streets of Rage, a side-scrolling beat ’em up par excellence. That flippant analogy segues nicely into option (d), that the term might conjure images of vigilante justice, dished out by the likes of Axel and Blaze in Sega’s dystopian world, but it is decidedly not that either. That point is made eloquently in this handy blog by ProBonoUK.Net Ltd, which also explains succinctly what the term is and links to handy resources such as the original Street Law Inc. webpage.
I commend those resources to you and I will not re-hash what they say here, but I will tell you what the inspirational Professor David McQuoid-Mason (of the University of KwaZulu-Natal) offered as his two meanings of the term Streetlaw at an event at Strathclyde University on 21 November 2012, which I attended with two Aberdeen students under the auspices of the Scottish University Law Clinic Network.
One meaning for Streetlaw would be unlocking law in a manner that is useful to the man on the Clapham omnibus or (to remove the “in” law joke) the man on the street. Another is bringing law down from whatever rarefied stratosphere it might be at to the level of the street. (The two may be connected, strict separation did not seem to be what McQuoid-Mason was getting at.) How might you do this?
A number of activities were put forward in a very interesting interactive lesson. From a pedagogical point of view I was interested in how this engaged with the learning pyramid (variously conceptualised here and here), by encouraging students to take part in teaching as part of their own learning process. Different routes to introduce people to the law were in turn introduced, such as a query of, “What did you do this morning?” leading on to the inevitable successor question, “How did the law affect that activity?” Remember what I said about law affecting you when you are on the street? Why bother wearing clothes, for example?
Next, we played some games. “How delightful!”, the reader may cry. A law game! Well, try playing a game when you are simply told “go and play the [insert inanimate object] game.” Then try and play the game as rules gradually get introduced, then changed, until you eventually rail against the moving goalposts and lack of adequate regulation. Who says law needs to be tricky or somehow undesirable? A ready route into the law was thus provided, before students were asked to design their own courses and even deliver a mock lesson. The perfect way to move from one part of the learning pyramid to another, it would seem, to the benefit of the law students as teachers and (if the lesson was planned properly) for any Streetlaw “students”. I was actually rather invigorated by the session and I just hope to be able to somehow pass the baton on.
As part of that baton pass, I am hoping to introduce some kind of clinical legal studies course to the curriculum at the University of Aberdeen. Student participation in some form of Streetlaw might just form part of that. Heck, I can even get the students to design the course as they go. Lazy? Well, no. This idea is not as ridiculous as it sounds. My own institution’s recent curriculum reform process contains a recommendation that, “A student at levels three and four (and five) should normally have a supported opportunity to design at least one of their own courses, and its design could be part of its assessment.” I might also note that I was torn between attending the Streetlaw event at Strathclyde and attending a presentation at Aberdeen with my fellow emerging pedagogues from across the university community. One of the deliverables for the second part of my course in learning and teaching in higher education (hopefully taking me from associate fellow to fellow of the HEAcademy – see my previous teaching blogs here and here) is a project on clinical legal education, so whilst attending the session in Strathclyde might have prevented me from engaging in some mutual back-slapping with colleagues, it certainly gave me plenty to think about in terms of pursuing the science of learning and teaching further.
Another point about baton passing allows me conclude with a personal reflection. David McQuoid-Mason is the second South African to champion pro bono student legal advice to me at that place of useful learning in Glasgow called Strathclyde, the first being Professor Donald Nicolson. Donald had the dubious honour of being the speaker who gave me my first “law” lecture in a course called Law and Society. Perhaps someone reading this can take up the baton from me.