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Ways of Learning

When I got pregnant the first time around, I was inundated with information. Mostly it was information intended to provide “expert help” on how to cope and how to incubate and raise the perfect human. I worked in a culturally diverse environment, but there was a lot of talk about expert advice. I followed the websites and a couple of books for a while but quickly realized that mostly they were good at inflating my pre-existing neuroses, which nobody needed to see amplified.


I was raised in Toronto but had been out of the city for the most part since high school and so did not have a large group of local friends when I first gave birth. The people I met in the months after had also recently given birth. It turned out that for me, at least, that was not a sufficient connection point. It reminded me a great deal of high school, in fact. Everyone was talking about it, but no one really knew anything (remind you of anything else you know?). In high school, it was sex, in early parenthood it was a lot of things, though it was mostly sleep. Here it seems to revolve around “success.”


Before my first child was a year old, I discovered a different place. People came whether they were moms or dads, whether they lived around the corner in a mansion in the Annex, or around the corner underhoused, whether they were straight or queer. Beyond that, people came with their older children. When you walked into that space, someone could always tell a war story that was worse than your day. Not in a one-upping sort of way, but to put you at ease.  Putting everything into your mouth is normal for a kid. Getting frustrated with your partner is something that happens in a marriage. Miscarriage happened to me too. Big things, hard things and ridiculous things, nothing was off limits.


Places like that are hard to find in a society that values the convenience of being right there and the cohesion of moving with your cohort–this is just as true in elementary school, and perhaps also, here. I learned three things about learning strategies for parenting from the Children’s Storefront, which is the name of the place I found. If you want to learn a new way of doing things because what you’re doing right now isn’t working:

1.     Find a person whose kids you admire and ask them for recommendations.

2.     Find a book that purports to help and look in the index for a topic you already have an opinion on–read that section. Whether you choose to read about the issue you want to understand better or not, you will have a good sense of the context in which the advice is being given.

3.     Don’t look for experts, look for comparisons. Look at comparative ethnographies, that study how different cultures address the same question.


That brings me to why I think it is useful to apply these possibilities at school. Making connections is a big part of why we are at law school. The law is as much a profession of relationships as it is one of rules. Learning how to evaluate the information you are given by peers who are giving advice or just venting is a good way to build up your own roster of understanding and reaction.


But most importantly, especially since the law is such a powerful tool and many of us will not practice it within sight of those most affected by our actions, the greater the variety of approaches to the same problem you encounter, the more well-rounded your approach to the law.


So, what would those three things look like in law?

1.     Upper years, practitioners we are lucky enough to have come to school regularly and our professors are all people who are happy to mentor us individually. Obviously, you have exercise judgement and expect that some people will say no, but that is good practice, too!

2.     There are entire libraries filled with books on legal theory, legal ethics and legal practice; the parallels here are straightforward.

3.     You can still go to the library for ethnographies, but here I would say that it might be more useful to engage in conversation especially with peers, colleagues and more experienced people with whom you do not share a background. Again, be judicious and respectful–after all, you are asking to learn.


Unlike business or other industries, where it is often not clear how much power you are exerting in a situation, in a legal career we know that we are in positions of power, so it behooves us to start early in the process to learn not just to apply the consequences to other people’s actions but to consider the profound implications of our own practice on those around us. Law school, like parenting, is the rare opportunity to engage critically with our own firmly held assumptions and try to learn from people around us whom we do not encounter in our established circles, and may not meet again after we are done.