legal education, civil obligations, legal thinking
In most of my decades-long teaching and professorial career, I primarily taught Torts, but never Contracts. However, last year, I agreed to teach jointly a postgraduate class of 35 students on “Civil Obligations.” It was a decision that conformed to one of the more unsettling tropes of my life— “act in haste, repent at leisure.” My role in this arrangement was, after a general opening about the nature of civil obligations and the interface of Contract and Tort, to assume responsibility for the Contracts component of the course. This presented itself as a considerable task, but I thought that it would be a new and refreshing challenge. And I was right. In preparing for and teaching contract law, I learned (and unlearned) more about law, legal thinking and teaching than I had originally bargained for or reasonably expected.
In this essay, I reflect on that experience and offer some insights that I came to realize (and perhaps re-realize) through teaching the course: it gave me a chance to explore and question some of the settled ideas that I had about law, legal thinking and teaching. Of course, this meant that I had to be more open to different viewpoints than I usually am or, at least, more than many would think I am capable of. After all, my stances on law, legal thinking and teaching have accumulated over almost 40 years and, as a result, have become (too?) entrenched. I have clear opinions on various matters that have become fixed and unquestioned in my jurisprudential worldview. But a significant part of those views was my commitment to the idea that there is no solid ground on which to stand; everything is always shifting and changing. So, with that sobering thought in mind, I went about the demanding undertaking of trying to put up for scrutiny and critique many of the ingrained shibboleths that have informed my work. In short, I followed the advice of Star Wars’ wise Yoda—sometimes “you must unlearn what you have learned.”
*This contribution has not been peer-reviewed.
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Alan Hutchinson, "Teaching Civil Obligations (or What I Learned about Law, Legal Thinking and Teaching)" (2021) 44:1 Dal LJ 321.