Thinking in legal educ

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3 See for example Jennifer Washburn, University, Inc.: The Corporate Corruption of Higher Education (Basic Books, 2006); Sheila Slaughter & Gary Rhoades, Academic Capitalism and the New Economy: Markets, State, and Higher Education (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009); Derek Bok, Universities in the Marketplace: The Commercialization of Higher Education (Princeton University Press, 2004); and Michael Bailey & Des Freedman (eds), The Assault on Universities: A Manifesto for Resistance (Pluto Press, 2011).

4 Ibid 12. A different thesis has been proffered by Professor Glyn Davis, who has argued that the tradition in Australian universities has, since their inception, been dominated by professional and vocationally orientated values: Glyn Davis, The Australian Idea of a University, 2013 Newman Lecture, 21 August 2013, Mannix College, Monash University.

5 Margaret Thornton, ‘The Law School, the Market and the New Knowledge

Economy’ (2008) 17 Legal Education Review 1, 17.

to the detriment of understanding and questioning the principles on which legal principles rest.

Thornton attributes this phenomenon, predominately, to three pedagogical practices associated with the dramatic expansion in student numbers in law schools and in the perception of tertiary education as a commodity.6 The first practice is the use of large-group teaching, moving away from flexible, small-group learning; the second is the increase in flexible delivery, including online courses and intensive teaching; and the third is a move away from research assignments and participation-based assessment towards the almost exclusive use of examination-style assessment, which is naturally suited to assessment of doctrinal knowledge and application. As such, students are achieving surface level learning outcomes,7 associated with knowledge, comprehension and application, without moving into analysis, evaluation and critical thinking.8 This method is analogous to what Paulo Freire termed ‘banking education’ where a teacher ‘issues communiqués and makes deposits which the students patiently receive, memorize, and repeat.9

While we did not feel that every aspect of Thorntons critique was applicable to our school (Thornton herself recognises the great divergences that exist across institutions), we were motivated to strengthen critical thinking across our curriculum. Colleagues were also interested in creating a supportive learning community to strengthen our own pedagogical expertise. To facilitate this we supplemented our existing reading with texts from leading educators on critical thinking such as Stephen Brookfield.10 We also received Faculty funding to visit the law schools at the University of New South Wales and the Australian National University, both of which had recently undertaken significant curriculum reform. We spent time speaking to staff and students about how critical thinking had been incorporating into the curriculum design. Our motivation was to get beyond critique and explore what positive initiatives we could create as a community of educators committed to student development.

In this article, we share some of the insights and findings we have made as part of the critical thinking group. We do so in the hope that our story inspires other legal academics to work collaboratively with colleagues on similar projects. Fundamental to this hope is our belief (and our experience) that legal academics are not passive tools of
6 Thornton, above n 1, 12−18.

7 Ference Marton and Roger Säljö, ‘On Qualitative Differences in Learning: Outcomes and Processes’ (1976) 46 British Journal of Educational Psychology


8 See for example Lorin W Anderson and David R Krathwohl (eds), A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision of Blooms Taxonomy of Educational Objectives (Pearson, 2000).

9 Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Penguin, 1996), 58.

10 Stephen Brookfield, Teaching for Critical Thinking: Tools and Techniques to Help

Students Question Their Assumptions (Jossey-Bass, 2011).
recent university reforms. Rather, if we work collaboratively with colleagues, we can play a role in shaping our curriculum and the kinds of interactions we have with students.

With this in mind, Part I outlines our definition of critical thinking in the legal context, developing a definition that incorporates both internal and external critique. Part II provides a brief account of the history of legal education in Australia, tracing the extent to which regulatory and institutional pressures have supported or discouraged the teaching of critical thought in legal education. While these pressures have predominantly required legal educators to focus upon the teaching of doctrine and professional skills, we find that there remains a consistent concern that law students develop a capacity for independent thought and that law school goes beyond the mere transmission of knowledge. In Part III we reflect on the core elements of legal education, noting a common focus in the literature on independent thinking, intellectual breadth and social responsibility as core to a legal education. To develop these attributes, we argue that law students need to be exposed to theory as well as doctrine, and to internal and external critiques of the law. Finally, in Part IV we outline the journey we have begun at the Adelaide Law School to implement critical pedagogy in our courses. Our analysis will focus on elective and compulsory courses. We hope that the methods we describe will inspire other educators to experiment using the flexibility we have as legal educators in Australia.
In the course of exploring the teaching of ‘critical thinking’ in legal education, we have found that there is no consistent definition of the concept. At its most basic, critical thinking is ‘the art of analysing and evaluating thinking with the view to improving it.’11

This process requires the ‘thinker’ to first recognise that they hold assumptions that influence the way they think and engage with the world. According to Brookfield, these assumptions are of two kinds: the assumptions held by scholars regarding the way legitimate knowledge is created and the assumptions and perhaps biases that the thinker individually holds. Once identified and brought to the surface these assumptions are evaluated against a range of different criteria such as practicality, ethics, bias and logic. If the assumption cannot withstand scrutiny it should be rejected and ‘thinkers’ encouraged to re-evaluate their positions. In this sense, critical thinking can also be described as ‘the habit of making sure our assumptions are accurate and that our actions have the results we want them to have.12

11 The Critical Thinking Community, Critical Thinking: Where to Begin,
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