The ‘Idiotic’ Method

“Sir, some of the students ask useless questions and waste time.” “Sir, it was difficult to follow.” These are some of the statements that I invariably get to hear after my first lecture to nearly every batch. Of course, there have been many who found the first lecture ‘very interesting’ and ‘very different’. And then, there have also been students who felt that nothing ‘useful’ was taught in the first class. By the time the second class is over, the ‘utility’ and also the relevance of the complex and seemingly directionless first lecture starts sinking in. I am almost always amused by the simplicity of the reason behind this general bewilderment.

Also, it is very noticeable that the graduate students are more puzzled and far, far less excited by this ‘different method’ than the lot that has freshly stepped out of school. And the reason for this bewilderment and its uneven distribution between younger and older law aspirants springs from one and the same source – the education culture we are exposed to.

Our education system right from the school level makes the students see teachers not as ‘guides’, ‘polishers of talent’ or ‘shapers of ability’, but as ‘problem solvers’, ‘information databases’ and ‘searchable repositories of knowledge’.

Therefore, the utility of a lecture is determined by the amount of information disseminated and noted down with or without having gone through the process of understanding any more than absolutely necessary for a useful transcription. Education is thus seen as accumulation of information through memorization, and the examinations are looked upon as primarily the test of retention and the exactitude of reproduction.

So, when our students suddenly find themselves presented with a method that requires attention, engagement and participation, they respond with an odd mixture of astonishment and suspicion, for they have the feeling of having set their foot on a seemingly untested ground. Younger students find the novel method exciting and adventurous, whereas older students, being more result oriented and having spent a longer period of time with the conventional mode of teaching, are more worried about the efficacy of the method.

Certainly, the confusion and suspicion both disappear by the end of the second lecture because the students soon realize that through this method they not only retain better, but also have a sense of having ‘understood’ instead of just coming to ‘know’.

What’s most interesting is that the method I am talking about is neither new, nor innovative. It is simple and perhaps older than the conventional method we are so used to. It is simply about opening the discussion by asking questions designed to engage and lead to the answers. The idea is to make the students reach the solution after having understood not only what the problem is, but also how and why does it arise at all. Yes, it does take quite a bit of effort and results in thick discussion, but at the end of the day, the whole exercise is quite engaging and it is precisely this engagement that makes the students retain a good deal of the discussion and not just the problem and solution. The understanding is more wholesome, and inspires the spirit of inquiry and fruitful deliberation. Isn’t it the most natural way of training lawyers? In fact, in teaching law, many, if not most, of the law teachers use a mix of this method and the conventional method in varying proportions.

The amusing confusion and perplexity that I witness during my first lecture is primarily because I am the first law teacher to most of my students, which means that they are suddenly dealing not only with an altogether new subject but also with a ‘strange’ method in which they seem to be doing more work than they thought students were supposed to do in class.

But it is not just about teaching law or training lawyers. Even 3 Idiots, a Bollywood blockbuster starring Aamir Khan, basically mounts a scathing attack on the conventional mode of teaching that lays excessive emphasis on ‘learning’ instead of ‘understanding’. Recall the scene where Rancho’s (Aamir) definition of ‘machine’ based on clear understanding is ridiculed and rejected while Chatur’s (Omi Vaidya) rattling away of the bookish definition is admired by the teacher.

The movie contrasts the performance-oriented conventional approach against the understanding-based inquisitorial approach, and goes on to demonstrate that only the latter could be considered ‘educative’ in the real sense of the term.

Although I don’t think conventional method can be lightly dismissed because it has its utility, which is why it has stood the test of time. However, fields like law and science require application of concepts, which necessitates thorough ‘understanding’ and not just ‘knowledge’. Therefore, students aspiring for a career in law must first ransack their own inner selves to find if they have a lawyer in them because going to the law school and knowing the law can only make them add to the already gushing ocean of mediocrity.

Originally published as part of my monthly column STREET LAWYER in LAWYERS UPDATE [November 2010 Issue; Vol. XVI, Part 11]

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One thought on “The ‘Idiotic’ Method

  1. Well, the students who have been taught by u and are currently doing law stand testimony to the efficacy of the method u talked about. I, being one of them, am proud to declare that I am doing too well in my first year of BA,LLB(H) and the credit goes entirely to my law coaching classes in which i got the privilege to be taught by Mr. HemRaj Singh. Your way of teaching was indeed the best, and i reached this conclusion the very first day when i attended my ‘law of contract’ class in college. The teacher was just testing our general knowledge about legal concepts and asked “What’s Torts?” Unlike many other answers, mine was, “Its a judge made law”. She was taken aback and curiously asked “Who told u that?”, pat came my reply, “Mr. HemRaj Singh”. She was too impressed. That very day i realized the fact that why u used to emphasize on the phrase “judge made law” rather ignoring the typical bookish definition. Let me inform the readers (those who haven’t been a part of UILS), that while teaching Law of Torts, Mr. Hemraj Singh always defines it as a “judge made law” and this definition is entirely based on logic and doesn’t find its place in any of the books referred by the students .

    Another incidence that I would like to discuss with the readers is that of my legal methods class in which our professor was explaining “grave and sudden provocation”. The moment she uttered, “the leading case on this is….” I spoke before she could finish the sentence, “KM Nanavati case. (i even mentioned what led to the crime ” Shall i marry every woman i sleep with?”) She looked at me in utter disbelief and her bewilderment led her to ask “Is your dad a lawyer?”. With a smile on my face I replied, “My dad’s a professor. None in my family has ever been a lawyer”. This puzzled her even more and she asked the obvious question, ” Then how do u know this?” “Mr. Hemraj Singh had taught me in my law coaching”, i answered.
    She inquired the name of the institute and also remarked that UILS was definitely doing a great job.

    Many other topics which were taught by you helped me to get a clear understanding of the legal concepts, like

    1. Stages of commission of crime

    2. Pregnant lady case (That’s the most interesting part of ur lecture.)

    3. The example that u gave, The uncle catches niece’s boyfriend at his place, does that amount to be a trespass?, was asked in NLU dwarka entrance exam).

    4. Indira Gandhi and the emergency declaration.

    5. Keshavananda Bharati case and the basic structure of the constitution.

    6. The last and the most important being, my selection in the moot court competition being the first year student. The credit again goes to ur lectures in which u taught us the skill to argue being polite, yet firm.

    There is actually a lot that i must thank u for.
    As i always say, Universal institute of legal studies is privileged to have u as one of the faculties for law.

    You are an impeccable preceptor!

    In the coming years of my life, whenever I’ll submit my curriculum vitae, for any job interview, one of my “experiences/achievements” would say:
    “Have been taught by Mr. HemRaj Singh”
    🙂

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