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The Paper Chase

In this scene from one of my favorite movies of all time, the great John Houseman tells law student James Hart that law school might not be for him. This has to be particularly disturbing since young Mr. Hart, played so well by Timothy Bottoms, managed his way through his undergraduate work at a fine university only to find out on the first day of law school that the agenda is not his to control.

The Socratic Method, the method used by Professor Kingsfield in the movie, is still a widely used and time tested way to teach in a very structured environment. But there are as many reasons to learn things as there are things to learn. If I were learning a language to, say, negotiate my release from a band of Somlia pirates, I would do so with more urgency than if I were doing it for a college grade. If I were learning it for a college grade, I would do so with more urgency than I would in the unlikely event I found out on that I had relatives in Somalia.

Not everyone is chasing paper but they may be sitting side-by-side with people who are. A community college is an excellent example. In one Econ study group, you could have a student trying to tranfer to Cal Berkeley working with a grandmother looking to get out of the house a few hours a week. It’s also possible that the grandmother is working harder than her counterpart. Everyone learns differently and for different reasons.

The great thing about the technology available today is that a student can go as far outside of the walls of the classroom as he or she wishes. It can be as structured as virtual labs on a specific topic or as casual as a Google search. You could decide right this minute that you need to know everything there is to know about glassblowing. Or Philip Glass. Or The Glass Menagerie. You could open up another browser window and begin a lifelong journey. Go ahead!

Finding the learning modes and tools that work for you and your goals has never been more exciting. But the onus is on you more times than not to navigate all of this. When I was in college, there was a textbook, a time the class met and a campus library that may or may not be teeming with information that I needed. It was, in fact, a world very similar to the one inhabited by Mr. Hart.

You can still learn that way but why would you?


One thought on “The Paper Chase

  1. Love that movie and saw it several times … and the TV show was decent, if not as good as the movie. Houseman was a long-time cohort of Orson Welles.

    I am sometimes torn between the exhilaration of everything being available and the exhaustion of it.

    You left out Seymour Glass and that whole crazy Salinger menagerie … nice post!!

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