One of the fundamental truths of education is that what you get out of it depends on what you put in. If you study hard, read the background material, ask intelligent questions, turn in your assignments and take your exams seriously, you will probably do well. On the other hand, if you don’t attend half your classes, don’t bother to read the textbooks, don’t sit the exams and spend far too much time coming up with excuses for the previous three, you probably won’t do very well.
In short, education rewards those who actually work.
I mention all this because the latest piece of manufactured outrage on the internet is the decision by some American colleges to allow law students (specifically, ‘people of colour’) to delay their exams, as a result of being ‘traumatised’ by the recent events in Ferguson. Or, apparently, from spending the time they should have been studying protesting against said events in Ferguson.
This has spread out of hand, with suggestions that ‘people of colour’ should not be failed, even if they fail. (On the other hand, at least one university professor has shot the idea down flat, for which he deserves congratulations.) Apparently, being able to claim one has been ‘traumatised’ is sufficient to merit rewards one hasn’t earned. (I won’t get into the racism shown by some of the people who think this is actually a good idea.)
I’ve been hearing a lot of silliness recently, but I believe this one takes the cake.
Let me be blunt. Time management is important. If you don’t learn to manage your time, you probably won’t get very far in life – particularly as a lawyer. And, unless American higher education is very different from British higher education, students are not whipped into classrooms, chained to desks and told there will be no bread and water until they’ve produced a word-perfect essay. You are expected to act like grown-ups and manage your own time.
If you have spent the last five months prior to the exams willingly doing something – anything – other than preparing for the exam, you will probably fail. And that will be your choice. Why, exactly, should you be rewarded for not doing the work, for not putting in the effort, while other hard-working students are struggling to get passing grades? And what is the value of the grades (not just yours, but your classmates) when they have not been won fairly?
But there is another point, after this. Legal work is not exactly stress-free. I’m not a lawyer, so I can’t offer specifics, but I’m pretty sure there will be times where you will have to do plenty of research, work to a very tight deadline and think on your feet. Not to mention encountering pointy-haired bosses, clients who will expect you to lie, cheat and steal on your behalf, bad-tempered judges, juries made up of clear-sighted people and outsiders who think the official legal uniform should be something in stripes, if only to save time.
If you are traumatised by something that happened several months ago, you are probably not going to make it as a lawyer. The real world is rarely inclined to coddle people.
And if you believe that someone should be judged guilty BEFORE holding the trial, you probably shouldn’t be in law in the first place.
This should be enough. But there’s one further point, raised by Mike Williamson. Who in their right mind would want to hire a lawyer who couldn’t handle this to represent their interests?
There are such things as real excuses. Students can get into accidents that leave them unable to complete the year or take their exams, forcing them to retake the entire year. They could become ill. Or they might be called away to attend a funeral, or a wedding, or … well, whatever. These are valid excuses.
But choosing to spend time protesting instead of studying, or being unable to cope with a Grand Jury’s decision, is not.
The world is not fair. Chances are that just about everyone will have to endure personal problems that they will struggle to overcome. Coddling students now, students who are effectively adults, will only hamper them in the long term.
And if people don’t think much of lawyers anyway, this is not going to help.