Teaching and Learning in Law and Life

As expected, last weekend’s NYT op-eds with advice to college students attracted commentary that points out how legal education is like, and unlike, college education.  Paul Horwitz at Prawfsblawg offers characteristically thoughtful analysis; Danielle Citron at Concurring Opinions is pithier but no less on point.

When I read that series of op-eds, I was struck not by how relevant and useful the advice might be for law students (or any students, for that matter), but by just how conventional and traditional the whole package seemed.

As someone for whom the conventional and traditional in education holds a lot of appeal, that was great.  Despite YouTube, iPhones,  and Facebook, the fundamental things apply!  As time goes by ….

Yet in that same Sunday edition of the Times (and I was reading the print edition, which tells you just how conventional and traditional I am), there was a fascinating profile of Spike Jonze, the director, in anticipation of the hoped-for release of his adaptation of Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.  Spike Jonze is the director of Being John Malkovich and Adaptation and the extra-brilliant music video for Fatboy Slim’s Weapon of Choice.  He is a wildly unconventional artist — and someone who took what we might call an unconventional route to a career of any kind, let alone to career success.  He skipped college, more or less skateboarded his way into SoCal media, and the rest is history.  None of that was easy or fast.  But the lessons of the Times’s op-ed contributors seem simultaneously to have been lost on him and deeply absorbed by him, all at once.  “Once in class, participate”  “Have passion for learning and for your beliefs.” “Think about life, not just a job.” “Fall in love with your vision of the future.” (I’m cribbing from the Times’ digest of each op-ed.)

So I couldn’t help wonder whether the traditional perspective that animates the op-eds and that speaks to the next class of college students just misses something important.  Is it really the venue that makes the difference?  Or are these lessons that people of a certain age should be tuned in to — school or no school?

Maybe not.  Maybe Spike Jonze is just an outlier.  But I wonder about whether his career “path” offers any broader lesson to those who are starting college – or law school.

Bonus video:  Weapon of Choice

Extra bonus video:  Spike Jonze’s namesake:  Spike Jones and his City Slickers, Cocktails for Two