Monday, May 18, 2015

Law Prof. Carlo L. Cruz speaks.

See - (102) Carlo L. Cruz - I end my final first semester this schoolyear with...

"x x x.

I end my final first semester this schoolyear with these thoughts.

When I teach, I would prefer that my students simply listen and quietly learn, and not be afraid. I would rather be heard than feared.

I do acknowledge that fear in the classroom is considered by some as an essential ingredient for learning. I maintain though that this fear should spring from a basic desire of a student not to disappoint, both himself and his teacher, which, in turn, must flow from a primal longing to learn. It should not be there because of the threat of a failing grade, or the risk of humiliation when called upon to recite, or the terror of embarrassment if unable to impress in a written examination.

I choose to impose no rules in my classroom, save for these – that my students sit while I speak and that they answer when I ask. Oh yes, and mute the cellphones please.

I cannot, of course, force them to listen. No one can do this. No one should be allowed to do this.

A student’s attention easily fleets. It will, if given the chance, soar toward the clouds which beckon through classroom windows. A teacher must capture it and make it stay inside the classroom for as long as he is inside the classroom. He must be able to make the student listen to him with but the tone and volume of his voice, his gestures and expressions and, of course, the quality of his discussion, his speech.

A “power point presentation” may be a useful teaching tool for many. I have found through the years though that it is not for me. I am, on this, as on many other things new in schools, old school. Rather than aid me, it inhibits me. It confines me. Notes or index cards on my desk have the same effect on me. I am more comfortable speaking on the basis of topics organized in my mind before I enter the classroom.

The other reason for my hesitation in using this “power point presentation” is simple. I have found that students, when presented with power point pages, tend to simply stare at the screen where words in attractive, colorful fonts appear, disappear, change with a click of a button. These “power point presentations,” they are not for me.

There are students who would simply “surrender” even before they speak when asked to recite. I can only pray our country would never have soldiers like them.

I, of course, cannot force them to answer my questions. I do make it a point though to at least try and lead them to a basic understanding of what my question is all about, and then urge them to answer just the same on the basis of their understanding of my question. In other words, I try to train them to think on their feet, a feat required, expected of lawyers; a quality which, I believe, can lead them to becoming fine lawyers and, yes, even perhaps to greatness.

I have also found through the years that learning and laughter are not necessarily contradictory concepts. Laughter can lead to learning. Learning is often best with laughter.

Justice Regalado displayed the importance of a confluence of these concepts each time he would declare in his classroom that he would want his students not to suffer from “a diarrhea of words, and a constipation of ideas” whenever they would recite. I will never forget Justice Jurado’s “Mr. and Mrs. Pizarro and their little Pizarettes,” the main characters of his lectures on family law. And, of course, there is Justice Cruz’s tale about the husband who finds himself in the pitiful predicament of owing allegiance to both his wife and his mistress, which he would share with his students whenever he would discuss dual citizenship.

Regardless of what scholars with masters or doctorate degrees may say, I urge my students to memorize. I have found through the years that memorizing leads to understanding. Understanding flows into an analysis of the law. This analysis, in turn, inevitably evolves into an appreciation of the law. It is this appreciation of the law which makes many students leap toward, again, greatness.

Many may take exception to this method. They would say that this “memorization” is not prescribed by scholars with masters and doctorate degrees. These scholars, they say memorization, like our bar examinations, “ruins legal education.” And these scholars, they have masters and doctorate degrees, so they must be right.

Let there be no misunderstanding on this point. I have absolute respect for all who have masters or doctorate degrees. I will even encourage all of my students so inclined to pursue their dreams of having these post-graduate degrees. In fact, I have actually written many letters recommending former students to various graduate schools. I believe that these degrees can open so many doors of opportunity for them.

I maintain though that these additional little letters which a few may be fortunate enough to be entitled to attach to their names should not and never be considered as an adequate or appropriate measure of their ability or competence, or correctness. I say, with respect to all concerned, it would be utter foolishness and the height of arrogance for anyone to think that he is better than the rest, or that he knows more, merely because of these additional little letters attached to his name. He must offer a lot more to impress. It would take so much more than these little letters to impress me. The most respectable and respected of these learned scholars would, of course, make no such claim. I reject, challenge or simply avoid only those pedants who do.

I think I should add this - my father never had a masters or doctorate degree. I believe he did just fine in his life.

Some of these scholars would justify their exception to memorization as a teaching method on the basis of the fact, or at least their perception, that this is not done in American law schools. I have only this to say on this matter – I do not care about American law schools, what they teach or the people they allow to graduate and eventually practice their law.

I am a Filipino lawyer. I am proud to be a Filipino lawyer. I do not test myself except in accordance with the standards in my country, of our Supreme Court, and of my alma mater, the San Beda College of Law, of which I shall always stand proudly as a son.

I have also learned through the years that it is best to inspire, and not to insult or humiliate.

I regret I did not know the importance of this when I was yet a neophyte in this field. I apologize to all those I may have treated badly during my initial semesters of teaching for this flaw of mine as a then young teacher, when I was yet unsettled in my lonely seat at the other end of the classroom. I offer no excuse except that I was then, well, young and therefore did not know better. I am now old. My many years behind those teacher’s desks have made me now understand that praise can be so much better than punishment.

But regardless of these failings of mine in the past, I would never refer to any of my students as an “undesirable.” I think no student should be considered as an “undesirable.” There are certainly square pegs in this round hole known as law school. I believe though that they should not be scorned but merely gently led to an understanding that a life in law may not be for them. I have given 5s or 50s to many of my students but I have never found enjoyment in failing any of them. I have never bragged about failing any of them. I choose instead to praise those who pass; those who fail, I urge them to try harder.

A teacher must introduce what is yet unknown to his students; clarify what is uncertain in their minds; and simplify whatever they may find complicated. He should not “confuse ideas that are perfectly distinct.” He must lead, prompt them to think, to question, to challenge, to resolve. A teacher must, most of all, teach.

As a final note, I have never fully understood those who would insist that law schools should not be “bar-oriented.” I have simply never understood the concept of a “bar-oriented” school. Is not the making of lawyers the purpose of every law school? To become a lawyer, should not one first pass the bar examinations? Have not all our lawyers done so before they became lawyers? Including those who eventually ascended to greatness?

Well, these are some of my methods, my thoughts on teaching. I do not prescribe them for all, or at all.

They may be wrong, and there are, I am certain, others that may be better.

But these methods, these thoughts, they are all, humbly, for myself and mine. I am, as I have said, proudly, old school.

x x x."