Let’s start with this: “Although a teacher can harm students using any method of instruction; complaints about classroom abuse of students primarily involve the Socratic method and case analysis.” I am a bit thrown by the word “abuse” in world in which people really do suffer abuse and whether "complaints" necessarily mean ineffectiveness. But mainly I wonder where all the Socratic teachers are.
I went through 3 years of law school in the late 1970s. I had one teacher who could be called Socratic and if any one left that classed harmed it was because he or she came into the class with an open wound. Since then I have sat in on way too many classes to remember and did not witness one person using anything thing close to the Socratic method. I did see some people using a “fill in the blank” style of teaching and others who called for non volunteers once in awhile. I have also witnessed very short exchanges that were quickly ended if a student showed any sign of discomfort. For the most part, the teachers seemed far more afraid of hurting someone’s feelings than the students did that their feelings would be hurt. Come on! Can we give up this Socratic-method-as-the-root-of-all-teaching-evils nonsense? It may exist but it is extremely rare. In fact, later in Best Practices the authors suggest reducing the reliance on Socratic dialogue. Huh??? How do you give up what hardly exists? Moreover the studies the authors rely on to document the woes of the Socratic Method are thin and much of this section of the book seems to be based on the opinions of those who seem predisposed to dislike the Socratic method regardless of its effectiveness if, in fact, it were actually practiced.
This is not to say that I disagree with everything in this section of the book. If fact, quite the opposite. On the other hand, if anyone is serious about increasing the effectiveness of law teaching the least useful beginning point is to hammer, for the trillionth time, the Socratic Method. That beginning point just suggests laziness with respect to examining what actually goes on in law school classrooms. A far better starting point for Best Practices would have been a serious study of today's classrooms. Unfortunately, as is so often true in legal scholarship, the test of the truth and accuracy of a point seems to lie whether the assertion can be found in print somewhere.
In the classes I have been in and observed, the factor I have seen as most damaging to effective law teaching is low expectations by professors. Consistently I have heard them say “That’s good but could someone expand on that” to a completely wrong answer or an off the wall comment. And I have seem students get the most basic facts of a case wrong and the teacher fill it in for him or her. The clearest message is “sloppy work is OK.” When sloppy work is OK with the professor it is, in fact, a limitation the professor places on student development.