On Change, Hierarchies, and Gravitas

I’ve been musing on the subject of “gravitas” lately.  Why?

  • The LEARN report that Mary blogged about last month contains the sentence “LEARN has gathered law schools and educators with the experience, imagination and gravitas to effect real improvements in how the future lawyers of the country (and the world) are trained.”
  • I wasn’t able to attend Larry Marshall’s presentation at the UW’s Legal Education at the Crossroads Conference last September.  But I was told he also used the term “gravitas” in his presentation to describe why it was that the Carnegie Foundation’s effort, now called LEARN, disproportionately includes top ranked schools.

Now, I’ve talked to Larry Marshall about this subject.  He’s an amazing and thoughtful guy.  And most of us would probably agree:   if the one, or three, or five schools that produce most of the law teachers in the country radically change their curriculum and teaching methods in the next five years, we’ll see major transformation in other schools in another ten to fifteen years, if not less.  So maybe that’s a sensible strategy.

At the same time, I’m not so comfortable with the “it’s all about the gravitas” approach.  Maybe it’s because many people thought John Kerry had “gravitas” back in 2003.  And lots of folks thought Barack Obama didn’t in 2008.

Maybe because so many of the innovators in teaching methods and curriculum in the last decade have come from schools that lack “hierarchy gravitas”, but felt compelled to help their students learn better.

And maybe it’s because I fear the potential (or reality) of transformative efforts being undermined by fractures along the gravitas axis.  Of the “grav’s” wasting time reinventing wheels long since created and put on the vehicle by the un-grav’s.  Of  the ungravs getting discouraged because the gravs get all the glory for work that was initiated by the ungravs.

Tip o’ the hat to the un-grav’s for doing all the work in the trenches for all these years.  Another tip o’ the hat to the grav’s for moving the transformation checker down the board with the LEARN initiative.  And, please, all you gravs out there, keep working on inclusiveness and giving credit where it’s due.

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