Teaching with Love: Inside and Outside the Law School Classroom

Author meets Readers: Law’s Indigenous Ethics[1]

Laws Indigenous Ethics

 

A question that I have been thinking about for a while is some version of “What role should love play in a legal education?”

The question is partly prompted by the work of bell hooks, when she argues — “When as teachers we teach with love, combining care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect, and trust, we are often able to enter the classroom and go straight to the heart of the matter.  That means having the clarity to know what to do on any given day to create the best climate for learning.”[2]

It is also partly prompted by the work of Susan Bandes, and other scholars of Law and Emotions, who argues with her colleague Jeremy Blumenthal that “there is mounting evidence that emotion cannot be cordoned off from ethical and moral judgment without impairing both ethical judgment and well-being; such evidence has broad implications for the teaching and practice of law.”[3]

My recent thinking on love and legal education is also deepened by three Scottish colleagues who in the Fall of 2019 rode their bicycles between the six Scottish law schools, offering workshops on (amongst other things) the role art can play in critical feminist pedagogy, and in particular feminist judgment.  They argue, in the words of Patricia Williams, “It really is possible to see things – even the most concrete things – simultaneously yet differently.”[4]

Is bringing the body/art/emotion into the study and practice of law one means of bringing love into a legal education?

So, you will imagine my delight when I first picked up my colleague John Borrows’ book, Law’s Indigenous Ethics, and read these words: “Love is an important internal self-explanation for many public-spirited actions.  So, I ask the question again: Why are concepts of love absent in legal language and debate?”[5]

My contribution here today flows from a read of Chapter One[6] in conversation with Chapter Five[7] – what might happen in legal education, at this critical moment on the planet, if we took seriously love as necessary practice and reimagined the walls that silo us inside classrooms?

Chapter One looks carefully at love as a legal principle, one of the seven Grandmother/Grandfather laws, and its place in the language of rights and obligations throughout Canadian Law.  Chapter Five offers some on the ground storytelling of how to take a love as a legal principle out of the classroom and onto the land, figuratively and metaphorically.

I start my reflections by drawing on the techniques of “found poetry”; pulling insights from reading Gift One: Love in conversation with Gift Five: Wisdom.  I conclude by offering some thoughts on how to take up John’s challenges about love, law and pedagogy, for transformative teaching.

 

1.      Found Poetry[8]

 

Her voice was clear; its strength was unmistakeable.  She called to the ends of the earth and sky.
When you don’t know where to turn, open this bundle – the laws within will guide you, even if they don’t settle every question.
How is love relevant?  Why are concepts of love absent in legal language and debate?

Love should be perceptible; it should swell, expand and project itself into our relationships.
While some of this instruction can occur in the classroom, walls can hide important legal resources.
We must beware of the dangers of a single story.

Many laws flowing from our political processes are designed to enhance freedom, autonomy and choice.
Law is not just about force – it also requires our participation and agreement.
We must join our best legal insights to help one another avoid the misery, pain, and destruction all societies face when love fails to guide their actions.

The language of love can be dangerous and we must be exceedingly wary of its appearance.
Languages of love must be decolonized; appeals to love must always be contextual.
Air, fire, water, earth, plants, animals and fish.

We learn differently when we change the physical context; engaging all of our senses.
When students learn in an embodied way these lessons can be more deeply internalized.
Constitutions, statutes, regulations, by-laws, declarations, adjudicative judgments, songs, carvings, textiles, dances, wampum belts, scrolls, and petroglyphs.

Law is a human tool – a resource for reasoning and acting.
In contemporary Canada, political and legal language seems generally devoid of references to love.
We learn differently when we change the physical context; engaging all of our senses.

I found my source of strength.
Outside.
Beware the dangers of a single story.

 

2.     So…

 

It might seem obvious that when you teach courses, like I do, on Family Law and Queering Law, that love is something that needs to be addressed, if not integrally.  Love is love is love, they say.  But the question I am trying to answer is not just about language for talking about the physical dimensions of love, and it is not just for the “pink ghetto.”  The question I am trying to answer is as relevant to Constitutional Law, or Securities Law, for courses taught transsystemically, in the field and on the land, as online, or in clinics.  What is experiential learning?

At this moment, where it seems like we are living in a universe more prone to hate, than to love, this text gently demands that we stop and listen to the seven Grandmother/Grandfather teachings. It asks us to see how love inhabits our public spaces, informs s. 35 of the Constitution and is essential to readings of treaties and other texts.  It is also wary and critical of love’s place in political life.  Like law, love cannot be forced, its powers too are easily abused.[9]

Beware the dangers of a single story.[10]

What I take away from this book about legal ethics and the legal imaginary, is that love is complicated, but deeply woven into the fabric of law.  To not find a way to bring love into legal education is to miss offering students another lens of analysis, another way to read texts, another way to deepen their skills for how to work through and across trauma.  To enhance the ethical imaginations of our future ethical professionals.  Lots of work to do, though to see love as law.

At this moment when it seems that people are more likely to build walls to keep us out, this book deconstructs those walls, metaphorically and actually, to move students out of the classroom and onto the land, or into community, or into their bodies, or inside an idea.  It is thick with stories of how these 7 laws are in action at different law schools across the country, of how deep learning results from bodies engaging with law in unexpected ways and places. In field schools, in downtown Victoria, under bridges in Vancouver.[11]

John’s stories are of the relationship between law, land and learning; I aim to take up those challenges, playing with the notion of what it means to be outside.

By pushing, conceptually, what might happen if we are to weave thick notions of love into a legal education, John revisions what experiential education means.  And, in so doing, offers ways to respond to the TRC, to MMIWG, to #MeToo.  Drawing deeply on examples of placed-based teaching spaces hope is created for alternative notions of where learning happens.  More ways to think about moving students out of their heads and into their bodies to become the ethical professionals we believe they can be.

Found poetry, art bombs, finding Indigenous plants, image theatre, playreading, theatre of the oppressed, baking, dancing with dichotomies, mask and mural making, movies.[12]

I think the answer is: be brave, and things will happen.

When you don’t know where to turn, open this bundle – the laws within will guide you, even if they don’t settle every question.

 

[1]              This presentation was part of a panel dedicated to discussion of John Borrows’ most recent text, Law’s Indigenous Ethics (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2019).  Thank you to Freya Kodar for organizing, to my co-panellists, Pooja Parmar, Christine Sy, Jean-Paul Restoule and John Borrows, and to our audience for their rapt attention and feedback.

[2]              bell hooks, Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope (London: Routledge, 2003) at 134.

[3]              Susan A. Bandes and Jeremy A. Blumenthal, “Emotion and the Law” (2012) 8 Annual Review of Law and Social Science 161-181 at 175.

[4]              See Sharon Cowan, Chloë Kennedy, Vanessa E. Munro, eds., Scottish Feminist Judgments: (Re)Creating Law from the Outside In (Hart Publishing, 2019) at 1, citing Patricia Williams, The Alchemy of Race and Rights ( Cambridge , MA , Harvard University Press , 1991) at 150.

[5]              Borrows, supra note 1 at 27.

[6]              Borrows, ibid., “Nitam-Miigiwewin: Zaagi’idiwin (Gift One: Love), Love: Law and Land in Canada’s Indigenous Constitution” at 24-49.

[7]              Borrows, ibid., “Naano-Miigiwewin: Nibwaakaawin (Gift Give: Wisdom), Wisdom: Outsider Education, Indigenous Law, and Land” at 149-175.

[8]              I have been inspired by the work of Kate Sutherland to bring poetry into the law school classroom.  This has included reading poetry, but also using creative writing techniques to inspire students to write poetry; drawing on resources from their legal training.  Found poetry is one of these techniques, essentially creating a poem by taking words, phrases or passages from other sources and reimagining them.  The poem that follows is comprised of words, phrases and passages from Law’s Indigenous Ethics.  For a discussion by Kate Sutherland of writing poetry in the law school classroom see: Kate Sutherland, “Law, Poetry, and Pedagogy: Reading and Writing Poems in the Law School Classroom” in Christina A. Corcos, ed., The Media Method: Teaching Law with Popular Culture (Durham: Carolina Academic Press, 2019) at 399-414.

[9]              Chapter One is a love story; including interrogation of how love informs Canadian common law and Canadian Constitutional Law and how it sits within the seven Grandfather/Grandmother teachings of the Anishinaabe.

[10]             Borrows, supra note 1 at 28.

[11]             Chapter Five is a curricular model; with stories of how land-based teachings have been employed at several law schools across Canada by Indigenous and non-Indigenous scholars including folk at the University of Victoria, the Peter A. Allard School of Law, and Osgoode Hall Law School, amongst many.

[12]             These are some examples of “outsider” pedagogies that I have tried to take up in my courses and seminars at UVicLaw.

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