Bond University

Article Title

Gender Issues in Teaching Methods: Reflections on Shifting the Paradigm


[Extract] This paper focuses on gender issues in teaching methods as one part of feminism’s larger project of revisioning legal education to bring women’s experiences “out of the shadows”. To take account of gender issues in teaching methods requires us to focus on gender in our relationships within the academy and within our classrooms, and to understand ourselves and others as “gendered subjects” in relationships of teaching and learning. In this way a focus on gender issues in teaching methods in legal education requires an exploration of why such teaching creates both “possibilities” and “pain”. The first part of this paper situates these issues in the context of struggles between traditional approaches and feminist challenges to law, and the consequences of these struggles for feminist law teachers. In relation to these struggles, the paper then explores parallel debates about pedagogy in terms of more traditional approaches and feminist challenges to them. This analysis shows connections between traditional ideas about law and about pedagogy on one hand, and connections between feminist challenges to law and to pedagogy on the other. It also reveals interesting patterns in traditional claims to objectivity that occur in both law and pedagogy, and feminist challenges which demonstrate the “hidden” gender in these claims in both contexts. My interest in the contrast between traditional and feminist approaches to both law and pedagogy results from an increasing dilemma about my classroom teaching: as the content of my courses becomes more critical, especially feminist, my teaching methods seem to be ever more traditional. From my perspective, my classrooms seem to require me to exercise authority rather than foster consensus, and they are much too large to permit many students to participate effectively in classroom discussion. Although I have no doubt that (some) women students may need to learn differently from (some of) their male colleagues, I have not generally adopted feminist pedagogical approaches in my law classes. My approach reflects a concern that using both feminist content and feminist pedagogy would probably invoke law’s power to make feminist law teachers “fringe dwellers in the jurisprudential community”. Yet from the perspective of pedagogy my approach also reflects the complexity of efforts to teach all the students in my large classes (students who are an increasingly diverse group of people with differing needs), and to teach all of them effectively Such a goal regularly offers not only “possibilities” but also “pain”. Beyond both traditional and feminist approaches to teaching in law schools, the paper suggests that feminist law teachers may need to approach issues of gender and teaching methods in terms of a paradigm shift, to take account of how both students and teachers are gendered subjects in the same classroom.