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Hastings Race and Poverty Law Journal

Abstract

Legal educators who deny the efficacy of utilizing learning style theory inaccurately support their dismissal through misunderstanding and misrepresenting the science supporting such techniques. These erroneous conclusions are often the result of implicit bias and dysconscious racism favoring dominant white male norms and privileges. Such denial is not only disingenuous and inaccurate, but also highly detrimental to legal education, perpetuating a system that discourages and devalues the contributions and efforts of minority students.

Learning style preferences are a product of a student’s cultural background. Legal educators who recognize this and adapt their teaching methods to accommodate the modal preferences of an increasingly diverse student population encourage student motivation, confidence and ultimately success. Those who embrace learning style theory do not suggest that students can only be taught, or learn, in their preferred mode. Instead, they recognize the proven value of introducing new subject matter to adult learners mindful of these differences.

This paper makes four recommendations toward increased understanding and effective use of multimodal teaching methods; (1) critically examine the misunderstanding and misapplication of scientific data that supports the effectiveness of adapting teaching methods to student learning preferences, including the prevalent nomenclature mistakes made by detractors that conflate the concepts of learning styles, preferences and methods, as well as the concepts of teaching and learning; (2) recognize implicit biases and other forms of racism that interfere with the ability to reach all students; (3) show respect for our culturally diverse students by acknowledging their differences and adapting our methods accordingly; and (4) encourage legal educators to engage in cross disciplinary collaboration with fields such as neuroscience and educational psychology which have already made headway in proving the learning benefits of multimodal instruction.

Ultimately, there are voices from the privileged teaching class of the academy mischaracterizing learning science and teaching strategies to validate the mainstream way we have taught in law schools for more than a century. This mischaracterization perpetuates the exclusion of minority students from legal education, and the mischaracterization is palatable and readily accepted because of implicit bias and systemic racism.

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