Home March 2012 From High School to Law School

From High School to Law School

At the end of October, my daughter Ruthie (21) began law school at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.  In one fell swoop, therefore, Ruthie leapfrogged past her American peers, who had had a 3-year jump on her.  Ruthie graduated from high school in 2008.  While her American peers were going through their first 3 years of college, Ruthie did her 2 years of mandatory service in the Israel Defense Forces (as a Hebrew teacher for new immigrant soldiers), studied for and took the university entrance exam and then went on a 3 ½-month trip abroad.  But now, while her American peers are in their senior year of college, Ruthie is already in law school.
In light of Ruthie’s situation, I decided to write the following to a few of my lawyer friends in America: “I’d like you to reflect on the American system and consider whether the 4 years between high school and law school are best spent fully in 4 years of college.  Did you really need all those 4 years in order to become “well rounded’?”  Several respondents felt that the American system was just fine.  For example, Alicia C. wrote: “The French would say that the American college system is ‘une utopie.’  For four years someone else supports you while you explore different subjects and interests.  What is wrong with a utopia?  What a luxury!”
Andrew K. sees no reason why law should not be studied at the undergraduate level.  Speaking for himself and his wife (also a lawyer), he wrote: “Pat and I have always felt that law school was at least one year longer than it needed to be.  If the study of law were condensed a bit, it could easily become a university degree, eliminating the need for three post-graduate years of study.”
Bruce A. strongly challenged the current system.  He wrote: “The purpose of a liberal arts education was supposed to be to teach critical thinking to a leadership stratum of society.  That is not at all what we do today. There is no perceptible value to sitting through enough classes in racial and gender studies to earn a C-average from a third-rate school.  We would be much better off with a system that preserved liberal arts education for those genuinely willing and able to grapple with the challenges of critical thought.  For everyone else, a training that integrated skill acquisition and application (i.e., interweaving classroom teaching and internships) would be preferable.”
Where do I stand on all of this? I did my undergraduate work with Bruce at Columbia University.  Columbia prides itself on a rigorous undergraduate core curriculum, and I read widely in the humanities as well as took required courses in art and music.  I believe that liberal arts courses do have a place in expanding a person’s horizons.  I therefore regret the fact that my children’s higher education will largely be devoid of the liberal arts.  However, it does seem to me that 4 full years of liberal arts study seems excessive.  A number of my respondents spoke positively – both for the growth of the young person and for American society – of the importance of national service.  I too think that it would be a wonderful idea to institutionalize a year of service between high school and college, and if need be, turn the 4-year utopian undergraduate experience into a 3-year one.
So there you have it: my own personal survey concerning an aspect of difference between Israeli and American higher education.  For the record, the very first response to my survey was from my lawyer brother-in-law Ben Rosenberg, who wrote: “Teddy enough of your [expletive deleted].  Nobody is ready to go to law school at age 18 straight from high school.  You should know better.  If there were mandatory military service in the U.S., then it would be different.  Those 2 to 3 years of military service are a liberal arts education unto itself. If you must write another one of those columns trumpeting the perfection of the Israeli system, fine. But 234 years of the U.S. system, which made it the richest most successful country in the world, are the proof in the pudding.”

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