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The Inception of Modern Professional Education

The Inception of Modern Professional Education: C. C. Langdell, 1826-1906

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  • Book Info
    The Inception of Modern Professional Education
    Book Description:

    Christopher C. Langdell (1826-1906) is one of the most influential figures in the history of American professional education. As dean of Harvard Law School from 1870 to 1895, he conceived, designed, and built the educational model that leading professional schools in virtually all fields subsequently emulated. In this first full-length biography of the educator and jurist, Bruce Kimball explores Langdell's controversial role in modern professional education and in jurisprudence.Langdell founded his model on the idea of academic meritocracy. According to this principle, scholastic achievement should determine one's merit in professional life. Despite fierce opposition from students, faculty, alumni, and legal professionals, he designed and instituted a formal system of innovative policies based on meritocracy. This system's components included the admission requirement of a bachelor's degree, the sequenced curriculum and its extension to three years, the hurdle of annual examinations for continuation and graduation, the independent career track for professional faculty, the transformation of the professional library into a scholarly resource, the inductive pedagogy of teaching from cases, the organization of alumni to support the school, and a new, highly successful financial strategy.Langdell's model was subsequently adopted by leading law schools, medical schools, business schools, and the schools of other professions. By the time of his retirement as dean at Harvard, Langdell's reforms had shaped the future model for professional education throughout the United States.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-0562-3
    Subjects: History, Education, Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xviii)
    (pp. 1-10)

    About fifteen leagues up the coast from Boston, near the border between Massachusetts and New Hampshire, the Merrimac River empties into the Atlantic Ocean close to the town where John Langdell was born in 1790. Descended from the Langdale family of England, John’s father died within two years, and John’s mother, Margaret, took her only child and followed the Merrimac into the interior. Thirty miles inland from its broad mouth, the river turns abruptly north near the falls where the Lowells and the Lawrences subsequently built their textile mills and family dynasties. Continuing along the Merrimac toward its source in...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Boyhood and Youth, 1826–1854
    (pp. 11-41)

    In Langdell’s youth lie the origins of his interest in education and the specific reforms in professional education that he advanced as dean of HLS. His encounters with John Locke’sEducationat Phillips Exeter Academy, with taxonomy and specimens in the natural history classes of Asa Gray and Louis Agassiz, with “office” education in a law firm, with the degree requirements at Harvard Divinity School, with other law students in table talk, and with eleemosynary aid for needy students contributed to principles and policies that he later instituted in professional education. Above all, his firm commitment to a formal system...

  7. CHAPTER 2 Lawyer on Wall Street, 1855–1870
    (pp. 42-83)

    Entering the practice of law in New York City in January 1855, Langdell believed that a lawyer’s “abilities, learning, or experience” would determine his professional success or failure, because law was not a matter of whim, caprice, or “private and other ‘influences’ with the judges,” but an apolitical science requiring devoted study. Langdell’s conviction that academic merit determined one’s professional fortunes also entailed a commitment to “democracy,” as one friend remarked, in the sense that there existed equal opportunity to succeed at the bar.¹ Consequently, scientific expertise, academic merit, professional success, and equal opportunity coincided, in Langdell’s view.

    His first...

  8. CHAPTER 3 Scholar, 1870–1881
    (pp. 84-129)

    In the three decades after leaving New York City and joining the HLS faculty, Langdell made reforms in five distinct but interrelated areas. Each constituted a radical change; together, they initiated a revolution in American professional education. In scholarship he set a higher standard for the faculty; in the classroom he made enduring innovations in pedagogy; in hiring professors he introduced an unprecedented strategy and criterion; in academic administration he overcame determined opposition to establish meritocratic structures and policies; in the entwined issues of institutional finance and student recruitment and culture he reversed the prevailing logic and norms. The following...

  9. CHAPTER 4 Teacher, 1870–1881
    (pp. 130-165)

    In addition to pursuing scholarship in the original sources, Langdell provided the faculty with new models of pedagogy while responding to several problems at HLS during the 1870s. As at other law schools and at medical schools, the Harvard curriculum consisted of a cycle of elementary courses and “worked like a merrygo-round. . . . When a student enrolled he got aboard at whatever point was passing at the moment, and sat down between men who had perhaps been reading and attending lectures for a whole year.”¹ With students stepping on and off the merrygo-round, no advanced instruction was possible....

  10. CHAPTER 5 Faculty, 1870–1900
    (pp. 166-192)

    Though elected dean in September 1870 and empowered by President Eliot to institute his vision for legal education, Langdell still needed a faculty committed to the idea of academic meritocracy: that scholastic achievement determines, or should determine, one’s merit in professional life. But his work on Wall Street had convinced Langdell that contemporary legal practice cultivated in even the best lawyers sharp and deceptive tactics that ruined leaders of the bench and bar as potential faculty for law schools. He therefore needed a new source of law professors and decided to grow his own by introducing the revolutionary principle of...

  11. CHAPTER 6 The First Dean, 1870–1886
    (pp. 193-232)

    Assuming his new administrative role in September 1870, Dean Langdell immediately began to extend the formal system of academic merit beyond his own classroom to the rest of the school. Though accused of arrogance and obstinacy, Langdell did believe that academic merit determines the effectiveness and integrity of the members of “a learned and liberal profession of the highest grade.” These professionals will then “render to the public the highest and best service in the administration of justice.”¹ Langdell’s justification for the academic meritocratic model of professional education was thus self-serving to some extent, but also functionalist in principle. He...

  12. CHAPTER 7 Students, 1876–1882
    (pp. 233-263)

    Like the HLS professors, students faced the choice of whether to make “the uncomfortable transformation of gentlemen into professionals.”¹ Some were attracted to Langdell’s vision of sorting students and lawyers by their academic merit; others held to the traditional norms of professional education. In either case, the current and prospective students of HLS had to decide whether and how to respond to the policies of “thenew system,” particularly during the second stage of the school’s metamorphosis from 1876 to the early 1880s.²

    The different paths of four representative individuals offer insight into students’ decisions concerning that uncomfortable transformation: John...

  13. CHAPTER 8 Triumph and Betrayal, 1886–1890s
    (pp. 264-308)

    Through the mid-1880s, “the Langdell system of study had not been adopted in any other law school.”¹ Then, during the late 1880s HLS began surpassing even the most optimistic hopes of raising academic standards, attracting growing numbers of well-qualified students and producing well-trained graduates desired by leading firms. By 1895, when Langdell retired as dean, his system had triumphed, as ambitious, serious students crowded into HLS and as law schools at other universities began to adopt the model. Simultaneously, however, the leading meritocrats betrayed the HLS system by violating their own academic standards.

    Despite its universalist principle, the practice of...

  14. CHAPTER 9 Poor Old White-Whiskers, 1895–1906
    (pp. 309-346)

    Even while betraying its fundamental meritocratic principles, Langdell’s system proliferated throughout university law schools, slowly during the 1890s and then rapidly after the turn of the century. In most schools, the system encountered opposition prompted by the “abomination”¹ of converting to case method teaching. This inductive pedagogy relied on Langdell’s system because teaching with original sources demanded stronger academic preparation from both students and faculty. Hence, case method entailed “many of the organizational characteristics” of the meritocratic law school, and implied “Langdell’s general theory of legal education.”²

    Beyond that functional link to the meritocratic reforms, case method assumed a powerful...

  15. APPENDIX 1 Nicholas St. John Green
    (pp. 347-348)
  16. APPENDIX 2 Langdell’s Analogies between Law and Natural Science
    (pp. 349-352)
  17. BIBLIOGRAPHY Arranged Alphabetically by Abbreviated Titles
    (pp. 353-414)
  18. CASES CITED Arranged Alphabetically by Abbreviated Titles Used in the Notes
    (pp. 415-418)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 419-429)