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Dycus, S --- "The Law Teacher as Peacemaker: National Security in the Classroom" [2006] LegEdDig 23; (2006) 14(4) Legal Education Digest 8

The Law Teacher as Peacemaker: National Security in the Classroom

S Dycus

[2006] LegEdDig 23; (2006) 14(4) Legal Education Digest 8

55 J Legal Educ 1 & 2, 2005, pp 42–48

Members of our profession have a variety of reasons for picking up the chalk and standing to face a classroom full of bright, young, verbally aggressive, future legal professionals.

Over the last few decades a growing number of law teachers have recognised national security law as a vehicle for achieving some or all of these objectives. They have been attracted by the currency, novelty and inherent difficulty of the subject. They have seen new ways to teach students how law is made and applied. And they have welcomed the chance to provoke students to think about their lives as legal professionals in a new way — as citizens with a special opportunity and responsibility to help create a more secure and peaceful world.

When developing materials for a new course addressing national security issues, called The Lawyer as Peacemaker, it seemed to the author that lawyers have a great deal to do with the formulation and execution of policies relating to the nation’s defence. It also occurred that in this context, as in others, lawyers would want to use their professional training and experience to help avoid conflict wherever possible, or at least minimise its destructive effects.

A logical place to start was to describe and analyse the relevant policies. But there would not be time in any law school course to address all of the legal issues in the field, even if students would tolerate such a torrent of material. It was decided to start with the most familiar core issues — domestic legal authority for the use of military force, emergency powers, intelligence gathering and related civil liberties concerns, and access to sensitive information in a democratic society — and to build on them.

From the beginning, hard choices were made about what to leave out, assuming that individual teachers would supply additional materials to reflect their own interests and experience. Some teachers have provided more focused coverage in their courses of international law, terrorism intelligence or criminal law. The bottom line is that in this post-9/11 world national security law is a vast, deep subject whose boundaries continue to expand rapidly. Its emergence as a distinct field of study was underscored by the approval of a new Section on National Security Law within the Association of American Law Schools in 1993.

National security law has attracted full-time teachers from a variety of backgrounds, perhaps because it incorporates elements from several more traditional disciplines. The majority call themselves constitutional law or international law teachers. A smaller number are administrative law experts or proceduralists. They seem to be drawn to this evolving field by its currency and novelty, by the opportunities it presents for teaching about the legal process, and by its transcendent importance. At a number of schools, courses in the field are offered by national security professionals teaching as adjuncts. The content of those courses predictably reflects the interests and experience of the respective teachers.

Courses in national security law have been offered at more than half of the American law schools. The course has become a staple in the curriculum of at least one of the nation’s military academies and it is offered as well at various judge advocate general’s schools and other military institutions. It is also available as an elective in a growing number of colleges and graduate political science programs.

Instructional methods probably vary as much as individual teachers. In larger classes some follow a traditional approach, with student discussion of assigned readings guided by the teacher’s questions. Others shift more responsibility to students by basing classes on case studies, some of them incorporating role-playing, many drawn from actual controversies.

Few subjects in law school are as politically contentious as this one. The often passionate disagreements among students can enliven and enrich classroom discussions. And because they mimic the controversy that almost always accompanies government decision making about defence policy, the arguments that erupt in the classroom can deepen the students’ understanding of how that policy is made.

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