Transformational Education > A new way of teaching
State the Case
In the first meeting of his contracts course in 1870, Christopher Columbus Langdell—dean and professor at the Harvard Law School—declined to give a standard lecture. He had become convinced that the proper way to study the law was to record numerous concrete examples, and derive general principles from those examples. This required a new way of teaching.
"State the case," he said to a surprised student. He then asked questions of a second student, and then a third. After asking a dozen or so questions, without having presented a formal analysis of the case, he then proceeded to lead a "discussion" of a second case.
The students reacted first with bewilderment, then with anger. They were not interested, they said, in hearing what their fellow students thought about a case; they wanted to learn the law. Attendance and enrollment in Langdell's classes plummeted. (Boston University's law school, which opened in 1872, was established in part to accommodate disaffected Harvard students.) But Langdell, and the "Langdell system," prevailed—at first because the dean had the unwavering support of President Eliot, and later because the Law School's graduates began achieving unprecedented professional success.