"We don't do content in this class. By that I mean - yours, mine or anyone else's. We don't have an anthology of readings. We don't discuss current events. We don't exchange views on hot-button issues. We don't tell each other what we think about anything - except about how prepositions or participles or relative pronouns function." The reason we don't do any of these things is that once ideas or themes are allowed in, the focus is shifted from the forms that make the organization of content possible to this or that piece of content, usually some recycled set of pros and cons about abortion, assisted suicide, affirmative action, welfare reform, the death penalty, free speech and so forth. At that moment, the task of understanding and mastering linguistic forms will have been replaced by the dubious pleasure of reproducing the well-worn and terminally dull arguments one hears or sees on every radio and TV talk show.
As a teacher of Constitution Law, I'm quite interested in this. I want to teach the students the methods of interpretation, and the hot topics seem to spice things up. (Right now I'm grading the exam that I designed to test the students' interpretive skills, but I made the topic the death penalty.) But perhaps these lively topics are a distraction and a limitation.
I'm sure Fish knows that, years ago, there was an artificial language section on the Law School Admission Test. When I first considered applying to law school, I did some of the practice exams, and I loved doing this section. By the time I finally got around to taking the LSAT, that section had been abolished, I think because somebody decided it was too threatening, perhaps in some unfair way.
Hmmm... I wonder if statistics showed men doing much better than women on this test. Go back to John Tierney's column, the one I railed about in the previous post. His example is Scrabble, a game men excel at in competition -- it seems -- because they take to memorizing strings of letters and play in a manner that disconnects from the meaning of words.