In the past weeks, the Law and Mind Sciences blogposts have included observations about media influences and gender, including Misogyny in Music, Mindfulness and Identity in the context of yogurt advertisements, and the conformity in appearances at HLS job interviews. As these posts described, pop culture, advertisements, and cultural norms all have the power to influence perceptions of gender. No where does this media influence appear to have a wider or longer lasting impact than Barbie. From the first Barbie television advertisement ever (portrayed in the above video) to the introduction of Ken, to current television advertising, Barbie has maintained a prominent presence as a commercial phenomenon, a fashion icon, and source of gender socialization.
The focus of investigations and attitudes towards Barbie differ, but all seem to recognize that the Barbie is not just a doll, but a cultural phenomenon. Since Barbie first arrived at the World Toy Fair in 1959, wearing a Zebra bikini and stilettos, over a billion Barbies have been produced in 150 countries. According to Mattel on Barbie’s 50th Anniversary in 2009, 90% of U.S. girls ages 3-10 own at least one Barbie doll. In a Newsweek article commenting on this anniversary, Eliza Grey described Barbie as “the original bimbo, a relic of postwar paternalism that teaches its young to worship at the altar of blond hair, peach skin and formidable cleavage atop a waistline the size of a pinkie ring.”
Kingsfield lectures in "The Paper Chase"
The Christmas before I came to law school my parents gave me a DVD of The Paper Chase. It’s a common gift for future law students even though it’s dated and lacks the acting prowess of Reese Witherspoon. The movie follows Hart during his first year at Harvard Law School, focusing on the adversarial relationship between Hart and his intimidating contracts professor, Charles Kingsfield. In one memorable scene, Kingsfield calls on Hart to explain the case of Hawkins v. McGee–the case of the “Hairy Hand.” Though unprepared for class, Hart manages to fumble through the legal reasoning and arrive at the correct legal application. He emerges distraught but victorious.
Law School has become somewhat kinder since the era of Professor Kingsley, but the teaching method remains largely the same. The casebook and Socratic method endure. Professors ask students how the law should be applied in a case then expose the logical flaws in students’ arguments. The goal of this method is to teach students how to interpret theories, statutes and precedents correctly while also honing their legal reasoning skills. Those students who best navigate the delicious ambiguity and grey areas of the law are rewarded with high grades and a spot on the law review. The greatest of the legal reasoners take their skills to the Moot Court competition. The winner there is whoever best argues that the law favors their client regardless of whether it actually does.
The law school pedagogy creates a culture that values the type of work law students pursue rather than the merits of their cases. The legal community grants prestige to lawyers who argue before the Supreme Court but cares little about which side they represent. I believe these values derive from a legal education that discourages sentimentality and feeling. The renowned trial lawyer Gerry Spence found similar fault in his own legal education.
“What we really experienced in law school was a lobotomy of sorts, one that anesthetizes the law student against his emotions and attempts to reduce law to some sort of science.” – Gerry Spence (Win Your Case p. 77) Continue reading
In a 2009 issue of Scientific American Mind, there is an interview of Judith Rich Harris, the author of The Nurture Assumption: Why Children Turn Out the Way They Do and No Two Alike. In the interview, Harris emphasizes the importance of teachers in shaping a child’s development and the influence of peers on a child. Parents are not as powerful of an influence as many of us think. In Harris’ own words:
One of my purposes in writing the book was to reassure parents. I wanted them to know that parenting didn’t have to be such a difficult, anxiety-producing job…
According to Harris, when at home, children learn from parents how to behave at home. But once they are outside home, they learn rules about how to behave outside home . Therefore, a school-based intervention is the way to improve a child’s behavior in a classroom, be it making them more diligent or less disruptive. A child’s peers could have significantly more influence on her as she grows older and start spending more time outside of home. In an earlier paper, Harris described the harsh peer group sanctions given to a 11-year-old girl when she violated the group taboo by voluntarily sitting next to a boy. This pressure to conform to the expected behavior of a group, however, by adolescence years, becomes less of a push to conform than a desire to “participate in experiences that are seen as relevant, or potentially relevant, to group identity.” At home, on the other hand, most parents probably would not find their adolescents to desire doing what they say.
This is why teachers have such big powers over a child’s development. A good teacher can influence a whole classroom of kids and push them in the right direction. A talented teach is also careful to not let the class split into two factions, the prolearning and the antilearning. Because when that happens, the difference between the two will quickly widen.
I think Harris provides very insightful ideas which are potentially very useful in crime prevention. Most students in underserved communities do not lack parents who care about their child’s future, even though their parents might be too busy trying to making ends meet to spend enough time with their child. But what these children lack is a nurturing environment when they are in school. When the teacher emphasizes the importance of education and instills good values in a child from an early age, it makes a huge difference in the child’s life and more than makes up for the lack of support from home. The KIPP program is a very good example. Continue reading