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Mandatory attendance

Via Armen, here's a rant from Mike at Barely Legal against mandatory attendance in law school:

Maybe the school thinks it reflects poorly on them if I can do well without being an active participant in class. It doesn't. If they are going to continue to base your grade off of one exam at the end of the semester, they have to realize that everyone learns differently, and they cannot expect everyone to conform to the same standards. If I want to take the scenic route to exams instead of the busy interstate, isn't that my prerogative?
I agree with Mike. Required attendance in law school is hard to defend on grounds of educational benefit.

Mike points out, rightly, that many students learn best by methods other than attending class. For these students, regular attendance isn't worth much. To the extent that it limits the time they can spend doing things that really help them learn, class attendance is harmful.

The strongest educational argument in favor of full attendance may be that it enhances the Socratic back-and-forth between the professor and the students, and that some students find this activity tremendously educational. Even if this is true, mandatory attendance rules do nothing to ensure that a decent socratic back-and-forth will happen.

With the prominent exception of small seminars, I've been impressed throughout law school by how many students don't pay attention in class. In my experience, these students do nothing to contribute when they're called on. I don't see how their presence in class benefits me, and if it's not benefitting them either, why require them to attend? Far better to let them skip class so they can use their time more effectively. The students who remain will be the ones who actually contribute to a decent socratic dialogue. Allowing students to skip class might turn large classes into small classes, and small classes into seminars. The quality of class participation would go up.

What we really value about class attendance is not something we can compel by mandatory attendance policies.

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