Review: Normalizing Struggle

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Reviewed by Sandra Simpson, Gonzaga University School of Law

Article: Normalizing Struggle[1]

Written by Catherine Martin Christopher
Professor of Law and Associate Dean for Bar Success, Texas Tech University School of Law

In this article, Professor Christopher makes an excellent argument for normalizing and even celebrating our students’ struggle to acquire, retain, and apply the information taught in law school.  She encourages us not to see our students’ struggle as a problem and but rather asks us to “reorient our attitudes toward the struggle.”  Not only will this help our students learn and retain knowledge better but it will help our students be better equipped to handle the stressors of being a lawyer.

The article starts with examining how our current system conflates struggle with failure, which marginalizes our students, and continues by discussing how pervasive the struggles are among our students.  Part III teaches us how to reframe the struggle to being productive, and Part IV gives us some best practices to help students to work with their struggles.  Lastly, the article ends with encouraging the institution as a whole to normalize and encourage the struggle.  Even though I consider myself fairly well-read when it comes to assessment and teaching techniques, I found a plethora of new articles to read in the article’s footnotes.  What is more, I found some great ideas to incorporate into my classes this fall. These ideas ranged from good topics for first day discussions with students to good ways to implement information retention strategies.  One of my favorite parts of this article paints an image of an elementary student standing in front of a chalkboard with chalk in her hand unable to solve the problem on the board.  She is in front of everyone.  The teacher, not wanting her student to be humiliated, has the child sit down and calls another child up to solve the problem.  Professor Christopher asks the thought-provoking question of “what if it wasn’t embarrassing to not have the right answer?”  To me this is a mind-blowing concept, and yet it is so simple.  What if we helped the student solve the problem by embracing the student’s struggle?  I am inspired, and the article gives me the tools to do this!  Don’t let the 33 pages of this article scare you away from reading it.  The time slips by quickly and the ideas are abundant.


[1] Forthcoming in the Arkansas Law Review 2019 but can be accessed at SSRN https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=3378829

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