Does anyone else feel guilty about lecturing? I know guilt very well (I’m Catholic after all) and I’ve felt shamed in my teaching and learning literature by others using contemporary active-learning techniques in higher education. Specifically, there seems to be overwhelming hate for lecturing. I get a weekly digest from The Chronicle of Higher Education and at the top of the list for the week was a column by David Gooblar titled: Is It Ever OK to Lecture? The column’s argument logically starts with placing active-learning methods over the traditional lecture. Yes, the argument hedges with a lawyerly “it depends” on the students, setting, and subject, but it still bothered me since I like lectures: I like to give them and I like to hear them. My reach with some active-learning methods is tethered to my subject.
So, I teach commercial law at the undergraduate and graduate levels. It’s not a flashy subject that lends well to inspirational science labs, explosives, murders, or field experientials. It involves books and paperwork. I once had a managerial accounting course where we were tasked to build Lego auto-shops to demonstrate variable costs, overhead, and accounts receivable. I had a management course where we did the full Myers-Briggs Type Indicator battery and we used the scores for team construction and task assignments. Those courses stick with me. Honestly, to excel at commercial law, it requires the master skills of attentiveness to detail, logic, planning, voluminous reading, and lots of writing; no theatrics here. Commercial law has a lot historical baggage that needs to be unpacked since most of the English common law concepts and precedents – like The Statute of Frauds, The Statute of Wills, and The Statute of Uses – are over 500-years old; and certain property concepts like the Livery of Seisin go back to the Anglo-Saxons and that’s not even getting into civil law rooted in Rome and Greece. Yes, there’s the courtroom and case components but, arguably, in transactional law, going to court is often indicative of a failure in the procedure; the goal is to stay out of court. It’s hard to spice all this up. Thus, when I lecture I do employ some active-learning methods to accomplish the total course objectives of understanding the “why” of commercial law by doing case analysis role-playing from how a business owner sees law and regulation opposed to a historian, philosopher, or a lawyer. I want them to know how to react to laws, rules, and contracts as business owners.
Some may say that this pedagogy is indeed active-learning. Maybe. But I still feel guilty; especially after reading many works extolling active-learning. Do I need a confiteor specific for higher education? I confess that I enjoy lecturing: I like the Socratic exchange (mea culpa), I like student’s hypotheticals showing integration (mea culpa), I could live off that flash of understanding when you know you’re understood (mea maxima culpa).
In my search for absolution, I read an article from The Atlantic about the virtues of the lecture. The article is critical of the new methods of “mini-lessons” (teaching for 10-minutes and then doing applications), flipped classrooms (lower level outcomes performed before a class session to focus on application with little or no lecture), and new mastery technologies (like the Kahn Academy) eliminating tests. I’ll try to not go to full-metal-Marxist but all these new methods and technologies sure do smack of the alienation of labor (just saying). The article also praises lecturing as modeling expertise, erudition, and passion for one’s field. It quotes a researcher in that good lecturing is an art honed from hours of practice and dedication. There’s a safety in the anonymity of a lecture for a learner to wrestle with complexity and not be dispirited and embarrassed through a discussion.
For all the vitriol against the anachronism of the traditional lecture, one must recognize its ubiquity; my solace. Aside from the obvious use of lecture in education: lectures are used in church homilies and sermons; lectures are found on the news on radio, podcasts, and television; lectures are used in documentaries and TED Talks. But I’m biased. I experienced the Socratic method in law school, and loved it. I just think there’s virtue in the lecture, and I hope it doesn’t disappear: shamed into obsolescence in favor of weaker simulacra in the name of progress. Is a lecture so bad?
 Gooblar, D. (2019, Jan. 17) Is It Ever OK to Lecture? The Chronicle of Higher Education, retrieved from: https://chroniclevitae.com/news/2153-is-it-ever-ok-to-lecture?cid=VTEVPMSED1
 Bain, K. (2004) What the Best College Teachers Do. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA.
 Doyle, T. (2011) Learner Centered Teaching. Stylus Publishing, LLC: Sterling, VA.
 Walthausen, A. (2013, Nov 21) Don’t Give Up on the Lecture: Teachers that Stand in Front of Their Classes and Deliver Instructions are “out-of-touch-experts” –They’re Role Models. The Atlantic, retrieved from: https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2013/11/dont-give-up-on-the-lecture/281624/
 Marx, K. (1932) Marx. Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. Alienate Labor Page 30. Progress Publishers: Moscow, Russia. Retrieved from: https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/download/pdf/Economic-Philosophic-Manuscripts-1844.pdf
Quoting: “What, then, constitutes the alienation of labor?
First, in the fact that labor is external to the worker, that is, that it does not belong to his essential being; that in his work, therefore, he does not affirm himself but denies himself, does not feel well but unhappy, does not freely develop his physical and mental energy but mortifies his body and ruins his mind. The worker, therefore, feels himself only outside his work, and feels beside himself in his work. He is at home when he is not working, and when he is working he is not at home. His work therefore is not voluntary, but coerced; it is forced labor. It is therefore not the satisfaction of a need, but only a means for satisfying needs external to it. Its alien character emerges clearly in the fact that labor is shunned like the plague. External labor, labor in which man alienates himself, is a labor of self- sacrifice, of mortification. Lastly, the external character of labor for the worker appears in the fact that it is not his own, but someone else’s, that it does not belong to him, that in it he belongs, not to himself, but to another. Just as in religion the spontaneous activity of the human imagination, of the human brain and the human heart, operates on the individual independently of him – that is, operates as an alien, divine or diabolical activity – so is the worker’s activity not his spontaneous activity. It belongs to another; it is the loss of his self.”
 See Walthausen, A. (2013, Nov 21).