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22 Clinical Law Review 301 (2016)


For me as a clinical teacher, the stalemate that so often emerges in our ongoing national conversations about things like abortion and gun control has provided new ways to think about the value of clinical teaching methodologies. The contours and contexts of the debates around abortion and gun control shift from year to year - when I started writing this, Sandy Hook and "legitimate rape" were fresh on everyone's minds. Today, we mourn Michael Brown and the massacre in Charleston, and we rail against Hobby Lobby. Despite the shifting characters, however, these debates remain a constant presence in our national dialogue.

In this context, I am writing this as both a confession and an invitation. My confession is that I am prone to self-righteous and sometimes shrill proclamations designed to down out the beliefs of people who don't share mine. This is what I call binary thinking. At its extreme, binary thinking identifies just two ways to look at the world - my way and the wrong way. There is no room for compromise or connection or overlap. One of us will win and the other will lose. In this binary construction, we insist that words should mean the same thing whenever we use them. Legal scholars and activists before me have addressed the absurdities wrought by application of "formal equality" by looking beyond, around, and underneath the words to consider context: facts, emotions, people, etc. What I am trying to do in this paper is to describe and experiment with a technique for learning how to look beyond the words to consider context. In other writing I have called this practice "critical reflection. " In this the paper, I describe the binary debate between abortion and gun control advocates and opponents, and then offer a clinical teaching methodology focused on critical reflection as a way of making real progress in resolving the tensions in such debates. I conclude that clinical pedagogy offers us, as both clinical teachers and human beings, opportunity after opportunity to push ourselves to be less binary and more open to possibilities for growth and change. This particular experiment involving my personal struggle with these intense social issues is only one example of how we can use our expertise in clinical theory and practice to become the teachers and parents and coworkers and citizens we strive to become.