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Grant Gilmore once said that the Golden Age of the Yale Law School always seemed to lie in its immediate past, in the time of those who had just gone, while another Golden Age could be achieved in its immediate future if only a few things were done, if only a few things worked out. With a gentle sarcasm, born of intense loyalty, he would contrast this state of affairs with that which obtained at other great law schools whose Golden Age seemed always to be present, and whose past achievements in retrospect seemed dull. He liked the Yale Law School that way. It bespoke an unwillingness to rest—which is not to be confused with the restlessness—that informed his view of teaching, of scholarship, and indeed of law.
When I began teaching at Yale, I was so nervous that I could not eat before my classes. I asked my fellow teachers when the nervousness would end, when I could approach my classes with confidence in my knowledge, in my capacity to arouse and to explain. Different teachers gave different answers. But Grant replied: "If it ever does, get out of the profession... at once!" A teacher so complacent—so confident that he or she is living in the Golden Age of his or her achievements—may indeed explain, may indeed seem to the students of the moment to be a great teacher. But such great teachers (as Grant said elsewhere) "should be hunted down and shot." Openness to students and their ideas can exist only in self-doubt, in the knowledge that the last year, the last class went well, that all could so easily go well again—but that the next time could also be a disaster. It is uncertainty that prompts the restless intellect needed to encourage students to think for themselves.
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