Socratic vs. Sadistic Method: Video Shows Canadian Professor Destroying Student’s Computer

There is a wide amount of latitude given to academic freedom in a classroom but destruction of a student’s computer falls a bit outside of the norm. For Professor Justin Leroux, of the HEC Montreal (Institute of Applied Economics), however, it appears part of the lesson plan — though the question is whether this was staged or serious.

Supposedly, this encounter occurred after a student peppered Leroux with repetitive questions and challenges over the boring character of his style. This may fall into the category of “too good to be true.” There are indications that this was an April Fool’s joke. If so, it is pretty funny, though some might be put off the the violent element. On the first day of class, I also play a trick on my students by asking a plant to translate Latin and when he does not, I call on a second plant who flawlessly translates the Latin. I then throw the first student out of the class. It is cheaper than destroying a computer each term. There have been a couple of lawsuit over fake gun-touting intruders or even a faux shooting in class.

Ironically, faculty across the country have been debating the impact of computers on classrooms. At my law school, there was a serious effort to ban computers, now used by every law student in class. The feeling among many is that students have become little more than stenographers and that they participate less in class discussions. That appears to be true from my own experience, though I opposed the ban.

For the video, click here

31 thoughts on “Socratic vs. Sadistic Method: Video Shows Canadian Professor Destroying Student’s Computer”

  1. Ahh, I knew Mespo was likely from Richmond Law… but I digress.

    I think law school prepares one to stand before the tough judges of the world, and therefore believe the Socratic method to be absolutley necessary and essential to a proper legal education.

    It hasn’t hurt Mespo a bit.

  2. Justin:

    Sorry for the error. I read your CV on the website and saw your birthplace. I made the ignorant assumption which you clarified for me. To make amends, I should initially tell you that I am not licensed in Canada and could only be a poor substitute for local counsel there. However, in this Country most states make actionable a branch of defamation knowns as “false light.” Under that theory an actor is liable in damages and for injunctive relief if the defendant creates:
    1). A publication by the Defendant about the Plainitff;

    (2). made with actual malice (very similar to that type required by New York Times v. Sullivan in “Defamation” cases);

    (3). which places the Plaintiff in a false light;

    AND

    (4). that would be highly offensive (i.e., embarassing to reasonable persons.

    This is but one of several options available to plaintiffs here. You may also have a claim for tortuous and intentional interference in contract if the culprits are attempting to interfere with your employment; intentional infliction of emotional distress; fraud; unlawful appropriation of your likeness or image if done for commercial reasons; slander/libel depending on what was actually said or written; infringement of certain intellectual property rights, and probably many more claims under various Canadian common and statutory law. I would suggest a consultation with local counsel. I am likewise sure that Professor Turley could opine much better than I on your predicament, but I would nip this in the bud before anything gets out of hand. Legal shots over the bow have altered the course of many ships.

  3. mespo727272:

    I don’t know how to answer this one, I am actually American 🙂 An English-subtitled video explaining it all can be found at:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=spKuQAdf5r8

    I would like to ask a legal question of my own. I have spent the better part of the last three days doing “damage control”, making sure that most people understood that the entire event had been a prank. I had received a fair number of threats and hate mail from the viewers of Liveleak.com in particular. My department chair and the PR-people at my insitutions had also received unwelcome comments. So here’s my question:

    How liable are people who purposely edit and post videos out of context such as the first one you saw, and thus taint the names of a person (me) and of a reputable institution like HEC Montreal?

    Thank you very much in advance for your feedback.

    Regards,
    Justin

    Jill:

    Thank you for your kind support and your concern.

  4. Justin:

    I did enjoy your prank and your French sense of humor. Just one probably ignorant question(and maybe an equally ignorant assumption), with the rich history of Gallic literary and stage humor (Voltaire is my hero), why the fascination with clumsy American physical comedian Jerry Lewis?

  5. In 1968, Monroe “Monty” Freedman taught the pure Socratic method at GW Law, but with his own conditions.

    First, he only called on volunteers. You had to be willing to be skewered and humiliated.

    Second, he said he never reduced a students grade for bad classroom performance, but only increased it for good work. I heard (hearsay) that one student(an Army LTC)had his grade upped 15 points for classroom participation.

    Third, he tipped the students off to the key method of coping. Go the the law reviews back when the case was decided and get the student case note. Use the 100 hours of student research to flatten the professor. He said that he had been told that it could be an exhilaration experience. Still good advice today.

    He read one student’s answer to an exam question to the rest of to show us how it should be done. She wound up on the GW Law faculty for many years.

  6. I will say that the most memorable undergraduate professor I had was the one most likely to humiliate and degrade students. Not only was there a constant (and usually futile) effort to achieve his good graces, but those rare moments when a student could either one-up him or deliver a well-timed bon mot would provide a confidence boost unlike any other.

  7. Dear Jill,

    Thank you for your support of the video, and for keeping things hypothetical thereafter. Let me reassure you, no one was harmed in the video. The “student” whose laptop was smashed was actually an actor, and his laptop an antique which had not functioned in years.

    Judging from the students’ reactions, even days after the fact, they absolutely LOVED the prank.

    I enjoyed reading the legal arguments nonetheless.

    Best regards,
    Justin

  8. To all,

    I agree that a staged event would be the equivalent of an actual event in the mind of a person who experienced it. Even if an explanation is received in short order damage might have been done. I know if someone pulled a gun on me I would be terrified and not likely mollified by learning that it had been staged.

    My hunch in this case is: it was April fools and the class probably had enough experience with this teacher to know it was a joke. One thing I do know–if any of Justin’s students were injured they’ll know what to call their case now!!!

  9. rafflaw:

    I was your typical hyperactive child with a penchant for running around the schoolroom. The good sisters broke me of this without dosing me with Ritalin. They simply stapled my trousers –not my flesh– to the seat of my desk.

    When I was drafted into the Army back in ’71 & had to endure Basic at Fort Knox & then AIT at Fort Polk, I didn’t understand why my fellow recruits were whining so much. The rigors of military training were as nothing compared to the tortures of parochial school. All the Army wanted was a superficial conformity & obedience; the nuns were after your soul.

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