Timbaland’s “Apology,” a plastic microphone and a karaoke machine are just some of the state-of-the-art tools used to teach Boston University graduate students all they need to know about law.
School of Law professor Mark Pettit said he uses nearly 20 years’ worth of student-written parodies in his class to encourage student participation and create an easy-going atmosphere to contrast the intimidating image of law school.
“If I make myself look ridiculous, students are much more willing to participate,” Pettit said. “They don’t have to worry so much about saying something that’s going to make them look ridiculous.”
Pettit said he began singing in his first-year Contracts class after a student wrote a poem about a case the class was studying and Pettit read it aloud. Many poems followed, and then a case spurred a lyric to the tune of The Brady Bunch theme song. Pettit said his students have been adding to his repertoire ever since.
“[The songs] make it more accessible to talk to the professor, because he shows an interest in students, and you know that he’s not some grumpy troll,” said first-year law student Wendy Smith.
Smith said Pettit’s teaching methods help make dry material more interesting and reduce anxiety about answering questions. This year, she said she co-wrote a song to Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” and Pettit performed it in class after the Red Sox won the World Series.
Pettit said even though he has been performing in class since 1987, he is still nervous before each song because some are difficult to sing.
“Some of my performances were very weak indeed,” he said. “But I think students get a kick out of it. I think part of the thing is that I’m not a great singer, and that’s what makes it [funnier].”
First-year law student Ross Bul said the songs occasionally help him remember basic concepts of the cases discussed in class. Pettit’s teaching style is “as engaging as his songs,” Bul said in an email.
“[Pettit will] play devil’s advocate to your point or jokingly yell at you to make you think you are wrong … to get you to verbalize your answer,” Bul said.
Pettit said his colleagues think his songs’ growing publicity is good for BU Law and law school in general because those programs can be intimidating and students need to know it can also be fun. The Princeton Review recognized Pettit as the first for faculty quality among a list of 40 top-rated professors.
“There’s no other law professor like him in the country,” Bul said