An introductory law school course in contract law should at the outset provide students with some general orientation to the rationale for and social consequences of that body of law. The instructor should first present a broad overview of the field that reflects the conventional characterization of contract law as a benign social institution that facilitates private ordering through encouraging general promisee reliance. However, this initial orientation should also expose the students to a contrasting and more critical perspective that calls attention to contract law's potential use as a means of social domination and oppression. The students will then be better equipped to broadly reflect upon the doctrines they will subsequently learn.
Unfortunately, some instructors present the conventional characterization without the complementary critical perspective, thus doing their students a disservice. A brief discussion of the history of indentured servitude and sharecropper contracts in the U.S. provides an excellent vehicle for imparting this critical perspective, which can be done in a succinct manner that does not crowd out much doctrinal coverage. This short article presents for consideration the text of a sample lecture presentation of this material that could be included early in a contract law course using only about thirty minutes of class time, even including student comments and instructor responses thereto.
Gregory S. Crespi,
Teaching Contract Law: Introducing Students to a Critical Perspective through Indentured Servitude and Sharecropper Contracts,
SMU L. Rev.