Véronique Bélanger: Stimulating curiosity

Véronique Bélanger

"I believe that the outside point of view on the law brings a valuable perspective, yet many of us lose it when we’ve been inside so long."

Véronique Bélanger teaches the first-year course on Civil Law Property. In addition to teaching McGill students, Véronique took part in the 2010 Shantou University-McGill University Summer Law Program, which promotes an understanding of the different judicial systems and legal cultures of China and Canada. With colleague Rosalie Jukier, Véronique gave public talks at Shantou University entitled “Canadian Culture, Society and Law” and “Legal Education in Canada.”

What motivates you to teach law?

I’ve always been very curious about what’s around me and how things work. And now as a professor, I enjoy sharing my curiosity about law and how it works, as well as sharing my discoveries. These discoveries can cover a wide range of reactions, from an absolute sense of émerveillement – that is, a sense of awe at how ingenious law can be given that it’s a social artifact to puzzlement and sometimes even a sense of discouragement. When I teach a first-year civil law course about the relationship between people and property, much of this curiosity comes to the fore because the students ask a lot of intriguing questions.

When a student asks a question that I can’t immediately answer, I’ll sometimes task him or her with a bit of research and ask that student to share it with everyone in the next class. Through such a simple process, the whole class learns something new. As well, by the way they ask their questions or when I see they don’t understand a subject under discussion, I learn a different perspective about teaching. And this is especially true with first-year students who are just starting to think about law. They perhaps haven’t learned yet that law is very much about categories and classifications hence their questions can cross many boundaries since they take nothing for granted.

By just explaining why some questions are off-topic, it can be a learning moment for all involved. I’ll reflect, “Oh right, they are looking at this subject from the outside.” I believe that the outside point of view on the law brings a valuable perspective, yet many of us lose it when we’ve been inside so long. Law can be less interesting in the middle because the answers may appear obvious, so it appeals to my sense of curiosity to teach closer to the margins. This can be a lot of fun actually, as we test the boundaries of those classifications and get to ponder “Is this in or out?” In this way, I find my students’ own curiosity quite motivating and often think I learn as much from them as they learn from me.