Singing Law Professor Rocks the Classroom For nearly 20 years, Professor Mark Pettit has been spicing up his classes by singing legal spoofs of Top 40 hits, like Michael Jackson's "Beat It" (Pettit sings "Breach It"). He has a collection of greatest hits — all student written — that run from rap to rock.
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Singing Law Professor Rocks the Classroom

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Singing Law Professor Rocks the Classroom

Singing Law Professor Rocks the Classroom

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NPR's Tovia Smith reports.

TOVIA SMITH: Everybody knows law school can be pretty tedious stuff especially a class by contracts.

MARK PETTIT: Unidentified Woman #1: You mean like...

SMITH: A few minutes in class and you begin to see why a professor like B.U.'s Mark Pettit would want to take a break from the Socratic method.


SMITH: Behind his podium, this tweedy, buttoned-up law professor grabs a red toy guitar and mirrored sunglasses and in a Clark-Kent-like transformation, Mark Pettit emerges as Tom Petty.

PETTIT: (Singing to the tune of Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'") There's this product, cures your ailments. You don't believe us.


SMITH: Call it a more inspired case study of the Carbolics Smoke Ball Company.

PETTIT: (Singing to the tune of Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'") Smoke balling, I'm so smoke balling.

SMITH: And just like that, this not so buttoned-up after all contracts professor, is a rock star.


ALEXIS ROLLINS: Oh no, he's wonderful. Yeah, definitely.

ALEXANDER NAFF: Probably the coolest thing that I have ever heard happening at a law school (unintelligible). It kind of blew my mind.

SMITH: Students - Alexander Naff, Alexis Rollins and Kirsten Johnson(ph) - say they appreciate Pettit's comic relief, and they say the fun actually help them.

ROLLINS: The songs get stuck in your hear. If you have so many cases, it's a lot easier to remember them when he does stuff like that.

SMITH: Do you think he had has a good voice?


ROLLINS: I mean, he's no Michael Jackson, when it comes down to it

SMITH: Maybe not but don't tell Pettit that.

PETTIT: (Singing to the tune of Michael Jackson's "Beat It") It doesn't matter who's wrong or right just reach it, just reach it...

SMITH: Pettit started singing, reluctantly, some 20 years ago, when a student wrote a spoof of the Brady Bunch song, and ask Pettit to sing it.

PETTIT: So I said, whoa, wait a second. I said, you know, I can't sing. I have to have some decorum in the classroom, some dignity.

SMITH: But Pettit couldn't resist.

PETTIT: I might be able to do that so...

SMITH: So a star was born, and students have been sending Pettit more and more challenging renditions ever since.

PETTIT: (Singing) Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah, Yeah...

SMITH: Like Britney Spears.

PETTIT: (Singing) Oops, you decided to trust what I said about rust, you're not that innocent.

SMITH: And you don't want to miss his "Stairway to Heaven."

PETTIT: (Singing) And they're buying a gateway computer woohoo...

SMITH: Pettit says he still blushes when he sings, but he see his personal humiliation as a noble sacrifice. It encourages students to take more risks, he says, when they see me willing to look foolish myself.

PETTIT: (Singing to the tune of The Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Under The Bridge") I don't even want to feel like I did that day. Court said no relieves...

SMITH: But getting in touch with his inner-Red-Hot-Chili-Pepper in a closed classroom is not the same thing, Pettit notes, as putting himself out there in front a national radio audience.

PETTIT: Will I see how wise this turns out to be.

SMITH: Tovia Smith, NPR News, Boston.


BRAND: This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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