Mythologizing Syllabi and Grades

It might be clear from the posts on WPA-l that a syllabus is not a legal contract–in spite of wide-spread belief. What’s interesting  is the motivation behind this discourse that has lead professors to claim with near-certainty that it is (the head of the curriculum committee at LSU got a bit red in the face when I asked how he knew it was–good friend, by the way).

So: the subject here is the myths linked to the syllabus-contract conversation. The question is why do professors buy into what is obviously a myth?

I know the genuflect to the syllabus myth has something to do with a defensive posture.  Let me frame a counter-posture: We are educators. We believe in the free-floating (that is, apart from grades) value of writing, reading, thinking. We believe in education as somehow being above what can be ranked and counted. And we believe that we want our students to fall in love with learning (and writing) irrespective of the money or grades that reward them for their labor.

So, we’re idealists. At least some of us are. So why do so many of us allow us to get locked into this counting game–that the only kind of knowledge that counts is countable?

I know our defensive posture has something to do with the myth of the decline in public education. I have two sources one should read here: Berliner and Biddle’s The Manufactured Crisis and Ivan Illych’s Deschooling Society. They form the right and left hand of a  argument about the institutionalization of schools; if we have a crises, we can justify more projects and the need for more resources (i.e., us).

This is  an old argument–and one with some weight.  So why don’t we feel good about what we do? Why do I have to defend my very simple motivation of wanting my students to love writing the way I do, to know it as way of coming to know, of communicating, of being, of creating community? Why in the academic community do so many of us allow us to frame writing instruction as labor rather than joy? And where do grades lie in this? What ideology lies behind the institutionalized link between grades and learning?

One Reply to “Mythologizing Syllabi and Grades”

  1. On writing as joy rather than labor, I just don't know. We could ask, Why do we frame math as labor rather than joy? Or any other subject. Why isn't it enough just to learn something new, perhaps more like a puzzle than joy?

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