I got caught up in the syllabus conversation on WPA-L  and did a couple of quick searches. I will admit that I was looking for a particular point of view (way too much time spend on syllabi); but at any rate, they were interesting links. 

Here’s my quick take: when you start your class, don’t spend more than 15 min max on a syllabus—I try to keep mine to 10. Students on the first day are bored stiff by all the syllabi stuff. I try to abide by some of the institutional imperatives, but I am NOT going to include junk that I know is counter-productive to good teaching (read: Disciplined Minds). For my money, our allegiance is to our students, not to the institution. Duh. 
Overly focusing on syllabi (and grades—the ugly stepchild of contract-syllabi) is simply wrong teaching. If you think I’m wrong, re-read the work of Freire, read Shor, re-read Dewey. I’m going to restate: education is a collaborative enterprise; the degree to which you make it adversarial marks your having fallen into the social reproductive mechanism of education. One of my sources said re-read Jerry Faber, Student as Nigger.  

My suggestion: when you start your class, tell students that you want to work with them on improving their writing and having them help you improve your teaching. Tell them that if they are in every class and do all the work, they will have an A. If they miss some stuff, they’ll go down a bit. Make it simple. By all means, get away from the accounting mechanism of assigning grades. And ALWAYS (as Seth knows) realize that by emphasizing grades, you are reproducing the capitalist construct—like how can anyone miss this?

2 Replies to “”

  1. Hey Irv,

    I've been doing what you suggest here for several years. The frickin' syllabus has gotten so frickin' legalistic, long, and painful that I cannot, I just cannot bring myself to "go over it" at the start of the term.

    I do highlights, and try to sound serious, if not gruff, but I always fail at it and despite myself, come across as a nice guy and a collaborator. I have suffered for this, academically, professionally and in my marriage. (That last part is not totally a joke, but partially it is. Cody in the History department is a MUCH tougher teacher than me. Word gets around that we're married. Students are incredulous, expressly.)

    Anyway, you should also know that I am putting your four rules at the top of all of my syllabi nowadays. With attribution, of course.

    Finally, I hear your going to be at 4Cs with Keith this year. Damn, what a year to miss the show.

    Love your blog.


  2. Hi, Dave
    Thanks for your comment. We could actually do quite a reading of the function of a syllabus (i'm framing this within articulation theory). Really, they are quite silly. Most of a syllabus is for someone else other than the student. We have to decide how much of the game we will play–which you are doing. I make some concessions to the administration, but others, I simply won't agree to. Since my syllabus is online, I use links a lot. Really, I don't spend more than ten minutes on a syllabus–I just want them to know what the course his about, the kinds of activities we're going to engage in, and how we're going to grade (i use portfolios). And tell them the rest of the stuff is there to read if they want to. They syllabus really isn't me–or our class. It's a little bit of me. Those are the parts I pay attention to. If you write to me at drexel, I'll send you my syllabus with some comments on what I point to. Thanks for reading my blog. Would have liked to have seen you at Cs. Keith is my guitar hero.

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