Well, we’ve made it!
Congratulations, you’ve survived September. Its been difficult, what with the inevitable topsy-turvyness of beginning classes and the seventh-circle-of-hellmouthness of online grant applications. I myself have just flown back to Halifax from a weekend conference in Edmonton. I’m jetlagged and preparing to finish tomorrow’s lecture. This of course has me thinking about my school wardrobe. No, not (only) this kind. In addition to wondering how I’ll patch together a swelter-worthy-yet-professional-and-slightly-edgy ensemble, I find myself thinking more seriously about that other kind of academic fashion: the syllabus. I mean, I remember shopping for courses based wholly on how exciting/scandalous/unusual the syllabus looked.
Am I alone in that?
I have the good fortune to be teaching, among other things, a contemporary theory course. I’ve taught a version of it several times, at two different universities, but this year I’ve given the reading list a huge makeover. Each time I teach this course I find that the students are both excited and a bit apprehensive. They seem to think that the reading material is going to be duller than unsweetened oatmeal (though oatmeal is anything but dull). Some of the time they are right. After all, while intellectually stimulating, sure, the structural anthropologists are don’t generally pop into my mind as paragons of stylish writing.
Obviously the use of theory has been debated over and again and that isn’t what I’m interested in here. Nope. I’m wondering how many of us out there give our syllabi new school outfits. It has crossed my mind that, given I’m on a 3/3 teaching load I might consider recycling some material—and don’t get me wrong, I do (though actually quite rarely...)! But I find myself continually working to pull the reading list together into a kind of cutting edge meets classic whole.
I’ll go out on a limb and say: changing one’s syllabus is as important as changing up one’s style. It gives you a chance to see how you fit your own thinking into, alongside, or against whatever is au courant in your field. And its our job to remain engaged with our respective fields. So despite the fact that I'm wishing I had an old lecture to pull out of my archives for tomorrow, I know its worth the effort.
How often do you change your syllabus?