With all of the different committee and administrative roles I have had in academia in the past 13 years, I have reviewed a whole LOTTA syllabi. Across multiple institutions and departments, the most dominant and lengthy prose that I have seen on these syllabi revolve around policy:
if and what you can eat and drink in the room
when and if you can go out and pee during class
when and if your mobile devices can be used or seen
how long your papers must be (with descriptions of their dullness— i.e., western styles of paragraphing, language, etc)
how to make headings on the page (usually of the bad 8th grade variety)
what happens if your body or your work is late or absent
who to call for this and that and when to call them
who to email for this and that and when to email them
numbers of all kindsa offices on campus, including the professor’s, and anyone else students can be pushed off on if they have life-difficulties (i.e., leave your personal problems at the door)
the horrors of plagiarism and the threats of what can happen
the campus’s cut-and-paste language/legalese around disability (rather than genuine care)
the department/program’s cut-and-paste list of learning objectives that a small group of faculty have gathered to write, usually for the purposes of assessment rather than a political investigation of what the hell we are teaching and how and why.
This bulleted list of PUREEEE boringness makes you wonder: who would actually want to read this mess? And what are students even learning? And you know what is significantly short? A discussion of the CONTENT STUDENTS ARE LEARNING! In fact, if you look at most syllabi, what students are mostly learning is the particular college’s and the classroom’s disciplining of their body movements. When you do get an actual course description, what you really see is the university’s neoliberalist discourse that appears in the course bulletin— more of a coded doctrine than any kind of readable prose because the course description is always really tight (in terms of words and characters allowed) and confined by the tastes and politics of the mostly white faculty who had to approve it. In fact, if you took a good look at most college syllabi across the country, you’d be hard-pressed to argue that any real student learning is happening at all… or that words mean and do anything but CONTROL students’ bodies.
My 2014-2015 schoolyear was bookended on the one end, by the murder of Michael Brown, uprisings in Ferguson, protests in NYC over the strangulation of Eric Garner, the brutal kidnapping of the 43 college students in Liguala, AND on the other end, the uprisings in Baltimore. Though I haven’t written about it yet, I began teaching first year writing this year in collaboration with a Latin@ Leadership program called ¡Adelante! at my college. I try my best NOT to write about the classes and students who I am currently teaching (mostly because them younguns are on here readin). I will forsake that personal rule this time though.
I really can’t imagine what this schoolyear would have been like had I not had the ¡Adelante! students in my life. I have been absolutely exhausted and depleted watching yet another and another and another public execution of a black person. The violence against we brown and black bystanders puts us at risk of all kinds of mental, emotional, and psychological harm too. It has become crystal clear to me that I do not have the patience or inclination to sit in a classroom with young people, especially if they are majority-white, who do not see that the annihilation of black and brown bodies, their language values, and their epistemological systems is REAL and that the wherewithal to fight it, by and with any means necessary, is the most radical intellectual work you can undertake.