Wednesday, October 18, 2006

secret syllabus

A student in my Public History class asked several weeks ago if our course had a "secret syllabus" -- the concept has been running around a few courses in our grad program. It's worth noting that I think the student meant it in terms of "What (or how) are you secretly trying to teach us?" but the original meaning -- at least as I understand it -- is "What books, articles, life, etc. are informing you at the moment, beyond the ones that you've put on the syllabus?"

To answer the latter question: good question. I think we're terribly informed by the sometimes happenstance things we're reading, watching, listening to. (My brother was heavily into John Prine one summer, & I can't help but feel that hearing a chorus of one of his songs repeatedly in the car contributed to me asking my wife to marry me. For aficionados, no, the song wasn't "Quit Hollerin' at Me.")

But to answer the former question: good question. No, I wouldn't like to think I'm hiding the important stuff from students, if for no other reason than that the hard-copy syllabus is likely to have more staying power: if the student turns to any syllabus in the future (for instance, in composing their own), it'll be a real one. I guess my secret is how intrinsic I feel the syllabus to be in setting up a course, the care that goes into imagining, "Ok, they'll read this, & we'll discuss that, and the following week we'll take things down the road a little more." My real syllabus secret is that I get impatient; I want students to read everything at once.


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