Syllabus Planning and Other Ways to Induce Crying

This week, I’ve been knee deep in papers. Head deep really, as in sunk.

I’ve got a technique of putting all the papers around me and then getting more and more stressed about how all the papers will operate as a functioning course. This technique has always failed, but processes take time to discover right?

Here’s the thing, I’m looking at the sample syllabi and the kindness of colleagues for sharing how this new school and new programming operates, but I’m noticing a real lack of actually teaching writing.

I know, I know, I’m sure it’s implicitly there. But what if I’d rather plan a day where we literally just talked about appositives for how they function, how they are rhetorically manipulated, and how they can function as a metaphor for other types of writing (stemming from the Greek “to be near” it sets up the thinking that writing is often about putting ideas near other ideas and seeing how they start to act together)…doesn’t that seem like something we’d talk about it in a writing class?

I’m cool with all the critical reading, interpretation, and skills developed in that manner, but writing too often seems abstracted or formulaic. By college, I’m hoping we’re teaching them how formula structures can be manipulated and how writing actually “works” to think and create knowledge.

I guess it goes alongside a conversation about the over-teaching of narrative and a culture that relies on Instagram-ing, Tweeting (I like to say Twittering still because there is an anxious frenzy captured in that colloquialism), and updating about ourselves. Rarely do we talk about this as performance…we call it narrative sometimes, which seems false and seems to ignore any real study of narratology that examines the sense of surveillance even in self writing.

I have complicated feelings about starting with narrative in writing classes: community building (hooray), risk taking (hooray), but does it teach us how narrative effectively works? Is it often a throw-away assignment?

This quarter, I’m tying the narrative to questions of authenticity and leaning pretty heavy on Wittgenstein to drill the point. But I’m also planning on talking about writing strategies and not expecting that reading and “interacting” with texts is really a way that teaches writing. Fingers crossed that that’s the way it should be.

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