Lists and public syllabi; or what the Internet ought to be good for

The Internet is good for making and circulating lists. Blog posts with titles like “3 ways to engage students with Google Slides,” “10 ways to make your Makerspace buzz!” or “The 5 classroom management tricks you need for Monday,” abound online and elicit a clickbait response from curious teachers.

At its core, a public syllabus is a curated list of texts and resources that has more substance and transformative power than informal, clickbait lists. The most noteworthy and potentially impactful examples of public syllabi that I know of are the #Fergusonsyllabus and the #Charlottesvillesyllabus, both of which illustrate the way social tools mediate vital public conversations when current events provoke an activist’s response from educators. The vision for the #Marginalsyllabus is to tinker with the affordances of the Internet in much the same way other online social justice efforts have (though I would not want to compare our humble efforts with the aforementioned, mostly because of the way those two captured the response of educators of color so profoundly.)

The #MarginalSyllabus aims to convene equity conversations in the margins of texts about equity. It tests the potential of public syllabi and online annotation. In the conversations we convene, we observe all kinds of things, and the work gives rise to all manner of questions. Our project unfolds monthly, one author partnership at a time, one text at a time, one new reader at a time. Remi studies what emerges formally, and I chicken scratch in my notebook and blog about what I see informally.

While syllabi and their evolution have an importance historically that  predates Twitter and tools like Hypothes.is, the current social landscape of the web is fraught but fertile ground where things emerge. Reading Twitter as I do to better understand issues of equity, I’ve encountered two tweets lately that help me think about the role of syllabi. What is more, participating in the #MarginalSyllabus this month has helped me make two connections between texts. What follows is my attempt to describe the connections that I make between tweets, and between texts, a reader’s response of sorts to the wide reading I’ve done lately in a politically charged time.

Two tweets –> two lists

Chris Gilliard’s tweet is overtly invitational. The volume of replies he received on Twitter created a pop-up syllabus of sorts that kept me navigating back to his tweet and reading the responses for a few days. I think his tweet, complete with replies, should be required reading for anyone working educational technology in public schools.

Clint Smith’s tweet is a call to interrogate syllabi. His stance and tone are markers of our turbulent political climate. When I read Smith’s tweet it caused me to reflect on my own teaching and the texts I’ve put in front of my 11th grade students this year as an English teacher in an urban setting. It also reminded me that all teachers should regularly reflect on the texts we put in front of students, especially white teachers like me who work in urban settings, because choose texts for students with different cultural backgrounds than our own.

Two connections between texts

This project, and our partnership this year with the National Writing Project, has given Remi and I a few occasions to look back at our first year’s syllabus for the purposes of curating it. The internet’s good for that too- curating curation efforts. This month’s reading, Danielle Allen’s chapter “Night Teaching,” excerpted with her permission from her book Our Declaration, caused me to look back at last year’s syllabus because of the connections I made as a reader. I was reminded of two texts and found myself looking back at my notes.

Above is a screenshot of my note in Hypothes.is. Click the image to see the note in context.

In the note pictured above, I explain the connection I see between two important texts about social justice. I was inspired by the way Allen focused on the word “autonomy”  when reading the Declaration of Independence closely. She does so to foster agency in her students. It reminded me of the way Linda Christensen aims to foster agency among teachers with her article, Critical Literacy and Our Students’ Lives .

Though I didn’t  create the link in my notes, this same section of Allen’s text reminded me of the way Bronwyn LaMay asked her 11th grade students to define the words “truth” and “agency,” work she detailed in “Revising Narrative Truth,” a selection from our syllabus last year. Both Allen and LeMay explore words and their meaning with students as an way to unpack identity. Their teaching goes beyond word study towards a study of the self. For me, this intertextual connection helps me reflect on my own work as a teacher and see ways I can be more responsive to my students.

The monthly reading we do with educators invites educators to make these kinds of connections and to test out the bridges they see between texts with other readers who might tread over those bridges on the way to more equitable teaching.

Here’s hoping the Internet is also good for promoting more equitable teaching.

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