Ten Observations about Teaching and Academia

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by Tommy Carrico

* This post originally appear on the Practicum: Critical Theory, Religion, and Pedagogy blog.

Sometimes, an instructor is afforded a great amount of leeway when designing a course – reading schedules, assignments, course descriptions, and policies are all left up to her.  Other times, the syllabus comes pre-prepared with all of these policies, procedures, and reading lists: the instructor’s task is to teach a course that someone else has designed. In the former situation, the instructor is able to structure the readings, assignments, and flow of the course according to her research interests, style of argumentation, and the learning goals of the course. In the latter, while it may seem that the instructor is not afforded these opportunities, I have found that teaching a pre-prepared syllabus provides a unique opportunity to examine academic discourse more generally. Rather than viewing this type of teaching assignment as unduly restrictive, I would recommend using the construction of a body of knowledge as a theoretical grounding point to tie various elements of the course together.  This is, in many ways, an approach that scholars are (or should be) quite familiar with:

1. The instructor/scholar is presented with a unified body of material;

2. This unified body of material may have been divided into sub-sections based on any number of categorizations (thematic, chronological, etc.), necessitating that the instructor

3. Identify some kind of unifying principle, thesis, or logic to this body of material and its subdivisions,

4. Assess the strengths and weaknesses of this body’s unity,

5. Draw attention to the processes by which this material and its subdivisions are presented as related and unified,

6. Make an argument based on this body of material, introducing “outside” material as necessary, in order to

7. Challenge the presuppositions of the material itself as well as its unification, in order to

8. Come to a clearer conception of the production of bodies of knowledge as well as their internal strains/contradictions, in order to

9. Render elements of these bodies (in fact, the bodies themselves) contingent and, therefore, challengeable, in order to

10. Begin the project of re-structuring, expanding, or pruning particular commonplace categories or bodies of material presented as unified.

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