A Syllabus in the news

The untimely death of David Carr, the New York Times‘s much-loved and -respected media columnist, has sparked interest in an appropriately sharp question: what did he do to earn so much esteem? One of those things was teaching, and one of his recent syllabi cropped up — on Medium, of all places. The Times has a thinkpiece on it, and Molly Wright Steenson has written another. Carr’s syllabus is smart, personal, and indicative of how quickly and completely syllabi are changing.

February 16th, 2015 by


At his “more than 95 theses” blog, Alan Jacobs has reproduced an impressive syllabus from W. H. Auden’s course “Fate and the Individual in European Literature” — “with the permission of the Estate of W. H. Auden.” It was then widely reproduced (without permission of Auden’s estate, one assumes) by outlets like The Atlantic and Flavorwire, under the rubric of syllabi by “famous people” such as David Foster Wallace (here and here).


Flavorwire links to a blog post by Josh Jones at Open Culture, who writes:

As anyone who’s ever done it knows, the art of syllabussing is a fine one. (Yes, it’s a word; don’t look it up, take my word for it — Syllabussing: creating the perfect syllabus for a college-level course). It requires precision planning, stellar formatting and copy-editing skills, and near-perfect knowledge of the college-student psyche. For one, the syllabus must explain in clear terms what students can expect from the class and what the class expects from them. And it must do this without sounding so dry and pedantic that half the class drops in the first week. For another, the perfect syllabus (there’s no such thing, but one must strive) should function as both an FAQ and a contract: need to know how to format your papers? See the syllabus. Forgot when the paper was due? Too bad — see the syllabus. And so on. Most teachers learn over time that a class can stand or fall on the strength of this document.

Jones, in turn, links to the University of Texas at Austin’s Harry Ransom Center’s archive of DFW’s teaching materials, including his marked-up copies of Steven King’s Carrie and Thomas Harris’s Silence of the Lambs (with a paperback cover adapted from the movie poster).

July 12th, 2013 by