Thinking Beyond the Canon

Journal: Hastac

When we think about a syllabus, often there are visions of a packet full of background information on the course material, the required texts for the class, what is expected of the students, student learning outcomes, and a tentative class schedule for the semester.  However, this is not the case with this syllabus being discussed in this article.  In the article from the hastac journal titled “Thinking Beyond the Canon” by Flora de Tournay, Tournay identifies the complexities with this syllabus in regards to canon.  When you have several marginalized authors in the curriculum for the course, it is assumed that this would give students the chance to respond critically to the novels.  However, that is not always the case in some college classes and does more harm than good to the students.

With this new approach to the syllabus, it opens up possibilities for commentary, visual representations, and even notes left by the students.  For example, Tournay says this about the syllabus, “Self-authoring or -authorship, which here functions as the methodological manifestation of my own pedagogical approach, is also reflected in the course’s proposed content” (Tournay).  What this means is that the students are taking charge with the curriculum and in turn, the syllabus is a product to this activity.  In this course, the required readings are from African-American writers (which are either Queer or Female) that have been not discussed in your average English Literature college course.  All of these texts were mainly autobiographical, which includes the cultural history this author has endured in their life.  In a way, this gives students a chance to read the text like you are a writer.

Besides the texts being discussed during this course, the students are given essays that discuss the exclusion around the canon and what sort of hardships are faced when talking non-canonical literature.  Activities in this course would include group work, in-class free writes, and longer writing exercises; those writing exercises would be evaluated by their peers in class and several workshops would be assigned on the day of class.  The pedagogical goal is for the students to think deeper in literature at the higher education level and practice composition at the same time.  With revolving around the idea the marginalized authors and how the students can write about how the authors are not included in the canon, this affirms their chance to be co-designers of this composition course.

I found this article very relevant to Backwards Design because of the syllabus is designed to revolve around outcomes and desirable results (which is included in Grant Wiggins’s “What is Backwards Design?” chapter).  On top of that, in my creative writing course, I am an instructional assistant for, poet Tatiana Luboviski-Acosta shared with the class a crucial story.  She was a curator for a reading series, but only academics were allowed to this reading series.  To circle back to this article, Acosta and Tournay bring up a similar theme: exclusion.  The goal is to advise students to look at the deeper aspect of exclusion of these marginalized authors of literature and how to take authority over the discussion to focus more on inclusion outside of the canon.

https://www.hastac.org/blogs/floradetournay/2018/05/21/thinking-beyond-canon

You can see the syllabus here:

https://www.hastac.org/sites/default/files/upload/files/post/writing_literary_history_syllabus_f._de_tournay.pdf

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