Processing, 5 April

It’s been a long time since I wrote a processing post. I was working (for way too long) on a talk that I gave on April 1st for the Women’s Studies Colloquium Series at MSUM. You can read it here: On (Re) Claiming Education: One story, a few lists, lots of questions and an invitation from a Undisciplined Troublemaking Feminist Educator.

Wow, that was a painful talk to write. Partly because it was long (a 40+ minute talk), but also because it was hard to position my work within the academy again. I was confronting some haunting questions and feeling really uncomfortable about what I could possibly offer to an academic audience.

I’m glad that I wrote it and presented it at Moorhead. The audience was great and I got to see one of my favorite people, KCF. Plus, through the process of working on it, I clarified some ideas for my book. In particular, I found an additional angle for my interest in the syllabus. Syllabus as contract.

The Contract

In my talk, I drew upon Adrienne Rich and her address, Claiming an Education.”= (I had used it for my first teaching statement from 2006). In revisiting it for my talk, I was struck by Rich’s focus on the importance of an ethical and intellectual contract between students and the teacher. Here’s how she describes it:

If university education means anything beyond the processing of human beings into expected roles, through credit hours, tests, and grades (and I believe that in a women’s college especially it might mean much more), it implies an ethical and intellectual contract between teacher and student. This contract must remain intuitive, dynamic, unwritten; but we must turn to it again and again if learning is to be reclaimed from the depersonalizing and cheapening pressures of the present-day academic scene (Adrienne Rich).


The contract is really a pledge of mutual seriousness about women, about language, ideas, method, and values. It is our shared commitment toward a world in which the inborn potentialities of so many women’s minds will not longer be wasted, raveled-away, paralyzed, or denied Adrienne Rich).

This contract, which Rich envisions as intuitive, unwritten, and flexible, and that involves a commitment to taking education and students seriously, seems very different from how the University understands a contract between a student and teacher (as a fixed, not-quite legally binding agreement between a customer, the student, and a service provider, the faculty).  But, what if we imagined the syllabus as an ethical/intellectual (and not legal) contract? What would/could that look like?

In part 2 of my A Troubling Teaching Portfolio, I want to write a bit about the syllabus as contract. Bring in some of the discussion and literature about it. Offer up a few case studies. Experiment with how to reimagine it. As part of that re-imagining, I want to think about who the contract is between–a student and a teacher, a student and the other students, students/teacher/the University/the community? A learner and the texts/readings/ideas? 

I’ve added some sources to my Undisciplined Stories page.