Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Bit More On Syllabi

Anti-Climacus lends some support to Jacob T. Levy's comments. JTL writes:
At root I'm out of sympathy with your basic instinct. I've been keeping those huge-reading-list syllabi since first year of undergrad, and I still consult them. The 80-page grad syllabus from the late Walter Murphy represents his lifetime of literature reviewing, and I'm grateful to have it.

FLG has been giving this some thought.

Look, FLG is all in favor of long lists of readings. For example, he's trying to make his way through the Georgetown Government Department's recommended reading list for political theory PhDs. (Incidentally, he realized that he had to scratch some more readings off the list.) The question is whether that has to go on the syllabus or whether it can be a separate reading list. Which is probably a question of style or taste, but FLG prefers keeping them separate insofar as one is a reference as opposed to a list of assigned class readings.

Also, FLG wanted to put his comments in some additional context and perhaps refine his argument somewhat. A lengthy reading list makes sense for a graduate-level seminar. An undergraduate or MBA class, which is the context within FLG was writing his little diatribe, is different. Put simply -- FLG thinks, and he's willing to guess that most other people agree, that it would be inappropriate to include the same reading list on the syllabus of an undergrad course as a grad seminar. Likewise, the point of an MBA class isn't to expose students to all the theories on the topic, but to take a more applied, practical approach.

Now, FLG must admit that he is a bit uncomfortable with that last point. Even if we are being applied and practical, the students still should be exposed to the important thinkers and theories in the field or discipline. But FLG thinks we all can say there's a difference between the focus and the types and amount of readings for a MBA versus a PhD class.

So, FLG's point here is that JTL's argument is persuasive, or perhaps more persuasive, within the context of him doing a PhD and then becoming an academic. It's perhaps less persuasive when it comes to other paths. But again, FLG is uncomfortable with this argument. Perhaps because he likes theories and readings.

That then brings FLG to this point -- perhaps the syllabus length is dependent upon the level of the course. FLG, given his love for Plato, dislikes this argument on visceral level. So, he still thinks the Form of the syllabus is 1-3 pages. A reading list for further reading and later reference for graduate students, or for interested and ambitious undergraduates, should be provided separately.

Finally, a 17 page syllabus is entirely inappropriate for any class, but is doubly inappropriate for an MBA class.

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