A  new and innovative form of teaching is presented in Lynda Barry’s Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor. With the exception of tumblr (which is far from the focus of her text), Barry explains her inspiring from of pedagogy that requires a substantial amount of unique student engagement, yet, is able to do so without the overpowering use of technology. The primary focus of Barry’s classes are centered around drawing and what can be pulled from the brain using the creative mental processes that drawing requires. Barry notes that her goal was to be able to see “what happens when students from different disciplines get together to work intensely, using both drawing and writing to bring about the unthinkable” (10). However, there is much more to it than just drawing  and writing in order to achieve the intended outcome for the class. In addition, there is a certain mental state that the student must be in while drawing. If one chooses to rush the drawing assignment, the intended goal for that assignment is lost. Barry uses Dan Chaon’s term called “dreaming awake” where “they’ll get nothing from the work without the state of mind that comes with it. It’s a thing … we can use writing and drawing to get to that state, but not by rushing” (128). Thus, the assignment becomes much more than just completing a task by a deadline. There is a certain amount of genuine desire and interest that is innately required of the student in order to succeed that most other college assignments do not obtain.

In this respect, there is a quality of Barry’s teaching methods that is not specifically addressed. There is a certain level of independence and individuality that the student acquires throughout the course. Although it is not directly presented in the grading scale, Barry only gives A’s to students who “demonstrate active engagement with the work, … [and] also find something original during the course of the semester.” Thus, the student must go beyond the realm of the classroom, and even beyond their own reality to grasp on to something new that was not there before.  Barry writes, “What I mean by ‘finding something original’ may be hard to define on paper, but it’s unmistakable when it starts to happen. The whole class feels it. A  new way of seeing comes about, a new approach to problem-solving and working that extends beyond the limits of our class time into other aspects of daily life” (59). The student cannot find the answer in a textbook, lecture notes or a website. They are required to depend on themselves in order to find the answer. After years of using the same crayon coloring assignment in which the student is instructed to fill the entire page with color, Barry admits that “I realize now the best results came when I gave no instructions except ‘spend time on the assignment’” (89). Therefore, not only does Barry mold her students from various disciplines into a unique group of DHer’s, but she also is able to do so while also instilling an invaluable quality of independence and innovative creativity. Although technology can be extremely useful in certain forms of pedagogy, Barry showcases a teaching method that bypasses technology and, arguably, produces more beneficial outcomes from students.

 

Works Cited:

Barry, Lynda. Syllabus: Notes From an Accidental Professor. Canada: Drawn and Quarterly, 2014. Print.

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