As an educator, I am interested in collective learning processes, the accessibility of arts education and the equal and fair distribution of knowledge and information outside of higher education. Also, because I teach Theatre & Performance, my pedagogy focuses not only on what I teach (the subject matter), but also on how I teach (the method, medium of the learning activity).
As Alyssa Lyons puts in in her introduction, the Hashtag Syllabus Project collects “open access syllabi created outside of traditional academe and shareable through many online platforms, especially social media platforms”. Since April 2017, Racism Review has been collecting and curating them on their website not only for academics but for “anyone who is simply interested in growing and learning more” (Lyons).
In many ways, the Hashtag Syllabus Project is exciting. The mode in which this knowledge is gathered is innovative. The mode of crowd-sourcing is voluntarily collective, because “anyone, regardless of training or credentials, can offer a suggested addition” (Williams) to any syllabus, according to Chad Williams, the Associate Professor of African and African-American studies at Brandeis University who initiated and collated the #CharlestonSyllabus using Twitter. If used consciously, this voluntary and collective nature of crowd-sourcing via social media can bring in a democratic structure which will make the project long-lasting and hence more effective in its goal of “social transformation” via “critical thinking” and “truth telling” (Williams).
Currently, many different Hashtag Syllabi are produced and published by various collectives such as the African American Intellectual History Society (AAIHS), Public Books, NYC Stands with Standing Rock Collective, The Red Papers , and the African American Policy Forum, as well as many individual authors. It is distributed not only via social media but via Racism Review. Although some might be concerned about the legitimacy of the Hashtag Syllabi project due to its potential lack of overarching structure or direction, at least all the syllabi collected on Racism Review are supported by the dedicated and thought-out editorial structure with its mission clearly stated under the brief preface of each syllabus.
I would like to point out that the Hashtag syllabi’s ever-evolving nature — or more precisely, the fact that these syllabi inevitably change to collate sources that have been left in the dust or that reflect the current geo-political climate — makes them radically different from traditional, already set and solid syllabi that are commonly understood as contracts between the instructors and the students. In this way, the project will remain process-oriented, and in its process of knowledge production, a community with common interests and goals is formed within the supportive structure of collaboration.
I am excited for the project’s potential to challenge the current structure of knowledge production (i.e. the ivory tower, canon-making, etc.). I am excited for the project’s ability to produce and disseminate knowledge outside of the structure of current higher education. At the same time, although I am not entirely sure about how the individual syllabus contributors deal with the copyright of the individual reading sources that are yet to be public-domain, I am thrilled for the project’s potential to question the current structure of the intellectual property ownership (i.e. copyright and authorship of a syllabus, of primary sources and secondary sources).
On top of everything, the project’s activist motivation, that it was initiated “in response to the events in Charleston, Ferguson, and the Black Lives Matter movement… to educate, learn and challenge the prevailing discourse about race” (Williams) shines new hope toward educational activism, or what I would dare call, revolution via education. I believe that through the voluntary collectiveness of the online crowd-sourcing platform and with the help of collaborative editorial support, the Hashtag Syllabus Project can form an inclusive and firmly supportive community.
However, I do want to stress the importance of physical presence to the project’s success. To preface, I see the Hashtag Syllabus Project as a social movement that aims to challenge the current structures of knowledge production by seeking and suggesting alternatives ways to produce and distribute knowledge and information (such as the shared practice of communal knowledge production via crowd-sourcing or the practice of self-education outside of the structure of higher education), with its ultimate goal being “social transformation” via “critical thinking” and “truth-telling” (Williams).
Here, I am questioning the Hashtag Syllabus Project’s mobility (and hence efficacy) outside of the higher education system and efficacy of the self-education practice in the era of Google or Wikipedia – a.k.a. information overloading. Will a person whose interest is just merely burgeoning be able to apply the concept of discourse to the structure of white supremacy without being able to discuss and unpack the material in the (higher) educational environment? I am speaking from my own experience. Even though the syllabus has all the instructions to conquer the topic of Trumpism, for example, the information becomes a mere redirection if it is not accompanied by the appropriate learning environment or at least a guide to construct such an environment.
This is where my pedagogical interest in how to teach as well as what to teach meets the Hashtag Syllabus Project. Here I am suggesting a set of questions to push the project to move forward, onward and upward with its root grounded in physical presence and its efficacy deriving from its actual application to its recipient: aside from students within higher education environment with an instructor, who can be the recipient of these syllabi? What might be the demographic of them? How will this education be executed considering the different demographics of the recipient such as age, class, and race? Who will be the facilitator if any is needed? (i.e. parents, visiting volunteering instructors from neighboring educational environment, visiting volunteering peer group from college or non-profit educational collectives) What will their learning environment look like? (i.e. by oneself? A small interest group? Online? Offline? Hybrid?)
This is not to say that we need a non-profit organization to support the project. Yet, I suggest a D.I.Y. toolkit or perhaps an interactive website that contains hands-on directions of how to utilize the syllabi for those whose background is not based on academia in order to truly distribute the knowledge outside of academia and truly invite “anyone, irrespective of educational level or proficiency”(Williams) into the conversation. The toolkit should at least have a bite-size glossary of frequently used academic jargon and bite-size socio-political background issues contextualized in history, suggested discussion questions, and basic discussion-rules suggestions for constructive yet collective collaborative conversation.
Perhaps this will initiate regional meet up groups consisting of at least one volunteering facilitator who is in charge of the direction of the discussion. It is my hope that through this act of physicalizing this digital-based activism, the project and the movement gets to ground itself in physical community as well as virtual community. Even the Women’s Twentieth Century Club, a black women’s club founded in New Haven in 1900 as a part of African American’s self-education practice tradition, rooted itself in its physical location in New Haven (more information available via link). I strongly assume that without the physical location’s availability and without the periodic physical gatherings, the Women’s Twentieth Century Club would not have been as efficacious.
I believe in revolution via education. However, revolution cannot and should not rely on the devoted charismatic activist-minded individuals or leader figures. It needs a system, structure, and medium to spread and bind the participants or future constituents together. And I believe focusing more on the actual distribution part of the Hashtag Syllabus Project will give a physical structure to the movement, hence a solid seeds of victory in our near future. #RevolutionViaEducation