Lynda Barry’s Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor is rich with texture and image. The text itself takes shape from Barry’s experience teaching an interdisciplinary course-an amalgamation of Art, English, and Science at UW-Madison. What I find most compelling about Barry’s methods has little to do with this book, or how it presents itself as a specific kind of methodology. No, what is most compelling to me, is the way Barry envisions herself and her students, and how the class dynamic takes shape.
The thing is- Barry renames all of her students. Not only does she rename them, she renames them as PARTS OF THE BRAIN. By doing this, she is sending a message that the cluster of students in the room are the brain-the central processing unit of the classroom space. But when we compare this to her recurring self-portaits in her drawings of herself as this “Near-Sighted Monkey” the whole energy of the class shifts. This shifting dynamic destabilizes the authority in the classroom. The brain parts must find the best way to work independently as they take instructions from a monkey.
This is an act of pedagogical genius. Everybody’s identities are suspended and re-shaped. The brain, thus, becomes the essential tool in the classroom-it physically populates it. This is the space that one might draw words and speak pictures. And when Barry asks the question “If the thing we call ‘THE ARTS’ had a biological function-what would it be? And where would it be?” (15)-one might locate it in her classroom space. That is a lesson any educator can take away from Barry’s Syllabus– No matter how strange the question might be, no matter how difficult it might be to answer, we can all trust the playful monkey inside to bring us toward creating a playful space that encourages intellectual development. Even if that means the way a monkey’s ideas might influence each part of the brain.
Barry, Lynda. Syllabus: Notes From an Accidental Professor. Canada: Drawn and Quarterly, 2014. Print.