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Arts of Freedom F'15

jschlosser's picture

Ana Teresa Fernandez, Erasing the Border

Joel Schlosser, Political Science
291: Arts of Freedom

Bryn Mawr College, Fall 2015, Mondays, 7:10-10 pm


“It cannot be repeated too often: nothing is more fertile in wondrous effects than the art of being free, but nothing is harder than freedom’s apprenticeship.”

– Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America


Trayvon Martin’s name sounds from the car radio a dozen times each half hour. You pull your love back into the seat because though no one seems to be chasing you, the justice system has other plans.


Yes, and this is how you are a citizen: Come on. Let it go. Move on.


 – Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric


This course investigates questions of freedom in the context of the development of United States. Together we will study not just the meanings of freedom but also who has freedom and who struggles for freedom in concrete terms, examining the promise of freedom contained within early manifestations of the American democracy as well as the structural obstacles to this freedom's realization. What were the arts of freedom that Tocqueville identified and celebrated in the nineteenth century? How were these “arts” political and how did they include areas of life we might not consider political today? Whom did these arts include and exclude? How have these arts of freedom been transformed by claims to freedom by those excluded? How might these arts of freedom translate to contemporary issues, including areas of radical unfreedom in the present United States created by poverty, racial injustice, and incarceration?


Over the course of the semester, you will develop a theoretical vocabulary with which to analyze the arts of freedom in different social and political contexts; you will, moreover, learn these concepts through their use, analyzing how they function within practices of freedom and how different theorists and actors understand and actualize freedom. All of this work will culminate in your taking the theoretical insights you develop to contemporary politics and society by developing your culminating projects for the 360° cluster as a whole, projects that will integrate the analytical work you have done over the course of the semester (in short essays) and craft an art and apprenticeship of resistance and freedom in your own life today.



I am committed to fostering a learning community marked by imagination, creativity, honesty, openness, earnest inquiry and playful speculation. Through this course’s structures of reading, writing, revision, and discussion, I also seek to help you develop certain habits of mind that I consider essential to the liberal arts: to learn to listen and to speak, to read and to write, and to think with creativity and focus. I also hope that we can collaborate and learn from one another as we bring this community of learning into being, making space for silence as well as voice, for dissent as well as agreement, for personal transformation as well as political deliberation.


Given the subject matter of this course and the 360 as a whole, many of our discussions in class will involve sensitive issues. You may find some of this material upsetting. My hope is that we create an environment of respect and openness conducive to everyone’s full and honest participation. Whatever success or pleasure the course might bring depends in large part on what our classmates bring and contribute.


To develop the habits of mind described above as well as bring the aspirations listed into being, this course will consist in a number of activities:


Energetic and involved discussion. We will learn the arts of freedom by speaking the arts of freedom. To learn these difficult concepts and arguments, you need to practice putting them into your own words, explaining them to others, and listening to others’ explanations. Excellent discussion requires preparation: review of previous class discussions, taking notes in advance of class meetings, and being present and alert as much as possible during every class meeting. Through our discussions you will develop the essential speaking and listening skills necessary for developing and using the theories and applications of the theories of freedom we study.


Disciplined and careful reading. This is a reading intensive course. Reading will take the form of books and articles listed on this syllabus as well as reading one another’s work both inside and outside class. This course seeks to develop you as thoughtful, patient, imaginative, and critical readers capable of identifying multiple possible readings, examining assumptions, and ready to interpret different kinds of arguments.


Frequent and varied writing. This course begins from the premise that reading and writing are deeply intertwined; because writing cements understanding, this course asks that you write in response to all of the assigned readings. This writing will come in the form of experimental essays, responses to peers’ writing, free writing during class, and reflection throughout the course.


I have created this course with the hopes of helping all of you develop as effective speakers and listeners, intelligent readers and writers, and critical thinkers. Yet I acknowledge that without your distinctive contributions the course would amount to very little. I welcome your suggestions and criticisms and I hope that we can make this course together into something worthwhile for each and every one of us.




Because this course seeks to develop you as a speaker and a listener, a writer and a reader, and a critical thinker, we will focus our work in several areas.


1. Contributions to Class


Consistent and rigorous preparation for class activities as well as quality and appropriate contributions to class discussions are the most essential part for full realizing the promises of this course. Enrolling in this course signifies your agreement to contribute to the education of your fellow students and to learn from them and your professor in turn. Contributing during class sessions provides an opportunity to practice speaking and the skills of persuasion, as well to listen to, critique, and develop the arguments and analyses of your peers.



2. Experimental Essays


Yur experimental essays will guide discussions of our course materials. These will consist of two short essays that you will write, present to the class, and revise and rework in response to your peers’ comments and in consultation with me. These essays will give you space to explore and try out ideas – the root of "essay" is "to try" – that you may want to bring to your culminating project for the whole 360. Think of these short essays as opportunities to push your thinking and experiment; the idea here is to give you a chance to shape and direct our discussions as you see fit. One of these essays will be scheduled during the first half of the course (including the first week after fall break); one will be scheduled during the second half.


On the days for which you have chosen to write your essay, you will aloud read your essay during class as well as answer questions in response. This reading should last 10 minutes; the question and answer period will last another 20 minutes. (The average reading aloud speed is 150 words per minute; your essay should thus run around 1500 words in order to ensure that you can deliver it in under ten minutes.) Please post the draft of your essay on Serendip no later than 5 pm on the day of class. Also please bring hard copies for your peers so that they can read along with you (and make annotations) during the reading.


After presenting your essay, you will have one week from the following Friday to revise your essay before posting a final version on Serendip (on which I will send you more comments). During your revision period you are required to meet in-person with me. During this time you can also talk more to your classmates, use their comments on Serendip (on which see details below), or seek counsel elsewhere. Along with the final version, please also submit a paragraph or two at the end of your essay describing the suggestions you received, the changes you made, and what you learned about your writing through the process.



3. Sunday Posts


For the entire 360, we would like you to post on Sunday evenings some general reflection that ties together at least two of the elements from our courses and activities. These reflections can have a variety of forms: you could type the free writing we did during a class session and connect it with what happened in jail ; you could respond further to an experimental essay that one of your classmates presented and link it to a reading from another course; you could reflect on a conversation or some other event during class that helped you to understand the "arts of resistance." These reflections can help all of us to continue the conversation, build continuity between class meetings, and help one another as writers and thinkers as the course proceeds.


4. “Arts of Resistance” Final Projects & Presentations


We will discuss and develop criteria for evaluation of your final projects as the semester proceeds.




As a condition of taking this course, you must acquire copies of the following texts. You cannot be an effective contributor to this course without having copies of the readings annotated in preparation for discussion with you for every class meeting. These books are available for purchase at the bookstore. If you are having trouble acquiring these books, please let me know well in advance of our discussion.


  • Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf, 2014)
  • Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy and America: Volume 1 (Library of America, 2012)
  • Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Incarceration in American (Free Press, 2005)


We will also read selections from the following books for which I will provide PDFs of the required pages. However, these are all books worth giving a place in your personal library (as I have given them a place in mine) and I would highly recommend (although not require) buying yourself a copy.


  • W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk (Library of America, 2009)
  • Charles Payne, I’ve Got the Light of Freedom (California, 2007)
  • Doug McAdam, Freedom Summer (Oxford, 1988)
  • Sara Evans, Personal Politics (Vintage, 1979)


POLICIES (in alphabetical order)


ACADEMIC SUPPORT: I encourage you to reach out to the Academic Support and Learning Resources Specialist to explore effective learning, studying, test-taking, note-taking and time and stress management strategies that are essential to success in this course and college life. Students can schedule a meeting with Rachel Heiser, the Academic Support and Learning Resources Specialist by calling the Dean’s Office at 610.526.5375 or emailing Rachel at For more information, please see this site: 


ACCOMODATIONS: I encourage any students who think they may need accommodations in this course because of the impact of a learning difference to meet with me early in the semester.  Students who attend Bryn Mawr should also contact Access Services Coordinator Deborah Alder at or 610-526-7351 as soon as possible, to verify their eligibility for reasonable accommodations.  Haverford Students should contact Patty Rawlings at the Office of Disabilities Services, or 610-896-1290.  


ATTENDANCE: There are no excused absences from class; every class meeting is an important and unique time for learning and exchange. If you have a good reason to miss class or come late, please tell me and I will propose a way of making up what you have missed. (If you do not have a good reason, you can tell me as well but I’m unlikely to grant you the opportunity to make it up.) 


CANADAY LIBRARY: Olivia Castello, the Social Science Librarian, can help with questions about research and technology; you can reach her at She is extremely helpful and knowledgeable. Do not hesitate to turn to her!


 EXTENSIONS: For logistical reasons, there are no extensions on essays/presentations; you must have a draft to present for your scheduled date or you will only receive partial credit for your essay. That said, I understand sometimes you may for various reasons need more time on an essay following your presentation. If you foresee any conflicts (religious holidays, travel plans, etc.), come see me ASAP to discuss your options. In the event of illness or emergency, please also try to contact me ASAP. 


INTEGRITY: I am committed to adhering to the standards regarding academic honesty contained in the Bryn Mawr and Haverford honor codes and the values of mutual trust, concern, and respect for oneself and for others upon which the bi-co community depends; I invite all of you to continue the conversation with me and with one another about how we can create the best intellectual community possible.


LAPTOPS: In order to facilitate open and direct discussion, laptop use should be kept to a minimum; if you are not typing your notes, your laptop should be closed or moved to the side so that it does not obstruct your view of other students. I consider inappropriate laptop use during class a violation of the Honor Code and will refer you accordingly. 


REVISIONS: Essays may be revised and re-submitted. Please consult with me on the revision process. All revisions are due the last day of classes.


WRITING CENTER: The Writing Center offers free appointments and experienced peer tutors who are there to help you at any stage of the writing process. The Writing Center is located in Canaday Library. You can get more information at




Monday, 8/31: Citizenship and Freedom in Twenty-First Century America

Read: Claudia Rankine, Citizen

Consider: What does it mean to be a citizen (or non-citizen) in the United States today? What are the promises of citizenship? What are the obstacles to freedom?


Monday, 9/7: Labor Day: No Class


Monday 9/14: How did we get here? Tocqueville's America

Read: pp. 3 - 17, 31 - 110

Consider: What are the “arts of freedom” according to Tocqueville? What specific practices – political, social, private, aesthetic, etc. – support freedom? What broader beliefs or ideas?


Monday 9/21: Race and Tocqueville's America

Read: pp. 205 - 223, 264 - 364

Consider: What are the obstacles to Tocqueville’s arts of freedom? What parts of American political institutions or culture or history preclude or limit freedom? What tendencies or patterns?


Monday 9/28: Jim Crow America

Read: DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk (selections on protected site) [*Trigger warning: racialized violence.]

Consider: How does DuBois complicate Tocqueville’s envisioned arts of freedom? What has prevented the arts of freedom from being realized even after emancipation? In what ways (if any) does DuBois describe or suggest new arts of freedom?


Monday 10/5: 

Socrates Cafe in Philadelphia!


[Fall Break]


Monday 10/19:

The New Jim Crow

Read: Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow (complete)

Consider: How does incarceration function as new version of what DuBois described? In what ways do the broader social and political trends detailed by Alexander (including but not limited to prisons themselves) limit the arts of freedom?


Monday 10/26:

The Freedom Struggle: Recapturing the Arts of Freedom

Read: Charles Payne, I've Got the Light of Freedom (PDF here)

Consider: What are the arts of freedom invented by SNCC? What kinds of political practices do they involve? What broader political culture and forms of leadership do they require? What do they owe to Tocqueville and DuBois and what is truly innovative?


Monday 11/2: [EDIT: Now taking place on 11/9 because of talk on 11/2.]

The Legacies of the Freedom Struggle: The Student Movement

Read: Doug McAdam, Freedom Summer (PDF here)

Watch: Freedom Summer (Link here)

Consider: How did the Freedom Struggle in the South prompt and inform the Student Movement? Which arts of freedom carried over from movement to movement and which arts changed? How did different circumstances lead to different arts of freedom?


Monday 11/9: [EDIT: Now taking place on 11/16 because of talk on 11/2.]

The Legacies of the Freedom Struggle: Women's Liberation

Read: Sara Evans, Personal Politics (Pp. 1 - 59, 83 - 101, 126 - 155, 212 - 232; Complete PDF here)

Consider: How did the Women’s Liberation Movement emerge from both the Freedom Movement and the Student Movement? What new arts of freedom did they develop? What do we see of Toqueville and DuBois here?


Monday 11/16 [NOTE: Now Monday 11/23 because of talk on 11/2.]

Arts of Freedom Today: Black Lives Matter

Read: TBD

Consider: In what ways does the Black Lives Matter movement carry forward the arts of freedom named by Tocqueville? The arts of freedom created during the Freedom Struggles of the 1960s? In what ways does it claim other forebears or create its own arts? How does this very different context inform political strategies?


Monday 11/23 [EDIT: Now taking place on 11/30 because of talk on 11/2.]

Arts of Freedom Today: Prison Abolitionism

Read: TBD

Consider: In what ways does the prison abolition movement carry forward the arts of freedom named by Tocqueville? The arts of freedom created during the Freedom Struggles of the 1960s? In what ways does it claim other forebears or create its own arts? How does this very different context inform political strategies?


[Monday 12/7: Reserved for continuing work on research projects.]