Friday, October 2, 2009

Assessment and "Community"

My school is currently doing all sorts of assessment. We're assessing individual classes, whole departments and programs, both academic programs and other types of programs (student services, finances . . . ) across the campus. We're preparing for visits from accreditors, and we have to be super-ready.

Sometimes we lose sight of why we're doing this. Sometimes, our assessment processes seem like a series of extra work burdens on an already harried workforce.

Last night's episode of "Community" reminds us of why assessment is important. The students on the show have a teacher who fashions himself after John Keating, the charismatic teacher in Dead Poets Society. Students stand on their desks (and one topples off, in a funny moment). For homework, they have to swim in a lake and tell 10 people that they love them. The teacher tells one of the main characters that he'll fail the class if he doesn't live in the present moment.

But why do they do this? What is the point? There seems to be no point, other than the doing of it, the seizing of the day. But this class isn't a class in carpe diem. One assumes that the class has some sort of academic subject--probably English. But do the students write about their efforts? Not that we see. How does the teacher judge the swimming in the lake? How does he know that the students have told 10 people of their love?

He can't. It's an easy A class. Somehow, we're supposed to laugh at this? But again, I return to my point. There's some academic subject, most likely Composition, that's being shortchanged. At least John Keating actually taught his students something beyond the need to seize the day. He taught them about poetry and made them write. The teacher in Community just gives students assignments that may force them to move beyond their comfort point, but doesn't ever come to a point of any learning.

I hope that people at the Department of Education don't watch and think that's really how we run things--we'll be stuck with a No Child Left Behind for college students in short order, if that's the case.

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