In an earlier post, I mentioned that as an anthropologist I like to pay attention to clichés as little insights into the current state of education. I pointed out that the often-heard lament that “some students are not cut out for school” is a telling statement about the state of our schools (not so much our students) because school is designed for learning, and we would never say “some students are not cut out for learning.” Yet the lament passes without a hint of protest. It’s just something we say.
Today, one of my best students pointed out another poigniant cliché which he recognized as being reflective of our current state of education. (The student will remain anonymous unless he chooses to identify himself in the comments below.) He came across the cliché while discussing with a professor the questions he had missed on a recent exam:
“[The professor] responded with hardly a constructive comment. “You just over-thought the questions.” He proceeded to tell me that I might know too much and that my own intelligence was getting in the way of my performance on his exams. … Wait, what? …. So you’re saying that because I’m too smart, that I am going to do poorly on your exams? … When I realized I wasn’t going to get anywhere with this guy, safe in his ivory tower of academia, I decided to leave. Not only was I pissed, but even more so, I was disappointed. Disappointed in the reality that this “teacher” wouldn’t even consider the opinions of his student. Wouldn’t consider making any exceptions or accept that multiple choice tests aren’t the best way to measure knowledge. His inflexibility with respect to his own pedagogy represents everything that is wrong with the state of higher education. The message is absolutely clear: listen, be quiet, obey”
It reminds me of the general attitude of professors toward teaching evaluations. It seems beyond argument that they are inaccurate and not to be trusted, but by extension aren’t we then saying that student opinions are inaccurate and not to be trusted?
I feel like a minority on this (maybe not on this blog), but I think teaching evaluations should be made public. There should be no room for a site like RateMyProfessors.com. We have much better data on teaching right here on campus, yet we fail to publish it. If we publish our own evaluations at least we can control the questions and we can stop worrying about how many chili peppers we have! We could even contextualize the comments with our own materials and teaching philosophies. Surely this must be happening at other campuses. Please share.