Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Times Smackdown on student evals

Stanley Fish, a professor of humanities and law at FIU, argues against student evaluations here and here, and Alan Jacobs seconds him. Ross Douthat sees more rationality and consistency, but also acknowledges the case against that. A few weeks ago, I had blogged about the latter, a new JPE article by Carrell and West.

The main difference of opinion seems to be over whether "good teaching" can be appreciated by students while engaged in learning, or whether students typically can't appreciate it until later, perhaps once learning has either been achieved or operationalized elsewhere.

A passage from today's column by David Brooks is coincidentally related: "Much of what we do in public policy is to try to get people to behave in their own long-term interests — to finish school, get married, avoid gangs, lose weight, save money. Because the soul is so complicated, much of what we do fails." At least in high school and college, the primary objective of education seems to be imparting long-term gains. Brooks argues that trying to do so is difficult because of the complexities of human behavior and motivations.