Assessing Assessment

Does the move toward assessment provide support for the Humanities and Social Sciences or threaten them? Cary Nelson, the final speaker in our series on the Relevance of the Humanities and Social Sciences, published a provocative essay in which he described the move towards assessment as a threat to the “fierce humanities,” which he describes as “teaching that seeks not merely learning, but unlearning, that seeks to unsettle knowledge and assumptions in ways more fundamental than any exam can or should test.”

In this essay, Nelson uses a course on Holocaust poetry to illustrate the unsettling that he sees as an important goal in his teaching, forcing students to confront human potential for evil. Such a course relies on the intimacy of a seminar that creates a space for students and faculty to struggle together. Tying his opposition to quantitative assessment to other issues of relevance, including the employability debate, he asserts, “Some of the most powerful intellectual and emotional experiences of my life have come in classroom discussions, in moments when my students and I together struggled with difficult questions and the impossibility of finding definitive answers. I am neither interested in having nor willing to have legislators, administrators, and corporate flacks reduce such experiences to job training or to quantifiable or testable ‘results.’”

Nelson’s assertions provide an important contrast to my post last week, which linked to an article suggesting that quantitative assessment demonstrated the educational value of the traditional liberal arts. The question of the relevance of these disciplines has significant bearing on responses to assessment.

This entry was posted in Faculty Blog, Relevance of Humanities and tagged , , by Steven Ramey. Bookmark the permalink.

About Steven Ramey

Steven Ramey is Professor in the Department of Religious Studies and Director of Asian Studies at the University of Alabama. His research focuses on groups who contest dominant understandings of the religions of India, both in India and beyond. His newest project addresses the assumptions in the language of religious labels and the ways those assumptions determine research and valorize particular constructions of religions. Through this project, he wants to consider alternative paradigms for describing these collections of practices and ways those alternative paradigms can influence research and pedagogy.

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