Teaching Evaluation

The Scenario:

I am writing from the bowels of the Social & Behavioral Sciences Building, where I have barricaded myself into a third-floor office with the latest batch of take-home exams from students enrolled in my survey course, Europe, 1815-1914. Below I have provided 1) the question that served as the basis for these papers 2) excerpts from a particularly polemical paper slipped under my office door last night by a particularly disgruntled student and 3) the exact text of the ‘teacher evaluation’ stapled to the paper. I have also included a few observations that I’m trying to craft into coherent comments that I will pencil onto the final page. Any insights and observations are welcome from Gutsy readers, many of whom, I know, are very well-versed on the subject of modern art.

The Take-Home Exam Question:

Drawing upon lectures, readings and visual sources, discuss the connections between 1) psychoanalysis 2) the occult and 3) the Modernist movement in art and literature. How did each reflect late nineteenth and early twentieth-century preoccupations with irrationality, (sub)consciousness and the disconnect between the material world and our subjective perceptions of it.

Excerpts from the paper of the aforementioned student (Note: any typos and spelling errors are those of the student):

Title: Crackpots, Magicians, and Psychos, OH MY!!!

…Comparing the Occult beliefs, Freud’s psychoanalysis theories, and the Modernists movement, I found overall connections linking them to each other. 1) They’re all crazy and do a terrible job of trying to explain irrationality, unconsciousness thought. 2) They all display a disconnected view of the material world and live in a mindset that they can craft to fulfill their own purposes. Infants having erotic desired for their opposite sex parent? Magicians that can battle mythological guardians of other worlds inside his own head? Artist who try to pass abstract lines and colors as real art? Writers creating stories with little or no coherent to that of a story line? Apparently these questions influenced ‘cult’ followers of late 19th and early 20th century.

…The mind was something that late 19th and early 20th century magicians were not concerned with. They involved magical practices dealing with spiritual astral travel

…In Kafka’s story, ‘The Metamorphosis’ the traveling salesman, Gregor Samsa, wakes up to only realize he has been turned into a giant insect and is late for work. Yeah??? With his boss outside his door and parent worried about his health, he manages to open the door to assure them that he is ready for work and only terrifies them. And that is basically the story. Which makes me wonder if it was Gregor or France Kafka that should be on Freud’s couch. And no wonder that Virginia Woolf committed suicide. It’s clear from her writing that she was crazy too and had rambling stories with no plot.

…Art also took on abstract ideas. But after class lectures and hours of trying to comprehend it, I still see no relationship with the abstract Impressionist movement and EVERYTHING ELSE. The artist does display irrationality, but this is due to a domino effect. Once Claude Monet started and followers trying to get on the boat with the changing times and tastes. This is the period where art lost its true meaning, and gathered on a characteristic that would make Da Vinci roll over in his grave.

…If the following paper does not seem to follow a coherent structure or desired outcome, it is because everything dealing with it was just the same. Feces thrown on a picture of Mother Teresa is the offspring of Expressionist. Stories of Insects try to get to work can be published. And that a crackpot like Signum [sic] Freud can state that I want to kill my father because I am jealous of him sleeping with my mother, because I want to! These are the people that supposedly reflected late 19th and early 20th century preoccupations with irrationality, sub conscious and the disconnect between the material world and subjective perceptions of it.

The note attached to the final exam:

This does not have anything to do with the paper, think of it more as a separate thought. When signing up for this class I was lead to believe that I was going to be taught about European History from 1815-1914. What I experienced was nothing along those lines. I learned more about philosophy topics than anything that can be used in a history class. I mean, what gives?!!! If I wanted to learn about the subconscious, crazy magicians, I would have taken a class designed for it. And to actually assign us to make comprehensive interpretations of readings and art is really what boggles me. I can understand that you wanted to put a modern aspect on history, but where did the history aspect go? Just because it happened in the past doesn’t make it history. I think that Professor Alice is a great, enthusiastic teacher, but I never have expected to have to deal with such an absurd topic as this final.

A working draft of my typed comments:

Dear XXXX, I have a few minor observations about the paper and the note, which are not really all that separate…Actually, if it happened in the past, it is history…It might have been the effort of making a comprehensive interpretation that boggled you, not the fact that I asked you to make one. Here, you’re confusing causal and corollary relationships…Professor Alice is decidedly not an enthusiastic teacher…The final was not a topic of the course; the final was, indeed, just that – a final…The horror, the horror…Call in the air strike…

sandie, May 16 2006 3:47PM

I have so many thoughts about this but my overall feeling is this is one unfortunate student. He/she is so close-minded that he/she will be stuck in a small, small world.

Picasso thought of painting as a powerful medium because it could be used to visualize abhorrences as well as desires. What would your student have done if you'd assigned him/her to turn in a final painting instead of final paper?

kristy pennino, Jun 8 2006 7:47AM

gosh alice,

this student sure did spend a lot of time on this waste of a final. should i go so far to guess which generation this student comes from?... the same generation that would take just as long to cheat on an assignment rather than just do the assignment.

i feel your frustration.