This is the fifth and final installment in a series of “Notes from the Dean” that focuses on the School of Arts’ recently adopted mission statement: “The mission of the School of Arts at Christian Brothers University is to advance the Lasallian synthesis of knowledge and service by teaching students to think, to communicate, to evaluate and to appreciate.”
As I indicated in an earlier dean’s note, one of the motivations for revising the School of Arts’ mission statement is to provide greater clarity and consistency in measuring the effectiveness of the school’s academic programs. For three of the goals—thinking, communicating, evaluating—it is relatively easy for faculty members to identify assignments and course elements that meet specific criteria to fulfill them. Students routinely use and hone their skills in reasoning, speaking, writing, and argument in their School of Arts courses, and we can determine quickly how well they perform. Yet, as important as these goals are, we believe skill development by itself is insufficient for learning. Lasallian education, after all, aims at teaching the whole person. What good is a skill, in other words, without knowledge of its value?
How much and whether a student appreciates something, of course, is difficult to measure. Fortunately, appreciation is not mere taste. Nor is it a measure of one’s excitement about a topic. Appreciation, rather, is the ability to recognize the value of the part in a greater whole. In literature or ethics, this might be a matter of context. In psychology or art, it could be a matter of method. In short, when students really engage in/are engaged by their courses, they should be able to connect what they’re learning to the academic and social achievements or historical events that have made their studies relevant.
By recognizing that appreciation is often a matter of contextualization, we are able to make the assessment of appreciation practical—through writing assignments, exams, and other instruments. Moreover, it’s good that we’re able to gauge how well our students pick up on the value of what they’re learning. That said, I think all of us also hope our students gain a sense of appreciation for their entire CBU experience that goes well beyond the goals of any specific course. Students acquire a greater sense of the worth of that experience especially by participation in the wide variety of enrichment experiences supported by CBU and the School of Arts.
For example, through the Honors Program, students recently gained the intangible benefits of committing daily acts of kindness. Every spring semester, psychology students learn what it means to have their research recognized and critiqued by an outside audience when they present their findings to the public. And we all get to take pride in Taylor Flake’s accomplishments both as the recipient of this year’s Vanderhaar Student Peace Award and for founding CBU’s chapter of the NAACP. Through acts of public art or in attending lectures from invited scholars in religious studies, CBU students have abundant opportunities to expand their worlds, to have their hearts touched, and to remember the presence of God. We also hope they leave CBU with an appreciation for the value of those experiences.
Dr. Paul Haught