Some Days Are Great

Today is a beautiful day. I’m totally soaring right now because I just got copies of the course evaluations from the course Matt and I taught in the first part of the summer at UMass Boston (The Art of Stealing). We had thirteen students in the class, and boy were they amazing. I’ve said this about every class I’ve taught so far (maybe I’m just super lucky with students?), but this was by far my favorite class.

When the semester started one of the things we talked about on the first day was our expectations. This was designed as an arts course for non-artists, and none of our thirteen students identified themselves as artists on the first day of class. I also asked them if any of them thought that art was easy, and none of them did, so that was a plus. Over the course of seven weeks we looked at seven different periods in appropriative 20th century art, and they created seven different artistic projects in the various modes we were examining. (Most of this is collected on our course blog, which I love having as an artifact of the course.) They were also encouraged to tweet during class with the hashtag #stealart which some of you may have seen me and Matt using during the course (and we still are…). That ended up working out really well for a couple of shier students to participate fully and in the moment.

Their second-to-last creative project was to come up with a culture jamming plan (ala Yes Men or Adbusters or Anonymous). One student chose as her institutional target student loan companies like Sallie Mae. It was a great plan. I’m telling you this because on the last day of class when we arrived this is what we saw:

They had no requirement to actually enact these plans, but she was so inspired by the project, she decided to all on her own. Our last class was an intense one, we recapped and talked about ethics and morality and art and stealing and what we’d covered in the course. We talked about class and gender inequalities, we talked about global privledge. We talked about global climate change. These students were drawing connections between what we had covered (a relatively narrow focus of art movements) and everything else going on in the world around them and in their lives. We reminded them that at the beginning none of them thought of themselves as artistic creators, and then asked them if any of them anticipated making creative work in any of the modes we’d tried out in the future. They all raised their hands. It was incredible, and incredibly gratifying. Then we left them to do the three course evaluations the University and the Honors program requires.

(not to brag, or anything, but as we thanked them for a wonderful class and left, they sort of burst into applause. yeah.)

So now, today, I finally got the course evaluations. I hoped (expected?) that they’d be good, but there’s always some critiques (and often very good ones) in my evaluations. And I want to learn to be a better teacher, so I take those very seriously. But for real, I’ve never seen evaluations like this. Several students said this course changed their lives. Several said it was the best course they’d ever had. Everyone gave us almost all top marks, and the only critique in the pile was one student thinking the readings were a little too dispersed (they were all links off the blog). I’m totally soaring right now.

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