My name is Rick Sperling, and I am the Program Director for an undergraduate academic certificate program in Community-based Assessment and Evaluation (CBAE) at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas. I have other roles, but that is the one I am writing about today.
To be honest, the main reason I got into this line of work is because it was too difficult to teach Chicano Studies to Latinx students. What I mean is that I, a monolingual English, multiracial person with a White-sounding last name, am not the most attractive candidate for the few ethnic studies jobs out there. The only reason I was able to infiltrate academia was because I have some knowledge of statistics and research design and I hide my fear of both better than most.
What I have come to learn is that getting a faculty job is only half the battle. Convincing Latinx students to want to learn Chicano Studies is another matter entirely. Most of the students I encounter believe the main purpose of earning a college degree is to get a job; the possibility of revolution is not a top priority regardless of how fast the world burns around us. As the hierarchy of needs stares them down, Chicano Studies seems like a luxury afforded those who have the least to gain from revolution.
I am not a fan of acquiescing to that reality, and I do not intend on letting the energy I have put into developing myself as an instructor go to waste. I refuse to mass produce complicit capitalists whose only purpose in life is dictated to them by the selfish gene. That’s where CBAE comes into play.
Students earn the certificate by taking classes in introductory and advanced statistics, instrument development, and grant writing. They finish with a practicum in applied program evaluation. While it would certainly be possible to teach logic models and Gantt charts in a cold, sterile way and call it a day, I would not find any enjoyment in that whatsoever. What my students need is to buy into the idea that good evaluation is culturally responsive evaluation; that the people who stand to gain or lose the most from the work we do should also be the ones who have a say in the design, instrument development, data analysis, interpretation, and application of results. Once they come to accept that perspective, they are open to other lessons, like how the histories of psychology and education are not politically neutral and the way we think about validity is colored by an agenda that has managed to survive the test of time.
It is thus through our institution’s version of evaluator education that I have found meaning in my work. Students are attracted by the idea that learning statistics will help them get into a competitive graduate program and/or find employment upon graduation. But, what they learn in the process is that people exist within interrelated social systems that differentially allocate opportunities and rewards based on social identities and social capital. To be sure, the majority of my students who go on to graduate school go into programs other than program evaluation. I’m ok with that so long as after some time in my classes they realize how the game is played and the responsibilities and frustrations that go along with that understanding. If I’m lucky, I will someday retire with the satisfaction of knowing that my students are carrying on the lessons of the revolution, and that I will have reached them without ever having taught a single day in an ethnic studies program.
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