Felix J. Aquino, Vice President of Academic Affairs, Oklahoma City Community College
Although my day job is being an administrator at Oklahoma City Community College, at least once a year I like to try my hand at teaching a course in my field, anthropology. In addition to being a whole lot of fun, I find it salutary to return to my intellectual roots from time to time. I also find it valuable to experience what all faculty face in the quest to transform our students’ lives through teaching and learning.
When thinking of my students and their needs and expectations I inevitably reflect on my own experience as an undergraduate and I ask myself the following question: What did my professors think they were preparing me for? I find myself concluding that, other than conveying the subject matter of the specific course, I do not think my professors had a clue, nor did they care.
Perhaps as a result of an administrative career spanning almost thirty years, I think I have a pretty good idea of what I am preparing my students for. In addition, I know what I am not preparing them for: to be anthropologists. Of the hundreds of students that I have taught over the years, I would be surprised if more than one or two percent ended up pursuing a career in this field. Then what am I preparing my students for? I am preparing them for life. More specifically, using the insights of anthropology, I am preparing them to have successful careers and meaningful lives.
To have a successful career we need to be able to analyze and make sense of the world around us and communicate effectively our insights. We do not need to memorize a catalog of strange and exotic customs from across the world. Therefore, much to the chagrin of some of my students, I do not give multiple choice tests. Rather, I have my students hone their analytical and communication skills. How do I do this? In the first place, all of my classes involve small group discussion and public speaking by my students. These discussions and public reports always involve the analysis of some point in the readings. Secondly, I only give essay tests. I want my students to get practice in and get used to writing. Furthermore, in our jobs, we are rarely confronted with a test anyway. Rather, in our jobs we are given beforehand which questions we will need to address in our writing and can prepare accordingly. Given that, one week before the test I give my students eight essay questions (two per chapter of the readings). Clearly, these questions reflect what I think are the essences or most important points of the chapters. Thus I use the test as an aid in learning. On the day of the test the four questions that I have them answer are chosen by lot. The ultimate task where I give students the opportunity to combine communication and analysis is to have them do an ethnography. Here they must find a group of people or situation, perform participant observation and interviews, analyze the results, and write them up in a term paper—truly a capstone experience. All of these aforementioned activities will have very real application in the workplace.
To have a meaningful life in an ever shrinking world we need to have a knowledge and understanding of the full breadth of human diversity on our planet. We need to have an understanding that our customs and ways are not universal. We need to understand that there are many, many different ways of looking at things and many, many valid ways of meeting the challenges of living. I can think of no body of knowledge that communicates that better than anthropology.