Instead, I want to weigh in on "the first-year college experience," which is the topic of a couple of interesting posts at Perverse Egalitarianism ("Welcome to College. May I
Take Your Order Teach You Something?") and Dead Voles ("The Wonders of College"). Both Mikhail and Carl make short work of dispatching with whatever romantic notion we might have of the "first-year college experience," which most of us believe to be eye-opening, mind-expanding, and life-changing for our young charges. According to a study conducted by sociologist Tim Clydesdale, discussed in his book The First Year Out: Understanding American Teens After High School, very few fresh college students experience any change in their identities, values, religious or political views during their first year. Rather, according to Clydesdale:
Most of the mainstream American teens I spoke with neither liberated themselves intellectually nor broadened themselves socially during their first year out... What teens actually focus on during the first year out is this: daily life management.
So, Clydesdale warns, don't expect your first-year students to climb atop their desks and yawp "O Captain, my Captain!" They're too busy trying to figure out how to balance the demands of life without parental control: studying, partying, working, making friends, managing finances, waking up on time. And while they're doing that, they're keeping the characteristics that have defined them so far in what Clydesdale calls an "identity lockbox."
Of course, this can't be true of all first-year students, and Clydesdale acknowledges that a (very) few of them do in fact have the deep and profound experience that college brochures promise. But the sorts of students who are inclined towards peripeteia and anagnorisis are basically just little versions of us and, according to Clydesdale, most of them grow up to be professors just like us. This is how we keep the dream alive.
In the end, Clydesdale advises that we basically give up on that dream. Stop telling first-years that your course is going to expand their world-view, because it probably won't. Instead, he advises that we focus on skills-development, which is not only more attuned to what new college students want, but what they need. At least in part, I agree with Clydesdale that teaching critical skills to new students-- how to read well, how to write well, how to think well-- is time and energy well-spent. But, having drunk the liberal-arts Kool-Aid a long time ago, I still believe that those skills are partly useless, and mostly meaningless, if they are not contextualized within some "for the sake of which."
For the time being, I'll keep my Rule #1 as it is... including the "Be More" part. Maybe I'm just preaching to the Future Professors and Purveyors of the Dream Choir, but maybe not. At any rate, despite the nay-sayers, I'm going to keep practicing a lesson I learned from the Republicans last night: "...try First."