Comments on Freshman Reading

Ashley Thorne

Inside Higher Ed has an article about summer "common reading" for new college students, a subject in which NAS has expertise and the nation's most comprehensive data (see our annual Beach Books reports). Jacqueline Thomsen, author of the article, writes that IHE has undertaken its own survey of these assignments. IHE's analysis echoes a number of NAS's findings. As I have said before, common reading programs are a good opportunity but there's much room for improvement in the book selections and, more generally, in the ways colleges treat the discipline of reading.

Several of the readers commenting on the article seem to agree. Here's the comment I posted at Inside Higher Ed responding to the author and some readers' remarks:

As Ms. Thomsen stated, my organization, the National Association of Scholars (NAS), has weighed in on common reading programs. I am co-author of our annual study of these programs, which now includes about 340 colleges and universities and offers the most comprehensive data on the books assigned

Our main critique of the assignments is that there is very little diversity among them. As Ms. Thomsen pointed out, and Professor Pury laments here in the comments, fiction is a minority in freshman reading. Classics are extremely rare. The most recent data we have show that 95% of the books assigned are younger than the students themselves. That’s generally because colleges want to have the author come to speak on campus (and Shakespeare, Swift, and Salinger are now unavailable).

I welcome Professor Lobell’s call for more recommendations, and the books he mentions sound good (as are the ones EpicurusTevye suggests). NAS also has some recommendations along with reasons why each one would be a good choice for freshman common reading.

But better books aren’t the only thing we need. Colleges face deeper problems, such as that many new students are book virgins – they come to college without having ever read a whole book before. Common reading programs are a good way to encourage a culture of reading, and colleges can strengthen these programs by fostering a spirit of intellectual curiosity, love of a challenge, and openness to trying books outside the current mainstream trends.

 

Image: © 2010 Ginny, Creative Commons

  • Share

Most Commented

October 31, 2023

1.

University of Washington Violated Non-Discrimination Policy, Internal Report Finds

A faculty hiring committee at the University of Washington “inappropriately considered candidates’ races when determining the order of offers,” provided “disparate op......

January 24, 2024

2.

After Claudine

The idea has caught on that the radical left overplayed its hand in DEI and is now vulnerable to those of us who seek major reforms. This is not, however, the first time that the a......

December 9, 2023

3.

The Presidents and Academic Freedom

What are the boundaries of “free speech?” They are pretty much the same as the boundaries of civilization. Savages need not apply....

Most Read

May 15, 2015

1.

Where Did We Get the Idea That Only White People Can Be Racist?

A look at the double standard that has arisen regarding racism, illustrated recently by the reaction to a black professor's biased comments on Twitter....

October 12, 2010

2.

Ask a Scholar: What is the True Definition of Latino?

What does it mean to be Latino? Are only Latin American people Latino, or does the term apply to anyone whose language derived from Latin?...

September 21, 2010

3.

Ask a Scholar: What Does YHWH Elohim Mean?

A reader asks, "If Elohim refers to multiple 'gods,' then Yhwh Elohim really means Lord of Gods...the one of many, right?" A Hebrew expert answers....