Sunday, September 14, 2014

Books Freshmen Read


Every week over on Ace of Spades HQ (@aceofspadeshq) there is a Sunday Morning Book Thread and on most Sundays I post a list of what I am reading.  I read their post, they ignore me and everyone goes on their merry way.  But, I am a little bored with the status quo so I'm ignoring them this week and using the time I would have devoted to reading the AoSHQ book thread to posting about this:

The LA Times today has an article regarding freshman reading selections entitled Colleges reject charge that freshman reading lists have political bias.  The jist of the article is this - A group of conservative students has compiled a list of suggested freshman readings that they say reflect only a left leaning political perspective.  Colleges have responded thusly:

Colleges deny any political intent. They say they seek high-quality books that provoke debate and that they are encouraging it as an academic experience amid all the other events and parties during those first few days on campus. Because many schools invite authors to campus, classics by long-dead writers don't fit the bill and there are other opportunities to study them, colleges say.
Critics misunderstand the programs' goals, she said: "The fact is we are not trying to pick literary masterpieces primarily, although we don't mind it if we hit them. But we do want engagement with students. We want to invite them to a love of reading."

To both propositions I say poppycock.  It's been pretty well established that the classics have fallen out of favor on college campuses and the idea of a shared cultural experience developed throught both high school and college via the idea of Great Books is not only dead but buried, dug up by grave robbers shot and buried again.  Additionally there is no evidence that these reading programs create a love of reading.  So lets talk about engagement with the students, because that's what college is supposed to be about.

 Is this really the best way to go about it?

I would say no.  When you look at the books that colleges are selecting there aren't any big ideas, there is some history and some pseudoscience, but nothing that is going to drive real intellectual engagement (says the guy who can barely spell engagement or intellectual).  Yeah three of the books in the list are about the civil rights movement and we are in the 50th anniversary year of the Freedom Summer, and that deserves to be marked, but how about some books that really address those issues and times, or instead of one book how about a couple related books.  Personally I would prefer that all colleges adopt the approach Columbia takes,

As far as the idea that colleges only prescribe left leaning books - Really is anyone surprised, water is wet and colleges, for the most part, are liberal.  One of the ideas of going there is to learn to debate and defend your ideas.  So quit being pussies and debate and defend.  I will say that if I were a conservative organization I would distribute alternative reading lists for students to advocate for.

If you are interested here is the reading list for past years from Cal State Northridge (referenced in the article), UCLA, and UW

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