Vito Prosciutto: Teaching community college math on the road to a PhD.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Book of the month club: My Freshman Year (Chapters 1 and 2) 

Let's see if I can follow through with this idea. The first book that I selected was My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student by Rebekah Nathan.

I'm picking non-fiction on topics related to academia and college life so that people can discuss even if they've not read the book (although, presumably, reading the book will make this a much richer experience).

So first, a bit of background. The author, a cultural anthropologist, enrolled in classes and moved into the dorms to study her students and find out a bit more about what makes them tick. I suppose there are interesting things to be said about the ethical dimensions of such a study and the discussion at Inside Higher Ed beats most of this to death even though the participants in the discussion hadn't read the book yet.

I'm a bit unsure of what to write here, as this is a bit of a jump from my usual writing. I have my own points of reference to compare with Nathan's experiences: First there's my experiences as a student: I did my undergrad in the late 90s at a small private college, and received my math ed degree at a large commuter university. Then there's my experiences as a faculty member: At NCC and DCC, the two community colleges where I teach, and at MTU the mid-tier public university where I'm also teaching and taking grad classes.

Of all of these, MTU is probably closest to Nathan's AnyU, although it seems that it has a much higher proportion of commuters than does AnyU. We have dorms and I'm vaguely aware of where they are, but when I asked at the beginning of the semester only 1 or 2 students out of nearly 80 actually lived in them.

The second chapter is where we start to get into things as we learn some of the details of dorm life. My point of reference, again, is 15-20 year-old memories of dorm life. Much seems similar. The rules on alcohol are a bit more stringent (in my day, not only did underage students freely drink in the dorm lounge, they bought their beer from vending machines in the dorm), but the attitudes are the same. We've not gotten to any binge drinking at all, but that was a serious and growing problem when I was an undergrad (in fact, I think that the class of '90 was really the class that won the prize for screwing things up: Prior to us alcohol poisoning incidents were a rarity: I think we peaked around 2 or 3 per semester.

The door decoration thing seems pretty consistent from my day. As a general rule, doors were decorated with messages/pictures/etc. that were intended to demonstrate the individuality and coolness of the inhabitant (the really daring chose the unhip to demonstrate their hipness. Me, I had pictures of plane crashes and the message "668 neighbor of the beast".)

I think that there's some relevance of the door decoration and something which has gotten some mention recently in the blogworld. Note for example this and this at Tall Dark and Mysterious (there was another post, "I don't heart message t's" or something of that nature that I read elsewhere which I cannot find now.

And it certainly would seem to be the case that what's happening here is really a case of the students wanting to declare themselves individuals (even as they end up conforming to a new standard, an ironly lost on them, but then wasn't it lost on us as well? Actually, by us, I mean people not me, because, after all, I doubt that anyone else has ever decorated their dorm room door with photos of plane crashes cut from the pages of the local dog trainer).

I've written a fair amount here, and I'll leave things up for discussion now. Yes, questions about the book are welcome, and there will be another installment (perhaps better-written and focused) next week.

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