The Freshman Studies Course At Lawrence University: Report of Professor Waples, Chairman of the course, at the conclusion of its first year 1945-46
Lawrence College has concluded its trial year of Freshman Studies, and we can report that the results have been gratifying.
This course was administered according to our prospectus, with a lecture and three discussion groups each week. Our only compromise or modification of the plan was an increase in the number in discussion sections beyond what we wished. Registration was 265 in the first semester and 345 in the second. The work included Walden, The Republic, The Prince, How to Think Straight (Thouless), Science and the Modern World (Whitehead, a few chapters were omitted), Discourse on Method (Descartes), The Apology, The Symposium, parts of the Bible, Hamlet, Oedipus the King, study of Eine Kleine Nachtmuslik and of a moving picture, The Ox-Bow Incident.
The evidence for the assertions which follow come from various observations but chiefly from two questionnaires, one given to the students in the course, and one to the Freshman Studies staff near the end of the year.
The course made its influence felt on three groups in the college: the upperclassmen, the teaching staff, and the freshman students in the course.
The upperclassmen were aroused to something like rivalry by three hundred and fifty freshmen who studied harder than freshmen had ever been known to study before, talked about their books in the dormitories, and asked older students embarrassing questions. A good many upperclassmen attended the lectures, several did all the reading, and at the end of the year a few asked for the outlines of the course so that they could do summer reading by them. A general quickening in the whole college was noticeable. Of course, for this effect, there may have been several causes. The staff is of the opinion that Freshman Studies was at least one.
The teachers in Freshman Studies declare that they are the ones who profited the most. Certainly, the course did a great deal for them. Our shifting of sections has made them acquainted with more students in the college than ever before, and our weekly staff meetings and luncheons have made them more intimate with their colleagues. The two most important effects were: the stimulation given to people who work in small departments and who found in this course opportunity for intellectual talk which the isolation of their study had denied them; and an entering wedge thrust into our professional narrowness. We believe that the students we graduate must be more broadly educated than they have been before, not merely by a requirement of "broadening subjects" or a "broad spread of subjects" but by studying everything with a broader outlook. The first step towards this, we think, is to broaden ourselves as teachers. The effect of the course in this respect is admitted by everyone to have been striking. Following are some remarks made by members of the Freshman Studies staff about the course;
"I have not thought so much about fields outside my own since I was an undergraduate."
"The course has intensified my feeling that a crying need in all our courses is an emphasis upon meaning, significance, and value. I mean a recognition of these by us and a grasp of them by our students."
"The impact of the books we read, the lectures and discussions among the teachers, have increased my awareness of the importance of the humanities, and, as a science teacher, of the limitations of science. I'm not quite the same person that I was a year ago.
"The course has given me some insight into the objectives and the problems of other departments. As a result, I believe I am much more tolerant; e.g., from merely giving lip service to the idea that good writing is something to strive for in all college work. I have reached the position where I am anxious to do something about it."
"The emphasis on the ultimate meaning of various spheres of knowledge - which is central in Freshman Studies - is the emphasis to be made in all courses."
"Freshman Studies is the biggest thing that has happened to me for a long time."
"It has been a great privilege to take part in Freshman Studies. I keep referring to the ideas developed in this course when I am teaching in my advanced courses, and remembering that the allusions are lost. I can hardly wait until these freshmen get up there."
"Teaching in Freshman Studies is something that all teachers in the college should experience."
As for the freshmen themselves, we agree that they have been stimulated. It is clear that the course has entered into student conversations. We have constant evidence that questions arising from the course are widely debated in the dormitories. Instructors not teaching in the course are accosted by students and questioned about books in the course. Teachers in the course have other teachers quoted to them by their own students. Interests seem to have broadened. Students have confessed that they saw better than ever before what education is. Registering officials reported much more eagerness among students registering this spring than in some other years; more of the "I can't get in everything I want," and less of the "Do I have to take that?" and the "I suppose I have to have another course." Instructors have reported students who have been especially awakened.
Students themselves are highly enthusiastic about the course and think that they owe it a great deal. Their questionnaire, answered anonymously, asked the question: Are you glad you have taken this course? The answer was in the affirmative, with many fervent underscorings and exclamation points emphasizing the approval. Of those who had been in the course from the beginning, only 19 students, or 8% of those given the questionnaire, answered "no." Of these 19 students, 9 came from the D and F ranks in grades, only one came from the B ranks, and none came from the A group. The students entering in the second semester were almost all veterans straight from the wars. They entered with less preliminary explanation, and at a time when the course was in its art phase, moving from music to separate plays. Some complained that they could not follow the plan of the course. It is significant that even here the vote for the course was an overwhelming majority. Twenty of these students answered "no," or about 22 ½% of those given the questionnaire. These students were anxious for more practice in composition, a characteristic which has turned out all over the country to be very strong in veterans. Of the 20 voting "no," thirteen said they would have preferred English Composition. One of the 20 said that the course should have been expanded to take in the whole freshman year; then it would have been good. As in the year group, a large proportion of these late entrants who voted "no" were in the D and F ranks; 9 out of the 20. Among the veterans' group of late comers, three objected to the purpose of the course itself; two of these declared for anything related to their professional preparation, and one objected because "Hamlet for appreciation is all right, but the next age is going to be scientific. We should have more science." It is striking that from the students who had been here all year, including many veterans, there were no answers of this kind. That only three students out of 325 answering the questionnaire should have made such remarks seems in itself a notable testimony that the course has done much to break down this attitude. Following are comments written by students on their questionnaires:
"I have learned more about questions which have always bothered me than in any other course." "I have opened my eyes to a great many aspects of life, lines of reasoning, and methods of investigation about which I knew nothing before."
"The idea behind this course is wonderful, and it is especially appropriate that it be given at the beginning of the student's college career when indecision is prevalent and any added knowledge helps for decisions and later enjoyment of life."
"It is probable I got more out of Freshman Studies than any other subject."
"A more broad, more general culture than any one course could possibly hope to create."
"A wider field of interest and a desire to widen it even more."
"Have widely broadened my mind about subjects formerly considered 'icky'."
"The greatest value in this course, it seems to me, is the different viewpoints on a common subject as portrayed by instructors of the various fields of study."
"Really got to appreciate books I otherwise probably never would have touched."
"I think this course should be a 'must' for all students entering college. I think it is the most valuable of all the courses I have ever taken."
"I was always interested during class periods, without fail."
"The course as a whole is a marvelous experience. I wouldn't have missed it for anything, because it's helped so much to mature my thinking and outlooks."
Some of the most touching testimonials came from poorer students. From two D students came the following:
"You have no idea…what marvelous learning I have received from the course. It has given me such a broader outlook on many things and really taught me 'how to think'. My grades may not have shown that I have learned much, but grades can't show just what real knowledge I have gained this first year in college. Thank you for Freshman Studies."
"Although it may not appear as though I have derived very much from the course I have accomplished a great deal that I feel will help me throughout the rest of my college career and also in subsequent years."
The requirement that each student spend three hours a week in the practice of crafts or a fine art has been a success. Some students have done quite creditable work. Our experience during this first year has caused plans for better organization of this branch of the work next year. We need, also, more art classes. Even so, the requirement has given many students an impetus they would not otherwise have had. Some students have expressed themselves as delighted to find they could do something of this kind, some were glad they were forced to return to instruments they had laid by, and some found the art laboratory a pleasant recreation or relaxation. A few thought the work time-consuming. Work this year was given in : crafts, painting and drawing, writing, dramatics, chorus, band, orchestra, and private lessons in instrumental music.
For the reasons I have mentioned, the staff of Freshman Studies and the faculty as a whole are pleased with the success of the course and wish to see it continued. There is no one on the faculty who has ever opposed or disapproved of the course. All are most cooperative. The principal concern they feel is for improving our participation and for continuing the influence of Freshman Studies into later years.
Proposals for maintaining this influence include the following: The return in later courses to the books and the ideas presented in Freshman Studies; alteration of some advanced courses to make them more philosophical; special care for students during the sophomore year, to keep up their Freshman Studies spirit; and the organization of a Sophomore Studies when Freshman Studies is running well and when we have the staff for it.
Freshman Studies has not run without any faults. The teaching of writing has not been so effective as we could wish. This is not primarily because teachers from every department have done the training. These teachers have done remarkably well, and enlisting their aid in this branch is already promising to raise the standards of writing generally in the college. The trouble was that the course was too crowded and the English staff did not know how to direct the work. Some reforms have been planned for next year.
Another difficulty has been that Freshman Studies demands too much of a teacher's time. There is stimulation in getting up a course of this kind, but a sense of one's own failure and inadequacy can set in strongly when teachers with heavy schedules of teaching and advising feel that they cheat their advanced classes a little and yet are never ready for Freshman Studies. Part of this sense of inadequacy is an aspect of the stimulation received. It remains to be seen whether the load will seem more manageable next year. Even as it is, the students appear to have gained from their study of various classics under variously trained teachers and the teachers believe the course has been worth all it cost.