First-Year Studies (formerly Freshman Studies) has been the cornerstone of the Lawrence curriculum for more than 70 years. Designed by Nathan Pusey, who left Lawrence for the presidency at Harvard, it was first taught in 1945 and is still best understood as an introduction to liberal learning.
Students take First-Year Studies in their first two terms on campus. Each section of the course includes about fifteen students, allowing for close relationships between students and teachers. Because each section uses the same reading list, First-Year Studies also helps students to join in the life of a larger intellectual community, one that now includes generations of Lawrentians.
In keeping with such goals, First-Year Studies is expansive and inclusive. Instead of endorsing a single point of view, the course embraces works from many different traditions. Every division of the curriculum is represented on the syllabus, and recent versions of the course have included works by Plato and Bruegel, Brecht and Feynman, Borges and Miles Davis, Natasha Trethewey and Alison Bechdel.
Through their encounters with such works, students gain an appreciation of different approaches to knowledge. They also join each other in exploring a host of important questions, such as: What is the best sort of life for human beings? Are there limits to human knowledge? How should we respond to injustice and suffering?
In addition to raising these questions, First-Year Studies serves more immediate and practical goals. The course encourages lively discussion and introduces students to the conventions of academic writing. In the first term, for example, students learn that a paper must serve the needs of an intelligent, curious reader. They also learn that a good paper should be organized around a central claim or thesis and supported with evidence from the text.
In the second term, students build on these foundations, moving on to more complex forms of argument. Students may be asked to assess the interpretations of earlier scholars or to contrast the treatment of a crucial theme in two very different texts. Through their work in First-Year Studies, then, students begin to master the skills needed for success in more advanced courses.