Freshman Studies

Tag: Freshman Studies

Welcome to Lawrence: Making sense of the Freshman Studies reading list

Freshman Studies is an important piece of the Lawrence experience, and the required reading list is an important part of Freshman Studies.

With all first-year Lawrence University students taking Freshman Studies during their first two terms, and all sessions using the same reading list, students join together in a larger intellectual community, one that ties them not only to their fellow students across campus but also to Lawrentians from generations past.

Since its establishment in 1945, the Freshman Studies syllabus has been continuously revised to introduce a changing student body to the intellectual challenges of a liberal arts education, and to the resulting benefits of the interdisciplinary thinking it embraces.  The coming academic year’s syllabus demonstrates the evolution of this ongoing task.

Learn a little more about Freshman Studies here.

We asked Garth Bond, associate professor of English and director of Freshman Studies, to guide us through the 2019-20 reading list.

Fall term

Natasha Trethewey, Native Guard. This short collection of Pulitzer Prize-winning poetry teaches students to recognize the fullness and precision of meaning in language. Trethewey’s poems meditate on the role that objects — photographs, monuments, diaries — play in shaping our memories and histories. She begins with the personal tragedy of her mother’s murder, then turns to the public history of American racism and the memorialization of the Civil War. The final section revisits personal experience, now reshaped in the light of that public history. All in 75 pages. (Adopted Fall 2015)

Thomas Seeley, Honeybee Democracy. From Trethewey’s poetic reflection on ants making a home on her mother’s grave, students move to a biologist’s study of the most fascinating of social insects: the honeybee swarm. Seeley demonstrates how our understanding of honeybees’ complex communication and social decision-making has developed systematically through the application of the scientific method; but he also reveals the benefits of interdisciplinary thinking by exploring the lessons that honeybee decision-making may have as a model both for human democratic processes and for emerging systems of artificial intelligence. (Adopted Winter 2019)

Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping. The story of two young women growing up under the housekeeping of a series of female relatives following the death of their mother, Robinson’s novel revisits the themes of loss and memory raised by Trethewey while also exploring the human individuality—some of it troubling—that questions the lessons Seeley would draw from the more naturally communal honeybees. Robinson particularly illuminates the impact of unwritten social expectations on women who fail to conform to them, while her unreliable narrator forces students to rethink their initial views of the relationship between society and the individual in the novel. (Adopted Fall 2018)

Plato, The Republic. On the Freshman Studies syllabus since its creation in 1945, Plato’s philosophical consideration of what makes a virtuous individual and political order embodies the practice of liberal education. After discussing the proper nature of philosophical discourse, Socrates develops his arguments in dialogue with his fellows. He poses hard questions about the nature of reality and the potential dangers of democracy that challenge students’ assumptions. Our discussion of these ideas brings current students into a conversation with alumni reaching back over 70 years now, literally embodying the community-building goals of the liberal arts. (Adopted 1945).

Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Landscape with the Fall of Icarus. Bruegel’s 16th century painting, which places the mythical Icarus’s tragic crash — having flown too close to the sun — quietly in the background of a contemporary rural landscape, reminds students that images impose the same demands on our attention as poetry, narrative, and scientific or philosophical discourse. It too asks questions about the nature of loss and memory, and of the relationship between the individual and society, but posed in the “language” of images rather than words, helping students to develop the visual literacy required in our increasingly visual culture. (Adopted Fall 2016)

Winter term

The Bhagavad Gita. Having closed the Fall Term with examples of ancient and early modern Western thought, Winter opens by turning to other ancient and medieval traditions. Roughly contemporary with The Republic, this seminal Hindu scripture offers its own account of the good life, one focused on fulfilling one’s duty (or dharma) without attachment to the fruits of one’s actions. Its more poetic philosophical approach offers a probing challenge to the individualism often seen as central to Western thought. (Adopted Winter 2015)

The Arabian Nights. This 14th century collection of traditional Arabian stories forces students to consider the very nature and purpose of storytelling. As a new bride weaves tales each evening to keep her husband and king from killing her in the morning, as he has sworn to do with all of his wives, questions arise about the nature and purposes of storytelling: its relationship to power and to erotic desire, the ulterior motives governing its rhetoric, and the invasive and irresistible pull of curiosity. Far from turning away, this text revels in the fruits of human action, both ripe and rotten. (Adopted Winter 2018)

Tony Kushner, Angels in America. Set in Reagan-era Washington, D.C., this Pulitzer Prize-winning play echoes a number of the magical elements found in The Arabian Nights, but within a realistic depiction of the political and ethical conflicts of the AIDS epidemic emerging especially in the gay community at that time. While the politically diverse characters of Kushner’s script already demand careful attention to the motives and meanings of their actions, recorded versions of different productions allow students to think about the creative acts needed to move from the written page to embodied performance. (Adopted Winter 2020)

Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, Poor Economics. Moving from the historical AIDS epidemic to the contemporary battle with global poverty, two developmental economists offer a scientific approach to human action. They advocate putting aside big ideas, like increasing aid or freeing markets, in favor of careful research addressed to small, specific questions. Students see how answering these small questions can also give voice to the human experience of those living on $1 a day. Can narrowly focused action, guided by the scientific method, really outperform our political beliefs and create a quiet revolution in economic and political institutions? (Adopted Winter 2017)

Miles Davis, Kind of Blue. Lawrence’s Conservatory of Music is a fundamental part of our university community. This most famous of albums invites all students to explore the complex relationship between planned structure and improvised action at the heart of jazz performance. As a relatively early and deeply influential LP, it further challenges students to think about the processes of memory and meaning at work in permanently recording and revisiting a “live” improvisation, as well as the cultural role and context of jazz music, especially its relationship to African-American identity. (Adopted Winter 2016)

Note to incoming freshmen: Looking for your Freshman Studies books? Domestic students should receive the first book, Native Guard, in late July or early August. International students will receive the book when they arrive on campus.  Students also may visit the online bookstore, Be aware, though, that Freshman Studies sections won’t appear in the bookstore (or on student schedules) until those sections have been created in mid-August.

Lawrence University Participating in Project to Study, Promote Core Curricula Best Practices

Lawrence University is joining three other national liberal arts colleges in a collaborative effort to identify best practices in common core curricula and communicate the significant benefits of liberal education to a wider audience.

Supported by a $243,000 grant from the New York City-based Teagle Foundation, Lawrence will partner with Pennsylvania’s Ursinus College, Tennessee’s Rhodes College and The College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts to examine how core courses help students develop the judgment needed in their careers and in their lives. The 30-month-long project—“Gateways to Liberal Education”aims to invigorate core curricula in American colleges.

Beginning this summer, a series of four conferences will be conducted with faculty from each of the four schools to discuss ways in which a common course or syllabus identifies essential texts, skills and experiences that prepare students for fulfilling careers and lives as responsible citizens.

The conferences also will explore benefits to faculty teaching such courses, how common inquiry can bond faculty and students and how colleges can assess their accomplishments.

Subsequent conferences will be open to faculty from other schools interested in incorporating similar pedagogies and courses in their general education programs.

The Gateways to Liberal Education project is expected to produce a volume of essays directed at both academia and prospective students and their parents that highlights the importance of this education model.

Provost David Burrows

“The goal of liberal education is to develop the human capacity for critical thought, judgment and creativity and to infuse that capacity with a passion for effective action in the contemporary world,” said David Burrows, provost and dean of the faculty at Lawrence. “This goal has never been more important than it is right now.  We must look to liberal arts colleges to lead the way to a bright future for our society. This grant will help ensure that we find that way.”

Four Common Core Programs

The four-school consortium involved in the project each offer its own common core program. Lawrence’s multidisciplinary Freshman Studies program exposes students to enduring works in the humanities, fine arts, social and natural sciences to foster students’ abilities to think critically, write effectively and speak persuasively.

Initiated in 1945, Freshman Studies spans two terms of a three-term academic year and strives to awaken first-year students to the excitement of liberal learning. Faculty from all disciplines teach the course in sections of approximately 15 students.

“The Teagle project will have many benefits for Lawrence,” said Timothy Spurgin, associate professor of English and the campus’ project leader on the grant. “It will give us an opportunity to share what we’ve learned from decades of experience with Freshman Studies and also help us to learn from other schools and their programs.”

Ursinus, which will serve as the lead institution on the project, features the Common Intellectual Experience, a two-semester common syllabus core course required of all first-year students. The program uses texts to engage students in discussing three perennial questions: How should one live? What does it mean to be human? What is the universe and my place in it?

Rhodes provides a comprehensive experience that links a rigorous academic program with experiential learning in the community. The college’s commitment to a values-based liberal arts education is based on 12 “foundation” requirements that emphasize students’ integrating their in-class work with research and experiential learning outside the classroom.

Holy Cross’ Montserrat program enrolls all first-year students in small, intensive, full-year seminars that are grouped into five thematic clusters, each of which incorporates interdisciplinary and experiential learning opportunities through shared texts, lectures, field trips and other events. Each student is enrolled in a small, yearlong seminar that explores a specific topic while developing critical thinking, writing and communication skills.

Associate Professor of English Timothy Spurgin

“None of these other programs is exactly like our Freshman Studies, but there are enough similarities to make the idea of collaboration very exciting,” said Spurgin. “If this collaboration does nothing more than to remind us all of why we do these things—why we aren’t giving into outside pressures and embracing the latest fads—it will have accomplished a lot.”

Joining Spurgin as Lawrence faculty representatives on the project are Elizabeth Carlson, associate professor of art history and Lori Hilt, assistant professor of psychology.

The “Gateways to Liberal Education” grant aligns with The Teagle Foundation’s interest in seeking and supporting courses and programs that equip students to deal effectively with questions of meaning, value and responsibility that will persist throughout their lives.

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the Fiske Guide to Colleges 2013 and the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.” Individualized learning, the development of multiple interests and community engagement are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries. Follow Lawrence on Facebook.

Martha Nussbaum: Liberal Education Crucial to Producing Democratic Societies

In her charge to the class of 2013 at Lawrence University’s 164th commencement June 9, honorary degree recipient Martha Nussbaum told the 289 graduating seniors liberal education is critically important in producing democratic citizens and urged them to become advocates for it.

Martha Nussbaum, Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago.

“What you can all do is to keep institutions like Lawrence strong,” said Nussbaum, the Ernst Freund Distinguished Service Professor of Law and Ethics at the University of Chicago. “You can also lobby with your local school board, your state and national representatives, for more attention to the liberal arts in public education at all levels. And, above all, just talk a lot about what matters to you about the education you’ve had here. Spread the word that what happens on this campus is not useless, but crucially relevant to the future of democracy in this nation and in the wider world.

In an interview prior to her commencement address, Nussbaum said liberal education is more relevant today than ever “because it stimulates a kind of respectful and deliberative political debate, and there’s no time in American history when we need that more.”

“It also stimulates curiosity and involvement in the different groups that make up our world,” added Nussbaum, “This is more crucial than ever if big problems, like environmental problems, racial animosity, religious animosity, are going to be solved. When people think narrowly about jobs, they’re selling short democracy, and we need to think, “What is it that keeps democracy healthy?’”

Nussbaum discussed several other higher education topics, including the emergence of MOOCs — Massive Open Online Courses, which she says may have a role for those with limited access to higher education, but are “just no substitute” for a traditional education

“It’s a poor second place, if second at all, because the interaction is the key to the education — interaction with other students in the classroom and the interaction with faculty,” said Nussbaum, a self-described “Luddite” who has no interest in teaching an online course. “I’m sure people try to make it more interactive, but it just isn’t the same thing.”

Martha Nussbaum received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree at Lawrence’s 164th commencement.

During a few visits to campus to visit a family friend’s son, who was a freshman at Lawrence this past academic year, Nussbaum sat in on several classes and came away impressed.

“One was a political science class about American politics and another was an introductory econ class,” said Nussbaum, “and I just thought, ‘I want to stay here the whole semester to have this class!’ I’m just amazed at the way these teachers can combine sophistication with absolute clarity. These introductory courses that a freshman was taking were of course accessible to freshmen, they were very clear. But I was also stimulated. I was getting something out of the way the issues were presented. I just think they’re just so lucky to have that.

“Of course, in Freshman Studies, they do music!,” Nussbaum added. “This is the only place I’ve ever seen of which that’s true. Most places, they expect that every faculty member could teach Shakespeare, but they don’t ever expect that faculty could teach Stravinsky, but here they are in Freshman Studies. They’re all doing Stravinsky and I think that’s fantastic.”

Download the entire conversation with Prof. Nussbaum or listen online

About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a nationally recognized conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. It was selected for inclusion in the Fiske Guide to Colleges 2013 and the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.” Individualized learning, the development of multiple interests and community engagement are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,500 students from nearly every state and more than 50 countries. Follow Lawrence on Facebook.

Green Roots Sponsoring “Community Read” Spring Term

Farm City BookTaking a page from Freshman Studies, Green Roots is sponsoring a special 1-unit course for Term III under the umbrella of Topics in Environmental Studies that will feature a campus community read of the 2009 book “Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer.” The book’s author, Novella Carpenter, will visit campus in April in conjunction with Earth Day and the Fox Cities Book Festival.

The book chronicles Carpenter’s efforts to operate a sustainable farm 10 blocks from the ghetto of downtown Oakland, Calif., utilizing a vacant lot to grow pumpkins and artichokes and the scraps in dumpsters to feed her collection of chickens, turkeys, ducks, rabbits and pigs.

Registration for the one-hour-per-week, five-week-long class is currently open to all students and will feature 16 faculty from across the curriculum team-teaching the course with a colleague.

“I am thrilled to see such a positive campus-wide response to this initiative,” said Associate Professor of Geology Andrew Knudsen, who spearheaded the community read course with Jason Brozek, assistant professor of government and Stephen Edward Scarff Professor of International Affairs. “We have students and instructors from all across the university signed up to participate in this program. It will be very exciting to be a part of a campus-wide discussion of this book. If you can run a farm on a vacant lot in Oakland, it seems like the possibilities are limitless.”