Dicta

The home of “things said” by the National Association of Scholars.

The Terrible Textbooks of Freshman Comp

Mary Grabar

The anthologies used in many freshman composition courses tell students what to think, not how to write.

FIRE VP to Freshman Parents: College Ain't What It Used to Be

Glenn Ricketts

If you're the proud parent of an entering freshman this Fall semester, FIRE Vice President Robert Shibley has some advice that you may not have heard from your school's orientation team leader. 

Freshman Profile: Already Liberal

Glenn Ricketts

The current CHE features some survey data about the attitudes of last Fall's incoming college freshman class. In the first place, they think that they're pretty smart.

What's the Value of Freshman Composition Courses?

George Leef

Here's an essay about a composition course at UNC that was a waste of time.  No student, who wanted to improve his writing, would buy a course like this in a stand-alone, free market transaction.

What Has Become of Freshman Comp?

George Leef

That is the question Professor Robert V. Young of North Carolina State answers in this Pope Center piece we released last week. Back when he taught the course in the 1970s, it was like boot camp for college students who needed to improve their writing. There was a lot of work and it was rigorously graded -- tough on both the student and the professor. Unfortunately, the course metamorphosed over the years into one dominated by "composition theory" and like so many academic theories, that one has proven to be a dismal failure. More incoming students than ever need to improve their writing, but the way freshman comp is now taught, it's mostly a waste of time -- or worse.

40 More Awkward Questions

Peter Wood

Looking for awkward moments at freshman orientation this fall? Pick an identity: “The 60s Rabble Rouser,” “The Tolerance Enforcer,” “The Eco-Enthusiast,” “The Party-Don’t-Start-Till-I-Walk-In Dude/Chick” or “The I’m-Actually-Here-to-Learn Student.” Let us know how it goes.

Freshman Comp Ain't What She Used to Be

George Leef

We hear a lot of chatter about how it's so vital that we get more young Americans through college because college teaches them the "higher skills" that the globalized "knowledge economy" demands. I think that's baloney. For many students, college doesn't even teach the most basic skill of all, namely the ability to write clear English. In this video of a talk presented at the John  Locke Foundation, North Carolina State English professor Robert V. Young explains what has happened to freshman comp over the decades. It used to be a lot of hard work (for students and professor), but now.....

In Memoriam

David Clemens

Most good teachers had a model. Robert Pinsky had Francis Ferguson; Mark Edmundson had Frank Lears. I was lucky; I had two. My Freshman Comp. teacher was Dr. Idelle Sullens, a Stanford-trained medievalist specializing in 14th century literature. But I was mystified to learn that she had also been a naval officer in World War II and Korea. And rumor had it that she was something called a “Daughter of Bilitis.” But what really fractured my high school brain was seeing Dr. Sullens pull up in her brand new `64 Mustang. That I understood, and it elevated her beyond cool. My disturbing discovery was that one could seem professorial but also be startlingly complicated.  Two years later, it was the Lincolnesque Beat Generation scholar Tom Parkinson. One drowsy afternoon in Berkeley’s Wheeler Auditorium, Parkinson recited Ezra Pound’s “The River Merchant’s Wife: A Letter”with tears streaming down his partially-paralyzed cheeks (he had been shot in the face by a student). I was embarrassed but also feared that this moment was profound in a way I might never understand. How could he so reveal himself? It took years to learn that throughout one’s life, good literature deepens and grows, accumulating, preserving, and incorporating intense personal associations. Now there are poems I can’t read aloud without leaking tears. Both are gone now, but the spirits of Sullens and Parkinson still gently remind me to be unexpected, singular, complicated, and exposed so that my students will see that one day they can do the same.

Missed Opportunity: Summer Readings for Incoming Freshmen

George Leef

In today's Pope Center article, Jenna Robinson delves into the sad history of freshman summer reading programs. Unfortunately, the books that schools usually choose are either feel-good fluff or politically tendentious tracts. Her conclusion: "Universities have one chance to make a first impression on students; they should use that opportunity to choose books that are rigorous, that challenge students to think critically about new ideas, and that genuinely introduce them to university work and intellectual life." For the most part, universities blow that chance.

Welcome Freshmen!

Peter Wood

What you won't learn in freshmen orientation.

Delaware Res Life Video Soars in YouTube Popularity

Ashley Thorne

Never Mind Tocqueville, Let's List Slurs

Bill Rivers

A participant in the University of Delaware's now infamous indoctrination program recollects some not-so-fond memories.

How the Dorms Are Politicized: The Case of the University of Delaware

Adam Kissel

This paper was presented by Adam Kissel at a panel at the National Association of Scholars general conference in Washington, DC, on January 11, 2009. Kissel is the director of the Individual Rights Defense Program at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE).