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My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student Paperback – July 25, 2006

3.4 out of 5 stars 86 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

After nearly two decades as a university professor, the author (writing under a pseudonym) realized she was out of touch with her students. She didn't understand them. They no longer stopped by her office for consultations, no longer did assigned readings or participated in class discussions; they openly took naps in class, brought in food and drink, and behaved as though their education was of no importance to them. Looking for a way to close the gap between her and her students, Nathan enrolled in her own university as a freshman. Over the year, she gained an understanding and appreciation of contemporary college life. She found that many students who seemed uninterested in the whole idea of school were actually intensely curious and passionate about their education. They weren't the problem; the institution of learning was. This book offers insightful exploration of contemporary higher education and fascinating commentary on the ways in which the system has not kept up with the ever-changing needs of its students. David Pitt
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

Review

"It's anthropology at its best: accessible, illuminating, contextual." —The Christian Science Monitor

"My Freshman Year... is an insightful, riveting look at college life and American values." —The Boston Globe

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 186 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (July 25, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143037471
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143037477
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.5 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (86 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,898 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Dr. Cathy Goodwin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 11, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Like other reviewers, I have misgivings about the ethics of "Rebekah Nathan's" undercover exploration of student life. Anthropologists may become participant observers but certainly her fellow students might feel betrayed.

At the same time, I couldn't stop reading. Few university press books combine academic discourse with readability as well as this one does. I was a college professor myself for 20+ years, but in the business school. And I didn't find a single surprise -- except, was Nathan really unaware of her students as much as she claims?

Several years ago, I remember a summer school student complaining, "You give too much work! Who has time for this? I have a wedding in my family and my folk dance lessons..."

Nathan's glorifies international students, who criticize Americans for shallow friendship and lightweight classes. But I taught international MBA students who said calmly, "We won't be in class next week. We're going sightseeing. It would be a shame to come all this way and then not see [a local attraction]." And some international students have less than ideal motivations -- not to mention disregard of female professors.

Nathan bemoans the lack of student participation. In the business school, we were encouraged to motivate students. I rarely had trouble getting students to participate: discussion groups, in-class activities and more.

But she's right about so many elements of student culture. I returned for my PhD when I was in my 30's (deemed the "older woman" by my professors - I wish I were kidding). So in a way I experienced some of her frustrations, including time management, conflicts, inexorable deadlines and arbitrary administrative policies.
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Format: Hardcover
I urge potential readers to ignore the harping over perceived intellectual slights suggested by many reviewers of Rebekah Nathan's "My Freshman Year". The intent of the book was to help students in their college experience by informing faculty and administrators about the current student culture, both its limitations and its potential advantages to learning. As such, the book deserves to be read by all parents of college- bound high school students, college students, teachers and professors, and administrators interested in giving students the best education possible. I too am a college professor and find that the intellection aspirations of my freshmen are now different than my pedagogical expectations. Nathan's book provides at least some answers for the differences, which I rapidly am using to make my classes more accessible --while still providing students the content they need and deserve.

So, I am frankly astounded at many of the reviews I have here read, which center not on the content of the book, but on how Nathan got her information--by posing as a freshman to make students feel comfortable around her. As a physical scientist, I am dumbstruck that some social scientists and others think this approach was somehow "unethical." Nathan went to great lengths to avoid reporting things that might be construed to be improper, didn't report actual names, certainly was not "spying" (the intent to do harm or gain advantage over those in the dark), and even became friends with students for whom she obviously had great affection and respect.

I intuitively know that if Nathan's freshmen had been aware that they were being observed, they'd have behaved quite differently.
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Format: Hardcover
This book is oriented to the relationship between today's college students and their academic work. Thank goodness it skips the juicy bits that attract journalists: binge drinking, date rape, fraternity hazing. Instead, it wonders, why are students so disengaged from the world of ideas? Why do students almost never ask to have a word defined? Why do they assume deadlines and strictures against plagiarism and cheating infinitely elastic?

The traditional explanations by college profesors run along these lines:

(1) It's all the fault of K-12 teachers and administrators;

(2) The new generation is just no good.

This book looks at the passage of today's college students from consumerism (as entering freshmen) to careerism (as graduating seniors), and observes that this particularly modern transition never quite passes through the life of the mind. There are also discussions of conformity, community and diversity, and the views of Americam students given by foreign-exchange students. We find that pairing hard and easy classes, and grouping classes into two or three days a week, are perfectly rational time-management techniques, and don't pose particular problems once the students master their use.

If you're a college professor you'll find this book filled with insights about your students, and why they do what they do.
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Format: Hardcover
Northern Arizona University anthropology professor Cathy Small decided to enroll as a freshman there during the 2002-2003 school year. This was to be her sabbatical project -- an ethnographic study of college culture at a public university. She turned in her faculty card and parking permit and lived in a coed dorm, attending classes and taking careful notes -- on those around her. She became a participant-observer, going to classes, reading the graffiti in the women's restrooms and probing feelings about cheating.

Taking the pseudonym "Rebekah Nathan" and calling the school "AnyU" to protect those she studied, Small compiled her findings into a book. (According to an article in the New York Times, a New York Sun reporter revealed her true identity last year.)

"My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student" is no dry-as-dust study, but rather an insightful and delightful portrait of ordinary student life. My copy is a hardback published by Cornell University Press ($24) but the book is also now in paperback ($14) from Penguin.

Part of Small's story is about her own ethical concerns over how to handle things told to her by students who think she is (just) a fellow student. She decided not to lie; yet she needed to reveal her true purpose only a few times.

Those around her in the dorms were just not that interested in what a 50-plus student was doing at the school. She was a writer, too, she said, and was going to write about student life.

True enough, and that seemed to suffice. Small determined that her book would not contain descriptions of sexual or drinking practices, and her comments on the group discussions in her sexuality class are kept general since they were confidential.

There is nothing lurid here.
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