Report criticizes freshmen reading programs

The report stated summer reading is too contemporary.

The National Association of Scholars placed freshmen reading programs such as Mizzou Reads under fire in a June report.

The organization promotes a traditional, Western-based education on college campuses.

Its 15-page report charged that the most popular books among such programs are too politically correct, not challenging enough and deal with similar topics, notably multiculturalism and the environment.

Institutions of higher education across the nation have responded by pointing out the goals of these programs are not the same as those of class curriculum, and using books regarding current events allows universities to host the authors, adding a new dimension to the reading experience.

NAS Public Affairs Director Glenn Ricketts said the ability to speak to the author of a book does not justify the modern emphasis.

"Most books that people have read for most of history have been written by people who weren't there to answer their questions," Ricketts said. "This exercise doesn't give you much of a gateway into the minds of ages past. One of the worst things students bring to school these days is a lack of a sense of history."

This year's Mizzou Reads selection was Jean Twenge's "Generation Me," a book utilizing statistics to analyze changes in generational characteristics. Past selections have included "A Thousand Splendid Suns" by Khaled Hosseini in 2009 and Greg Mortenson's "Three Cups of Tea" in 2008.

Although the two books before "Generation Me" dealt with common topics in the NAS report, the program said it does not look for any particular themes when choosing a book.

"We look for books that are intellectually stimulating and will promote interesting discussion," said Jordan Parshall, graduate assistant in the Office of New Student Programs. "They should also be socially controversial sometimes, just to promote more discussion. They try not to pigeonhole it. They don't want just novels or just stories about a particular population. We don't discount more historically relevant books or older titles, but we do look for things that address current issues."

Large universities across the nation have implemented programs with similar aims. At Ohio State University, the Buckeye Book Community helps encourage unity among students at one of the largest universities in America.

"It's important to us that, even though we're big, we have a sense of community and shared experiences," said Mabel Freeman, Ohio State University assistant vice president of undergraduate admissions and first year experience.

Freeman said using modern books helps keep course curriculum relevant. "Three Cups of Tea" inspired Ohio State students to volunteer to help develop schools. This year's selection, "No Impact Man," ties in with campus efforts to be more environmentally friendly.

"It's always helpful when the book really does help the students realize that there's a connection between what they're learning in class and what's going on in the world," Freeman said.

Although many of the concepts in "Generation Me" were controversial, the MU Office of New Student Programs said this was welcome.

"We were fine with that because that encourages discussion between students and faculty and it actually gets people thinking," Parshall said. "When a student reads a book, whether they agree with what the author's saying isn't as important as whether they can critically think about how they feel themselves and where the author's coming from with her statements."

Ricketts said "Generation Me" could have been used in tandem with other historical works to give students a better sense of the past.

"Why not read that book and then a book from a different era that's kind of representative of that era and make a comparison?" Ricketts said. "It's all a question of context and what's familiar to you."

Ricketts suggested using works from earlier generations, such as Aristotle's take on younger generations, to cast current trends in a new light. The NAS said it believes colleges should choose books other than contemporary literature.

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