The University Bookman has long had a focus on education. Indeed, the archive reveals numerous reviews of college and high-school textbooks, and of course our founder Russell Kirk wrote often on education. As we approach the beginning of another school year, we asked some of our contributors for their advice to students coming back this fall on how to make the best of their education.
Richard M. Gamble
Students commonly think more about what they will get out of a college education than what they need to bring to it as active participants. Even the most idealistic young person in pursuit of a liberal education for its own sake will likely picture acquiring the noble ends of wisdom, sound judgment, and appreciation for the greatest works of human creativity. But students need to enter into their studies with a few things that have always been expected of them in the “great tradition” of learning in the West: humility, gratitude, love of the truth, trust, courage, discernment, and delight.
Richard M. Gamble, editor of The Great Tradition: Classic Readings on What It Means to Be an Educated Human Being (ISI Books, 2007).
John J. Miller
Most colleges and universities don’t demand that their students receive a proper liberal-arts education anymore, but many are still capable of providing one—if only students search for it. By learning about professors and taking care with course selection, students who don’t benefit from a serious core curriculum can try to approximate one on their own.
John J. Miller is director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College.
Christopher O. Blum
When I was a student, I used to pick my classes by walking through the university bookstore and finding the offerings with the most compelling primary-source readings. This was the only way for me to have read Aristotle, Plato, Cicero, St. Benedict, Dante, Eliot, Chesterton, and many other greats in the original, rather than in pre-packaged anthologies and through the lens of cultural radicals. And even in this age of electronic learning, it may still be a fruitful strategy. Wisdom, after all, leads a hidden life in today’s universities, and must be sought out like the precious pearl that it is in order to be found.
Christopher O. Blum, Thomas More College
Read. One of the biggest differences between successful and unsuccessful students is that the successful ones read. You may never again have as much time for reading as you will in college. Don’t neglect this opportunity. If you do not know where to start, you could do worse than to begin with the classics of Greek and Roman civilization. America’s Founders were well-versed in the classics. They learned about republicanism from writers and statesmen of the ancient republics. We ignore them at our peril. Work your way forward from there. Most of your professors will favor recent books. If you wish to acquire a familiarity with the great works of Western Civilization (and you should), you will largely be on your own. Read. And then discuss what you’ve read with you classmates.
Sean Busick is Professor of History at Athens State University.
David A. Campion
One of the best ways to get the most academically out of your college experience is to introduce yourself to your professors and meet with them regularly in office hours.
Even the busiest professors are happy to take time away from their daily routine to talk to students, especially ones who are new to their subject and eager to learn. It is a pleasure to interact with bright and motivated students, to learn about their interests, and to answer their questions. Indeed, the opportunity to do so on a regular basis is one of most satisfying parts of our profession.
Getting to know your professors can also pay dividends later when you apply for a job, an internship, or admission to graduate school. Professors who have developed close mentoring relationships with students can offer letters of recommendation that are especially detailed, personal, and strong. They also tend to hire these students as research assistants and recommend them to colleagues for other opportunities.
The personal attention of your professors, even at larger universities, is a valuable benefit of a college education. You should take full advantage of it.
David A. Campion is the Dr. Robert B. Pamplin Jr. Associate Professor of History at Lewis & Clark College.
David G. Bonagura, Jr.
“Education is wasted on the young.” So goes the mantra of adults who, now trapped by the pressures of the workaday world, long for the excitement of learning something new. The college years are a privileged opportunity to stimulate the mind and invigorate the soul by exploring the truths of the world and of humanity, by questioning the things we take for granted, and by examining the best of what has been thought and said. As a new academic year begins and the rigors of examinations and research looms, let us keep the broader purpose of education in view. Years from now, having persevered through the complexities of the finest books and ideas that civilization has to offer, we can reformulate Vergil’s mantra for the positive: It is indeed pleasing to remember these things above all.
David G. Bonagura, Jr. teaches theology at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception, Huntington, New York.
William J. Gould
- Take advantage of the core curriculum. The purpose of the core is to provide some idea of the scope and interrelatedness of knowledge so you may form a broad and integrated vision of the whole. So think of your different core courses as an opportunity for expanding your horizons rather than just another box to be checked off. You might be pleasantly surprised by how much you like fields you thought you’d never want to study.
- Start each course with the plausible and usually justified assumption that your professor knows a lot more than you do and has put together a carefully constructed course. Be a little patient; it may take time for point of the course material to become apparent.
- Get to know your professors. Go to their office hours. Professors are happy to meet with students, especially ones who take an interest in their research. This will also help for letters of recommendation.
- Extracurricular activities are valuable, but don’t allow your involvement with them to detract from your studies. Remember that you are a student first, and your studies take precedence over even the best of extracurriculars.
William J. Gould, Ph.D. is Assistant Dean for Juniors at Fordham College at Rose Hill in the Bronx.