DO you have a son or daughter in college this fall? You might want to have them read this. After 33 years of college teaching experience, here's some advice they may want to consider. Especially if they are interested in an education and not just a degree.
Take a course in 20th-century American history. It's indispensable. The newspapers and magazines you'll read after graduation will frequently refer to important events or personalities in this century. It's nice to know what they're talking about. Besides, it will give you a feeling for the period your parents and grandparents lived through. A bridge-builder.
Take the history of Western Civilization. (No, I'm not a history professor.) How can you possibly consider yourself an educated person if you know little or nothing about notables like Pericles, Augustine, Machiavelli, Luther, Cromwell, Locke, Samuel Johnson, Marx, and Lenin? Or about the role and development of the medieval church, the Reformation and Counter-Reformation, the Renaissance, the growth of the democratic idea, artistic developments, the French Revolution, the birth and decline of socialism?
You can be a salesman, an engineer, a chemist, or an accountant without knowing more about your roots than the average woodchuck, but an educated person you cannot be.
Take a course or two covering the history and current panorama of Russia, or Japan, or China, or Mexico. They are fascinating areas and they'll play a large part in America's future. With the ``global village'' upon us, it is no time for nationalistic myopia.
Take time to peruse a few issues of The New Republic, The Atlantic, and The New York Times Magazine. They are probably the best magazines in America on public affairs. They offer excellent writers, thoughtful and informed analyses, and non-doctrinaire approaches to important modern problems. They're a perfect complement to a good newspaper.
Here are a few observations you can profitably bear in mind.
Learn to express tentative opinions, especially on matters you know little about. ``This is what I believe, based on what I now know, but reserve the right to change my mind if further evidence challenges that belief.''
Once you've expressed a dogmatic opinion it's hard to remain open-minded on that point. You become more eager to prove that you're right than willing to follow the facts wherever they lead.
Beware of those sweeping generalizations! One of the surest indicators of an educated person is a consistent tendency to qualify generalizations. Generalizing from too small a sample is another pitfall into which all of us, however well educated, are prone to fall.
Get off to a fast start. Work hard the first few weeks, get ahead of your assignments and see how it makes you feel! Tensions abate, anxieties fade, satisfactions multiply. No one who's tried this lonely adventure has been sorry.
Finally, you're bound to be exposed to a few incompetent professors, even in the best of schools. When the semester is over and you look back on a course that was truly a waste, sit down and write to the college president. Explain why the course was a frost, being as specific as possible. Encourage your disgruntled classmates to do the same. You and your parents are paying a lot of cash to get an education and you have a right to expect something for your money. There are no consumer protection laws for college students; it's a do-it-yourself and do-it-for-others proposition. Constructive griping makes you feel better while doing your fellow students a favor.
Finally, bear in mind that what you learn is less important than the kind of person you're becoming and the values you live by.