The recent flurry of suggestions on freshman year and reports that the Administration plans to make some changes in the freshman program next fall is highly encouraging. While the faculty has recast honors tutorial it has so far done little about improving freshman education and non-honors tutorial. The innovations forecast for at least the former will indeed be welcome.
Freshman year can undoubtedly be made a more rewarding academic introduction for new students. Lecture courses offer too often only a cold commentary on the great works and ideas which the General Education program is supposed to present. Lectures, in literature and social sciences especially, if not downright boring, do not permit interchange of ideas between students or between student and teacher. Sections, which are provided to remedy this deficiency, are too often a waste of time; the general pattern is that the few students who are prepared conduct a dialogue with the section man while other students doodle quietly.
The idea of sections is not at fault; potentially they offer much that is valuable. Proposals that there should be a "seminar" program recognize that questions in literature and political theory, for instance, should be picked apart in discussion. A strengthening of the present sections and introduction of seminar-type courses should thus be attempted.
Present sections are noble in principle and inadequate in practice. If there were a nucleus of discussion at the meetings, instead of desultory questions or a third lecture by the section man, actuality might approach potential. One method of stimulating discussion might be effected by requiring concise, one-page papers throughout the term on questions suggested by the week's readings. One of the term's longer papers might be dropped and a requirement of six to eight short expositions substituted. Students could hand these in on weeks when they chose. Exercises like this would eliminate the need for the puerile quizzes used by section men solely for the purpose of making the class do the reading once a month. And although they need not all be marked, such exercises would train students in brief exposition, insure that a majority of the class had read and considered at least some of the week's reading, and provide--by being read aloud--a basis for section discussion.