The Myth of First-Year Enlightenment

As the fall term winds down, have any students enabled you to cling to The Myth of First-Year Enlightenment? Here’s what Tim Clydesdale, an associate professor of sociology at the College of New Jersey and author of The First Year Out: Understanding American Teens After High School (University of Chicago Press, 2007), writes on the topic:

“Most of the mainstream American teens I spoke with neither liberated themselves intellectually nor broadened themselves socially during their first year out.” … “What teens actually focus on during the first year out is this: daily life management.” . . . “Only a handful of students on each campus find a liberal-arts education to be deeply meaningful and important and most of those end up becoming college professors themselves. . . . And so the liberal-arts paradigm perpetuates itself, while remaining out of sync with the vast majority of college students.”

My friend Derek Melleby summarizes Tim’s thoughts on religious teens:

They do want to take life seriously. But here’s what’s missing according to Clydesdale: basic instruction in religious life and guidance about how to meaningfully connect their faith to the rest of their lives and how to integrate faith with future plans and with the world at large. This book suggests that the biggest challenge facing youth workers may not be to get students to “keep faith in college” but to “engage faith in college.” That’s an important distinction that will hopefully lead to a paradigm shift in how we prepare students for the most important transition in life. — Derek’s review available here.

By God’s grace and the active work of quite a few members of the Grove City College community (faculty and students), I am one of those first-year liberal arts college student transformations.  I emerged from the darkness of naive nihilism to following Christ as part of the people of God.  Furthermore, I received a call to transformational campus ministry which I have come to understand as a slow process of tilling, sowing the seed, watering, nurturing the growth, and gathering the Harvest.

Anyone have a testimony?  I’d love a report of a first-year transformation witnessed this fall by a member of ESN ;-)

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Tom Grosh IV

Enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa, four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he hosts the Christian Scholar Series), on campus as part of InterVarsity Graduate & Faculty Ministry (serving fellowships such as the Christian Medical Society/CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine), online as the Associate Director of the Emerging Scholars Network, in the culture at large, and in God’s creation.

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One Comment

  • bret.staudt.willet@gmail.com'
    Bret commented on November 18, 2008 Reply

    A few thoughts in response to following the link to “The Myth of First-Year Enlightenment.” First, the difference between Clydesdale’s freshman experience and that of his current students is affected greatly by worldview and generation. The modern to postmodern shift has a huge effect on students’ learning styles. And generational differences exacerbate this all the more; students growing up in a media-rich and audiovisual bombardment are understandably having a hard time with traditional lecture styles. Finally, the “helicopter parenting” of the millenials has perhaps slowed the transition to that early and gratifying intellectual enlightenment. The challenge before us, as Clydesdale points out, is to capture students’ imaginations with the “why?”. We must adapt our teaching styles, stretch our own creativity, hunt for new resources and examples…

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