Freshman Disorientation

A list of pre-admission reading for various colleges

What is most disheartening about this list is that while it includes some worthwhile books, it certainly does not include much, if anything, that I would consider foundational for an understanding of literature.  Certainly it may include things that a hundred years in the future might provide that foundation, but it points to the essential rootlessness and thoughtlessness of the way students are educated today.  It makes me glad to embrace our decision to homeschool.  The colleges may not require Shakespeare, Donne, Milton, Austen, or Woolf, but our house (with the possible exception of the last, which is probably a bit advanced for upper high-school) certainly shall.


  1. Going beyond the pre-admission reading recommendations (worthy of skeptical scrutiny and questions about who compiles these simple-minded and arid lists), I throw another log onto the fire: required reading for freshmen in the form of "reading-across-the-curriculum" books. Many universities, mine included, have gone to having freshman confront a single book in various courses in their first year; this single book supplements the texts for the courses, and it is supposed to become the catalyst for across-the-curriculum connections, thoughts, and discussions. Well, my university has recently selected a dismal, sadly irrelevant book (a contemporary collection of essays by a politically biased journalist whose name will be omitted here), and--taking the high ground but jeopardizing my future employment--I have steadfastly refused to include the book in my syllabi for my courses. I refuse to confuse fresh minds by suggesting to them that the book represents good, worthwhile reading. Call me a dinosaur, but I will stick to time-tested canonical texts, supplemented now and then by newer titles that promise to be around for another generation or two. By the way, Steven, I wholeheartedly endorse your reading list: give me Shakespeare, Donne, Milton, et al. The questionable recommendations from questionable committees (i.e., the pre-admission list makers, and the across-the-curriculum selection deciders) are full of sound and fury but signify nothing. Now, I must stand down from soapbox and make my way to my freshman composition classroom. And so it goes.

  2. Dear R.T.,

    I will call you a dinosaur and consider it the highest possible compliment. I'm striving for dinosaur status myself.(Being a paleontologist [although one who works primarily in the world of invertebrates] I've had a lifelong love for dinosaurs--they were terrifically successful group.)

    But I love and agree with your soapbox and with the integrity of your stand. I hope that it does not have repercussions. I'm sick to death of long lists of modern pallid imitations of literature trotted out and tarted up for the young and impressionable.




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