Research suggest that students are not learning nearly as well as they should or could. Three books on the learning crisis stand out: Derek Bok’s Our Underachieving Colleges (2007), Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa’s Academically Adrift (2010), and Rebekah Nathan’s My Freshman Year (2005).
Teachers may romanticize or villainize students based on conjecture, personal experience, and anecdotal observations. But for the most part we remain in the dark about what students actually do and want. In My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 2005), Rebekah Nathan moves us beyond speculation and gives us a useful portrait of college students’ lives, reporting on her observations during a year-long “undercover” anthropological study of college culture. This portrait includes bad news, good news, and an overall more complex and informed way of understanding students.