John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

Q: And what did you do over Thanksgiving vacation? A: What you did is who you are.

December 1, 2009John N. GardnerInsights0

When I either read (skim) or hear about many blogs, the subjects of which are so intensely personal right down to the minutia, my usual response is: “Who cares?” Followed by: “Not me.” So I am not going to write about what I did over Thanksgiving even though it was a good one for me, and for which I am thankful.

The question though of how I versus you, good reader, spent our respective Thanksgiving vacations, reminds me for some reason of a really insightful explanation I was offered once by a practicing sociologist whose subtle mind and insights I admired, one Phillip Weinberger, a professor at Waynesburg College in Pennsylvania.

I once heard a presentation by Professor Weinberger about the challenges of transition to college faced by working class students, i.e. children of working class parents. Weinberger argued that such children encountered in college for the first time people (faculty) for whom work was never left “at work”; and for whom one’s “work” was synonymous with one’s identity. Thus, what you did, “profess” was synonymous with what you are, “professor”. My son once asked me why I asked so many questions? I told him because that’s what I am and what I do. Professor Weinberger explained to me that first-year college students from working class parents were more likely to be suitcase college students: i.e. they were more likely to go home over weekends, because they had learned from their parents that work was something you left behind; you did not take it home with you; and you got away from it as soon as you could. Work was merely an instrumental means to an end, life. For faculty though, work was life, the life of the mind.

And so I think about our students. Would it be worth asking our students, perhaps more for our information than theirs, how many of them did “work” (i.e. academic work) over the holidays? I am positive a greater proportion of us academics did “work” over the same period, myself included. These class differences are increasingly an important part of determining the fit of college, the success of transition, the understanding of new options for identity. Successful transition to college may not look like rocket science, but I would argue that it is almost as complex, and even more important.

-John N. Gardner

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