A Concise Guide to College Success: Carpe Diem

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9780131129344: A Concise Guide to College Success: Carpe Diem

For Student Orientation classes. This well-written text started as a professor's advice to help his own students succeed in and out of the classroom. This brief text serves as a reference tool to improve writing, grammar, and punctuation, as well as gives information about studying, exam taking, classes, and "the care and feeding of professors." Also includes a short introduction to critical thinking and logic with exercises.

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From the Back Cover:

A Concise Guide to College Success started as one professor's advice to help students negotiate the intricate, often unspoken, rules of how to succeed in college. This valuable, down-to-earth text is concise and offers just the right type of information needed by today's busy but motivated students. Features include:

  • Practical hints about studying, note taking, and succeeding in the classroom, including how to deal with professors
  • A short introduction to critical thinking and logic with exercises
  • Basic rules of grammar, punctuation, language use, and citations
  • Discussion of the importance of education in a successful life, the importance of life outside the classroom, and the value of diversity in education

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Preface to Students

A student's job isn't easy. I remember it as exciting and challenging, but also stressful. It's tough being constantly evaluated, week in and week out. That's the bad news. The good news is that it's almost certainly a once-in-a-lifetime experience: rarely do people get graded and tested so much. The other piece of good news is that if you can manage the stress, being a student can be the most exciting and enriching period in your life. You can then "seize the day"—carpe diem.

I wrote this book for two simple reasons: (1) to help students like you get as much as possible from your college education and (2) to help you excel in the courses you take. I assume that students want to do better in classes. Sometimes you may be motivated by the desire to get into a good graduate, medical, or law school-a perfectly reasonable goal. Or maybe you have other reasons (I suggest some others in the first chapter). Whatever your reasons, I wrote A Concise Guide to College Success to help you succeed in college, do better in classes, and improve your reading and writing skills. I also hope to make you see the value—and the fun—of learning and of education in general. But more on that in a moment.

As long as we're doing introductions, I should say something here about myself. I graduated from Cornell College and went on to graduate school at Vanderbilt University, where I got a Ph.D. in Philosophy and then an M.A. in Political Sociology. (No, I never burned a flag to protest the Vietnam War, though I did wash one in 1969. But that's another story.) I also spent two years at Harvard Law School, where I became even more convinced that being a professor was the right thing for me after all, even though I'd always assumed I would be a lawyer. I did, however, meet my wife, Amy, at Harvard, so it was worth it for that reason alone. Amy is a lawyer, and also a criti—as you'll see. Our most recent travels took us to Oxford, where I spent a year as a Visiting Fellow at Balliol College and she studied law.

As for publishing, besides a variety of articles and two books on political and philosophical topics, The Unfinished Constitution (1989) and Words That Bind (1995), I've also edited or co-edited seven books. These include Morality and Moral Controversies (sixth edition, 2002), Readings in Philosophy of Law (third edition, 1998), justice and Economic Distribution (second edition, 1991), and Color- Class - Identity: The New Politics of Race (1996). I've taught philosophy for more than 20 years at a variety of colleges and universities, including Brandeis, the College of Charleston, Harvard, Lake Forest College, Tennessee State University, the State University of New York at Binghamton, and (in England) the University of East Anglia. So the odds are at some point I've taught at a college or university like yours. I've also been chair of two departments and am now director of the Program in Philosophy, Politics, and Law at the State University of New York at Binghamton. We have 300 majors in our program, most of whom go on to law school. So I guess I've never really escaped law after all, now that I think about it.

My main teaching interests are law and politics. In the classroom, I'm best known for calling on students in the style of law schools, even in a large lecture course of more than 200 (actually, I don't really "lecture" much at all). I'm proud to say that I've won two awards for my teaching.

As you can perhaps already tell, this book is written in a direct, informal style. That was intentional, though it is not the style you should use in formal academic writing, such as exams and papers. It is the right style here, however.

Many people contributed to this book in lots of different ways. An original inspiration came from a conversation many years ago with a friend and teacher, Jeri Perlmutter, who explained to me some interesting research on teaching and learning. Some of her ideas found their way into this book. I also want to thank especially Steve Scalet, David Strauss, Elliot Leffler, Rebecca Haimowitz, Sarah Leffler, Tim O'Hagan, Marc Shapiro, and Bill Throop for their helpful suggestions. Most important, my aforementioned wife, Amy Shapiro, read and commented on the manuscript with much care and patience.

John Arthur

Preface to Instructors

ORIGINS OF THIS BOOK

The aim of this book is to enable students, working alone or with the help of faculty members, to acquire the basic tools necessary to succeed in college. No book can do that by itself, of course. It requires the work of talented, committed instructors as well as of students themselves.

This book began life as handouts I prepared for distribution to my own classes, which I would sometimes supplement with a short book on grammar, punctuation, and other aspects of writing. But as time went by, I became unhappy with that approach. Most of the supplementary books were long and expensive, so I found myself adding more to the handouts I was providing. I wanted material that is brief and to the point and that addresses students at all levels in an honest, straightforward manner that could help them with the myriad problems they face while studying, taking examinations, and writing papers. I also wanted material students could use to improve their reasoning skills as well as their grammar, punctuation, and other areas where they sometimes have problems. Encouraged by the reactions of my students and other faculty who have used the material themselves, I revised the material and added sections on time management and study habits, reading skills, note taking, learning styles; getting along with professors, academic honesty, and much more. What you have in your hands is the result of that process.

As a philosopher, I also could not resist the temptation to introduce some philosophical issues and ideas as they became relevant. So, for instance, there is a brief discussion of the nature of a successful life and its relationship to financial success and to happiness. I then discuss the role of education in a happy, successful life, the nature and moral importance of such virtues as diligence and open-mindedness, and the educational significance of intellectual and cultural diversity. There are even brief discussions of the nature of reason, free speech, and the important role of the university.

Thus the book is quite ambitious. Besides giving solid, practical advice to students on topics ranging from time management and study skills to choosing a major and getting along with professors, I also discuss larger issues involving values. These include reasons for being in college, which led me in turn to consider questions about how we are to judge a life happy and successful. I also give both students and the instructors who work with them some brief "Rules of the Road," including the basics of grammar, punctuation, language use, and writing. Finally, I tried to make it all easy and fun to read.

I've benefited greatly over the many years that I have used this material in my classes, and as I prepared this book, from valuable suggestions by students, reviewers, and instructors who have used the material in their own courses. (I mention many of these students and colleagues at the end of the Preface to Students.) In that sense, it is very much a group project.

USES OF THIS BOOK

Because of its breadth and brevity, the book can be used many ways by instructors working in a variety of contexts. Some instructors could use it as part of an orientation program for new students at their university, either before classes begin or during the first few weeks of the semester. Others, like me, could use it in specific courses, assigning parts of it as they become relevant and using the sections on logic and critical thinking, language, grammar, and punctuation.

I have tried hard to make the book as flexible as possible. The chapters have no particular order, so instructors can assign them however they think best. Since they are freestanding, it is always possible to skip any particular one. While some instructors may choose to go through the book chapter by chapter, discussing the ideas presented and going over the exercises and problems, others may ask students just to read some or even all of the chapters on their own. Still others may want to use specific chapters to work with students in more detail, perhaps as they prepare to write papers or take exams. Because the sections are brief, students can easily learn the basics of how to use a semicolon and comma, where to put punctuation marks, why active voice is generally better than passive, and how to avoid verbosity and wordiness (as well as understand what those are). Instructors all have their own time-tested approaches.

At the suggestion of reviewers, I have provided questions and exercises for each of the chapters in Part One. These vary widely, depending on the topic of the chapter and the goal of the exercises. Sometimes I ask students simply to explain ideas that are in the text. Other times I provide exercises that test students' ability to use the skills they have learned, for example, in logic and critical thinking. Often, though, the exercises do not have a uniquely correct answer because they ask students to think about their own values, observe their study habits, assess their goals in college, or reflect critically on what has been said in the text. I have, however, provided brief answers to Chapter 4's logic and critical thinking exercises in an appendix.

A WORD ABOUT THE APPROACH

Sometimes professors take the attitude that it's not their job to teach students to study, to improve students' writing, or even to teach the rules of grammar and punctuation. Students should have learned those skills in high school, it is said, and these professors' responsibilities are limited to providing good lectures and lively discussions on the course material. I know this view well and have defen...

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