Aired: May 17, 2014

First in the Family

Courtesy chadmill via Flickr

Nearly a third of college students in the United States are first-generation—meaning their parents and grandparents didn’t go. For many of these students, entering academia can feel like moving to a foreign land. Lee Ward (James Madison University), author of First Generation College Students, says colleges should embrace these students. Also featured: Most writing teachers correct nonstandard sentences like “My brother and me drives the same truck.” But Amy Clark (University of Virginia’s College at Wise) believes it’s important for her Appalachian students to hold onto to their home voices. Amy is coeditor of Talking Appalachian: Voice, Identity, and Community.

Later in the show: Based on experience as a teacher, and on her work in neuroscience, Abigail Norfleet James (Germanna Community College) believes boys and girls have very different learning styles. She shares teaching techniques that have helped when teaching all boys or all girls in the classroom. Also featured: When Jonathan Dickinson’s father was diagnosed with Huntington’s disease—a fatal neurodegenerative disorder—Jonathan decided to take him on an epic adventure: a motorcycle journey through the Himalayas in India.

  • First in the family – web extra

    See photos from the Father Spirit motorcycle journey through the Himalayas.

  • First Generation Feature

    By now, acceptance letters have gone out and high school seniors around the country are gearing up to start college in the fall.  Recent numbers show that as many as 35% of current students are the first in their family to go to college.  For those first generation students, the challenges of preparing for and navigating higher ed can be particularly tough.  Allison Quantz has more.


6 Comments on “First in the Family”

  1. Tom McGohey

    Excellent program! I taught writing to many first-gen students, especially minority athletes, at a very competitive, expensive liberal arts school that was also a member of a major Div I athletic conference. Many of them felt alienated on so many levels — racial, academic, social, economic — that I often felt my biggest task was getting them to believe in themselves and to take themselves seriously as intellectuals with something to say. And to take each other seriously, as well. Even some of their classmates resented or subtly mocked their peers for acting too smart. Like Prof. Clark, I also had to spend much time helping students understand “code-switching” between different dialects. But such linguistic maneuvering — more like high-wire walking — at times created traps for them beyond the classroom, as Prof Clark describes. Some told me heart-breaking stories about returning home for visit and being mocked and challenged for “speaking all whitey” by old friends. They were caught in what Shelby Steele describes as “the double-bind” in his powerful essay “On Being Black and Middle Class.”

  2. Sarah

    Terrific observations from the classroom Tom. Thank you. It takes so little to feel out of place anywhere, and your observation that even when they figure out how to blend in at college, they can be mocked at home, is indeed heartbreaking. I’ve been thinking of putting several radio interviews on this theme together to give to new teachers. Do you think it could be useful? Is there a seamless way to offer such a things free to teachers or school systems?

  3. Tom McGohey

    Sarah, over the past few years this topic was getting more attention, at least in world of freshmen composition, were often facing immediate difficulties with struggles of first-gen students. Writing Program Administrators listserv (WPA) discussed it at length at times. My own campus started an advising-mentoring program for such students shortly before I retired, inviting interested faculty who were already advising freshmen to be assigned new students identified as potentially “at-risk”. I think it was a success, but I’ve been out of loop a bit. So, yes, in general, I think your idea compiling a resource for teachers would be a great idea. As for “seamless” way of distributing, I’m not sure what to say right now. I could post something on WPA to gauge interest and/or get feedback re existing resources. Good news is that in some circles, anway, there is growing awareness of problems such students can face, and how those problems show up in classroom, especially ones with such intensive one-on-oone work like FYC. I’m just not sure of scope of supporting specifics right now, but would be happy to pursue behind the scenes a bit, if you like. (you could register with WPA listserv, as well, if you’re interested; they’re a very collegial and inclusive group; educators of all sorts welcome.)

  4. Tom McGohey

    geez, sorry for mangled first sentence: should say “… in world of freshmen comp, where faculty were often facing immediate difficulties … “

  5. Tom McGohey

    Sarah, here’s recent NYT article by Paul Tough, “Who Gets to Graduate?” that really gets at heart of this issue and describes some fascinating research and subsequent programs for assisting students. (Tough is also author of excellent book on literacy and learning environments, “How Children Succeed.” Highly recommended. If you can’t access this link, just google the article title and you’ll find it easily. tom

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