Faculty, students choose new LAS reading for Class of 2010

Faculty, students choose new LAS reading for Class of 2010

by Kelsey Brooks

Freshmen will be reading a new book next year: “A Lesson Before Dying.”

The novel, written by Ernest Gaines, is about a young black man who is accused of murder and sentenced to death in an unjust trial. It will be replacing “Tuesdays With Morrie,” which the Language Arts Seminars read this year.

According to Jan Everhart, director of the Lilly Initiative for Vocational Exploration, the college had to choose a different novel.

“With the Lilly grant we are supposed to use a new book every year,” she said.

Everhart and Professor of English Nancy St. Clair started out with a list of 25 books to consider and narrowed it down to two choices, then students and faculty got involved.

The final decision was made on Jan. 11.

Freshman Sara Stoddard has had the chance to read both of the books.

“Both ‘Tuesdays With Morrie’ and ‘A Lesson Before Dying’ are great books to act as starting points for the big questions in life: What does it mean to live? And what does it mean to die?” Stoddard said. “Both also relate to the student-teacher relationships that we all experience, maybe not to the extent of these characters, but in some form.”

Gaines’ book offers insight on a different type of education than “Tuesdays With Morrie” depicts, but it still shows how much of an impact a teacher can have. In it, the convicted young man’s grandmother asks a teacher to find a way to help her grandson face death with dignity.

Everhart said the book addresses a range of significant issues, but its focus on education is important.

“Some of the questions it raises are: Is education meant to transform a student?” Everhart said. “Also, how do teachers and students influence each other?”

Faculty chose the novel because they thought it would help address diversity issues.

“This novel is an acceptable way to show how to deal with racism, and other issues we face as a society,” St. Clair said. “Hopefully it will help show us how we become what we want to be.”

St. Clair hopes “A Lesson Before Dying” prompts students to think about the different ways they learn and how education fulfills them as human beings. She said the book gives professors an opportunity to reflect on why they became teachers in the first place.

Stoddard agrees students and professors could both learn from the book.

“A great asset that makes ‘A Lesson Before Dying’ such a perfect LAS summer reading book is the aspect of learning going both ways,” she said. “Both student and teacher learn from each other, and actually the teacher learns the most in this situation.”

All freshmen are required to read the same book for their LAS as a way of providing a common intellectual experience. The college hopes when they begin class they’ll have something in common to talk about.