BY AYANA JONES
SC Staff Writer
East Stroudsburg University introduced the practice of having a campus-wide book read this fall school year.
Students are being encouraged to read “The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates” by author Wes Moore.
Some faculty members have joined the effort in making the book a campus read by requiring it as a text for their classes.
Dr. Peter Pruim, who is a professor of Philosophy at East Stroudsburg University, has facilitated students to read the book in hopes of creating a common interest among students from different majors.
For the past fifteen years, he has taught courses such as Philosophy of Science, Philosophy of the Mind, Theories of Knowledge, and Latin.
As an instructor, he uses a Socratic style of questioning students and encouraging their responses.
He says his interest is “to strike a balance between being open-minded and critical over appreciating where strong evidence and justification is found.”
With Dr. Pruim’s participation in the Wes Moore public readings, and his insight regarding the vision, he was appropriate to interview to gain a better understanding.
That afternoon Dr. Pruim, in an animated style, answered the following interview questions:
Q: Whose idea was it to begin a campus-wide book reading?
A: Well, it came from the University-wide faculty committee called the General Education Committee. They think about the core curriculum. What should every ESU student be involved with? It might not necessarily be a specific course.
They thought having a common read across campus would be a way to accomplish many of the things they were trying to improve.
One of those would be getting students to read something of length, other than the required class readings.
I think the other thing was to give people something they could talk and think about in common.
Essentially, it would create occasions for serious conversations because we would all have this common thing that we’ve encountered. I should add to that, it has really become a very popular thing on college campuses these days.
Campuses have seemed to become fragmented as people tend to personalize their college experience. The campus-wide read gives us that sense of unity that we would like to be present on the campus creating a feel of a unified community. We can all talk about something together.
Q: Out of all the books that could have been selected, why Wes Moore?
A: I think one of the reasons we chose it was the subject seemed like a natural one for college age individuals because it addresses the question of what are the many factors that shape my life story.
The other thing was there were a lot of resources that go with this book that could help faculty make use of them in the class. But it was a really difficult decision because there are so many approaches you could take.
For instance, you could say let’s read something classic that’s hard or let’s read about vampires. Should it be fiction or non-fiction?
You know, there are good arguments for every one of those. We had to set aside what would be the absolute best choice.
Q: What occurs during the Wes Moore public readings that you facilitate?
A: I was surprised that each one had been different. Each time the faculty leader had not only found a different subject matter in the book, but also a different activity to present that idea.
For example, when the English department faculty did a public reading, they used it as an occasion to talk about a special kind of reading activity that’s called in Latin form “lectio divina” meaning scared reading. It comes out of a religious tradition, and it was meant to be a way of reading when you regarded what you were reading as really important. You are not just reading to answer questions for a quiz, but rather to see what stood out to you. There are different reasons and ways to read and I liked that this point was highlighted.
When the theater students did the public reading, they had about four to five students act out key scenes. It was a public reading in a very different way.
Q: What did you gain from reading the book yourself?
A: First, there was just the experience of reading something not as part of the class or part of the job.
It was a feeling of freely reading something to see what could be discovered. I enjoyed that it was reading something that was not a textbook. I was rather reading where someone was trying to answer a personal question.
I felt the experience of his asking questions and reflecting. He was testing his own thoughts about what it was that shaped him. It was a manifestation of what real inquiry is like. Textbooks are “the inquiries over, now here it is.”
Another experience of reading the book is that it made me feel more serious about the affect I might be having on other people.
Q: Would you say you have successfully met your goal in making Wes Moore a campus read?
A: I really have been pleased with this first attempt. We just went ahead instead of waiting a long time to plan, and we said let’s just do it. Given that, I was first surprised by the students, faculty, and staff’s enthusiasm.
They said, “I like this idea, and I like the book.”
I met so many people that I otherwise would not have. If one of the goals is to create one unified campus, it sort of did that. I would talk to administrative types of staff or support staff, and right away we’d discuss the book. It was not just that you got to know someone by their name. Because of the nature of the book, it was inevitable that the conversation was brought to a more serious one.
What did you think about things? What do you think about what I think? It was so different from our casual small talk. I think it had a great effect in that way. I was also pleased by the student turn out at our events. Each one I think students left having been engaged the way they may not have been in a class.
Q: Is there another expected book coming for next semester?
A: We are going to try to do it each fall, and I am really enthusiastic about doing it again. By doing it in the fall, incoming students will be engaged. With all the time ahead, we will be able to give incoming students the book prior to coming to campus, so they will get here having something to talk about other than just mundane things.
Q: Do you facilitate any other readings on campus or anywhere?
A: No, though we have sent out announcements to invite community to our ten events because we would like them to attend. I would like to see more things like the Wes Moore public readings. I think stronger ties and interactions should be made between ESU and the diverse people in our area.
Q: If you could choose the next campus- wide book read which book would you select and why?
A: If it was a non-fiction book, I’m really excited by this book called “Being Wrong.” It’s about how it could be of great liberation to realize we are more likely to be wrong than right about everything, but we walk around thinking we are pretty much right about everything.
If we can get over that, we have a much greater capacity of actually getting things right. We have to find a way to believe that it is possible that we are wrong or incomplete in our knowledge.
The author Kathryn Schulz is so wonderful in making you feel it. It’s a matter of liberating realization rather than scolding.
If it was fiction, I would love to read a collection of Chekhov short stories. He wrote hundreds of short stories throughout his life. He wrote during the 1880’s to 1910 in Russia during a time they were straining to change.
He wrote many pieces to inspire prison reform. He also wrote about peasant life. Chekhov captures human longings both wise and foolish through his writing.
I thought—man, wouldn’t it be great to say everybody at ESU is going to read these six precious Chekhov stories and then a chapter from “Alone Together.” “Alone Together” is about how our phones prevent us from having relationships of the sort described in Chekhov’s stories.
Q: What would you say to students who haven’t read Wes Moore?
A: One-third of ESU students read the book which surprised and delighted me. For the other group, the question they would have to answer is why didn’t you read the book? They chose not to.
A very useful thing to realize is how to recognize an opportunity when it is in front of you. They didn’t know enough to seize it. You should differ by taking advantage of the opportunity that’s there. We all dealt with the book one way or another, whether choosing to read it or deciding not to. It tells about your approach to awareness in college.
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