James MacGregor Burns ’39 offers some advice to undergraduates in the Times:

Try to read a good newspaper every day — at bedtime or at breakfast or when you take a break in the afternoon. If you are interested in art, literature or music, widen your horizons by poring over the science section. In the mood for spicy scandals? Read the business pages. Want to impress your poli sci prof? Read columnists.

The newspaper will be your path to the world at large. At Williams College, where I was a student in the 1930s, we read the alarming reports in The Times about Germany’s brutal onslaught against peaceful nations. In the spring of 1938, we burned Hitler in effigy — and made Page 11 of The Times! In June 1940, as France fell to Nazi troops, hundreds of graduating seniors urged compulsory military training, and provided another Williams story to the paper.

In addition, a great newspaper will teach you how to write: most articles are models of clarity and substance — with no academic jargon! Pay attention to the writer’s vocabulary, see how many active verbs are used, file away striking new words for future use. Study how articles are structured — how the first paragraph tells the reader simply and clearly the subject and main points. Take a look at the last paragraph; it will often show you how to conclude an essay with a pithy phrase or a telling quotation.

A great newspaper will help you in the classroom — and it will be your conduit to the real world outside the classroom. Become addicted.

Another way to stay connected with the real world: get to know your teachers outside of class. Chat and engage with them, perhaps on the walk away from class. Ask them not only about the coursework but also about their own intellectual interests and research. Equally important to maintaining that lifeline to the universe beyond college is getting to know the janitors and housekeepers in your dorm, the security staff on the campus, the people who work in the cafeteria. Talk to them, ask them questions and thank them.

Other contributions from Stanley Fish, Gerald Graff, Harold Bloom, Carol Berkin, Garry Wills, Martha Nussbaum, Nancy Hopkins, and Steven Weinberg

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