Accessibility links

Breaking News

Professor Wanted to Learn About Students, So She Became One

'FRESHMAN' PROFESSOR IDENTIFIED Rebekah Nathan is really Cathy Small, an anthropology professor at Northern Arizona University. Professor Small confirmed her identity in a story in USA Today on August twenty-third. She did so after another newspaper, the New York Sun, suggested that she wrote "My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student.” A reporter said he identified her from details in the book. A Special English report from August eighteenth follows:

See correction

I’m Shep O'Neal with the VOA Special English Education Report.

A new book is sure to be discussed, and debated, at colleges this fall. The book is called “My Freshman Year: What a Professor Learned by Becoming a Student.” The writer is Rebekah Nathan. That is not her real name. She is in her fifties. She is a professor of anthropology at a university in the United States. Her name for it is "AnyU."

The professor wanted to know why many of her students did not complete their work or ask for help. She decided to do a research project. She got the approval of the university ethics committee. Such groups consider moral and legal issues in studies.

In the spring of two thousand two, she applied to her own university under the name "Rebekah Nathan" and was admitted. [Correction: she applied under her own name.] She lived in student housing. She took five classes during her first term and two in the second semester. She did pretty well, although she got one C, a mark of average. She also played sports.

In "My Freshman Year," she does not identify any students by name. But she does discuss what they told her about their lives.

Rebekah Nathan writes that students do not have enough time to be interested in their classes. They are busy with activities and jobs. They try to learn only as much as they have to. But she says they will read the material if it is directly linked to what is being discussed in class.

The professor says her year as a student changed the way she teaches. She gives less reading now. She asks questions designed to get students to speak more. She offers help. And she says she is no longer offended if a student falls asleep.

Other professors and research experts, however, criticize the experiment. They say she was spying. They say she could have gotten the same information without dishonesty. There have been a lot of angry comments on the Internet. But some people say she tells the real story of student life.

Rebekah Nathan says she did not interview any students without written permission on a statement. It said she was doing research that would be published, but it did not say she was a professor.

She says she decided to tell the truth if someone asked. But very few young people asked her about herself. She heard that students avoided the subject because they thought there might be trouble in her life.

This VOA Special English Education Report was written by Nancy Steinbach. Our reports are online at I’m Shep O'Neal.