“Majoring in Idiocy”

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Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does a bunch of other stuff.

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13 Responses

  1. Avatar Michael Drew
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    says:

    “You may be an eminent Harvard biologist who knows a great deal about ants; you may be a brilliant if wheel-chair-bound British physicist who knows a great deal about string theory. But no amount of ants or strings or knowledge of how many ants can dance on the head of a string qualifies you to say that God is a delusion or human love a brain state.”

    No, just existing in the world, reading a few books, and thinking well qualifies you to say those things. Brain states are nice, I like them (some of them).Report

  2. Avatar Mike Schilling
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    says:

    “But no amount of ants or strings or knowledge of how many ants can dance on the head of a string qualifies you to say that God is a delusion or human love a brain state.”

    Shorter Peters: Anyone with a different metaphysics than mine is a pinhead. It is especially annoying when someone better educated and smarter than I am is a pinhead.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Mike Schilling
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      says:

      The fascinating thing is that these are the broadest, most universal questions any human confronts in the course of living a reflective life. They’re precisely the questions he laments that the university shepherds students away from in favor of the idiocy of narrow specialization, am I mistaken? It’s just that he doesn’t like those particular answers to these questions. He’s just throwing this in as a little bonus offhand swipe at a worldview he doesn’t like, nevermind that it’s completely contrary to his thesis. He also pins himself as one of the idiots. so why is his view of these questions any more reliable than any other of the idiots’? And what of the fact that thousands of nonspecialized nonidiots hold exactly this worldview?

      Other than that, I like the essay. He’s right about the university.Report

  3. My oldest starts will graduate from high school in a couple of years. We’re thinking hard about college and what it will mean for her. There’s still a LOT to figure out but a couple things have already been agreed on as ground rules for the decision-making process:

    1) Universities are not job training programs. They are meant to equip you with certain basic knowledge that will enable you to deal with the diversity of adult life. If you want job-prep, go to a technical school.

    2) Graduating with debt is the worst way any young person can start their adult life.

    3) The price tage of a university does not directly correlate to your income post-graduation.

    I loved college and I want it for my kids, but I think Americans in general need a reset of our expectations about higher education.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mike at The Big Stick
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      says:

      Mine will graduate from high school next year and the year after, and you could not have captured my thoughts about college better than you just did.Report

      • Avatar Rufus in reply to Mike Schilling
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        says:

        I agree with all of this. I also think employers need to rethink higher ed. Another thing that’s going on now is that you suddenly need a degree for all sorts of jobs that never required one before. Why, for instance, does a manager at Budget Rent-a-car need to go to college for four years to do that job? Companies used to be much more willing to hire smart high school grads and there’s no reason they shouldn’t be.Report

        • Avatar Mike at The Big Stick in reply to Rufus
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          says:

          I work for a pretty conservative company that has always promoted from within and saw it as a point of pride that many of their management started out in the trenches. They are now slowly starting to realize the benefit of college educated employees and encouraging management to go back to school. I think it’s a positive development.

          My own personal journey with the company over my 10 year employment has often involved trying to demonstrate to my superiors that my degrees in history and anthropology can be useful in the business world. My history degree gives me organizational abilities, attention to detail and better writing skills than most of my co-workers. My anthro degree helps me factor in the cultural/human component to many of our business dealings. I think those are the kinds of lessons we have to teach college students, namely how to ‘sell’ their degrees post-graduation and what we also need to teach corporations that even that English major can be valuable in the right position.Report

  4. Avatar Sam M
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    says:

    Mike says:

    “1) Universities are not job training programs. They are meant to equip you with certain basic knowledge that will enable you to deal with the diversity of adult life. If you want job-prep, go to a technical school.

    2) Graduating with debt is the worst way any young person can start their adult life.

    3) The price tage of a university does not directly correlate to your income post-graduation. ”

    This is only partly true. It does apply, I think, to a degree in the liberal arts. But it does not apply at all to technical fields. If you think your daughter wants to be an engineer or an architect, she does need to go to college, and the payoff in terms of training and pay will be huge.

    The problem for most people is that these subjects are really HARD. So people drop out of those programs and major in history, which really and truly doesn’t interest all that many people. But when people complain about the failings of higher education, I think they are talking about something quite specific, meaning the liberal arts.

    I will hazard a guess here and say that maybe one person in 20 has any special interest or talent in the liberal arts, and that society would be better served if far fewer people studied them in a sustained, directed way.Report

    • Avatar Mike at The Big Stick in reply to Sam M
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      says:

      I will agree with you on the engineering and architecture stuff.

      As for this suggestion: “…society would be better served if far fewer people studied [the liberal arts] in a sustained, directed way.” I could not diagree more strongly. Of course, I’m biased, but the liberal arts are great prep for most professions. What would you advocate instead? 90% of college populations be Business Majors?

      The problem with the liberal arts is the way the job system is set up to take advantage of undergrads and graduate students for free/cheap labor and the way that they mislead you about the number of potential job openings. In the real world, my experience in the corporate setting is that I would often rather have some bright liberal arts guys under me verses a stuffy business major. The latter just aren’t good at thinking outside the box. And let’s be honest, those macro and micro economics classes don’t mean once you’re sitting behind a desk.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Mike at The Big Stick
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        says:

        My icy cold Business Majoring heart is breaking Mike. I disagree on the economics classes though. Micro&Macro Economics should be mandatory as should at least basic finance classes. I found that the world looked very different after those classes at the very least and finance classes will change how you look at credit cards forever. I think the country would benefit greatly if more people had access to at least skeletal versions of those three fields.Report

        • Avatar Mike at The Big Stick in reply to North
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          says:

          They didn’t help me much at all. I guess it just depends on what kind of job you end up getting plugged into. I think the moral of the story is that in today’s economy, I don’t know that specialized training is all that necessary for a lot of positions, or at least those that rely on undergrads. Maybe if more people majored in General Studies and then tacked on a minor in a field or personal interest we’d be better off. Something like a Bachelors of Arts in General Studies with a Minor in History should look pretty good to a lot fo employers who really just want to know you can read, write and think at the college level.Report

  5. Avatar Sam M
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    says:

    “What would you advocate instead? 90% of college populations be Business Majors? ”

    I would advocate that most people shouldn’t attend college at all, at least as it is currenty structured. It seems that most of us agree that universities whould not be viewed as “carer training,” but almost every student I ever taught in college was there… to be trained in a career.

    It’s LUDICROUS for four-years of college to be a prerequisite for a career in hotel-restaurant management, insurance sales, or even elementary education. But we have created this ponzi scheme where the diploma matters above all else. Belive me, I worked as a journalist. There is no reason for someone to have to go to State U. for four years (or five!) to write an inverted pyramid story about a city council meeting. You might argue that the “well rounded” college grads will have a better take of what happens at such a meeting, but my sense is different. I think you can learn plenty of that stuff as a plumber or a carpenter or a housewife or a bank teller.

    There is a very small subset of people who want to sit around and read Aristitle. Even fewer who can make good sense of it. If people want to give it a shot anyway and spend a lot of money doing it, fine by me. But my experience is that the kids we are forcing into these programs really, really don’t care. Exposure doesn’t make them care. And if it were not for the promise that diploma=career, very few of them would attend. Even fewer would go into debt to attend.

    I went to a fancy liberal arts school. I know big words. But it would be a sham for me to say I have more insights into the human spirit than my buddies who went to work in the woods, or joined the service.Report

    • Avatar Mike at The Big Stick in reply to Sam M
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      says:

      I would agree that many people could do well with a 2-year degree. The problem is that education standards keep going up and up. Once upon a time an dAssociates was great. now you need a Master’s degree in many fields. That’s just part of the education arms race (Bob has a BA so I need an MA to get the promotion over him). Employers feed this by recognizing education over ability.

      I would be fine with a 2-year General Studies program for many of my employees. That would ensure they wrote well, had some well-rounded knowledge, critical thinking, etc. If people want specialized knowledge a 4-year degree or an advanced degree would provide that. For me, I had no illusions of getting a job in my chose fields. I just wanted the knowledge.Report

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