Meanderings on the Liberal Arts Education and Humanities Major

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33 Responses

  1. Avatar BSK says:

    I just can’t get over the idea that an education is only worthwhile if it benefits someone financially. Isn’t there inherent value to being educated? To pursuing one’s passions? Why does everything come down to a financial cost-benefit analysis?Report

    • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to BSK says:

      Going to an elite, private university to read Chaucer costs 30 grand a year. Doing it in my free time costs nothing. The knowledge gained is the same, but only one can get my resume past the HR robot gatekeepers.Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Christopher Carr says:

        I think a better expression of why liberal arts ed is useful is not just to read Chaucer but to be exposed to all sorts of things you have never heard of before with a fertile place to learn about it and a guide to help you learn. Its more like finding out that Chaucer exists and then finding out how to read it so it makes sense.

        There is also plenty of idealizing learning on your own and freedom and bossy teachers but somethings need to be taught if are to ever have a clue.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Christopher Carr says:

        Going to an elite, private university to read Chaucer costs 30 grand a year. Doing it in my free time costs nothing. The knowledge gained is the same,

        I disagree. The claim that the knowledge gained is the same relies on the assumption that neither the professor nor one’s fellow students in the class add to the knowledge gained. But even experts find their knowledge expands by discussing things with other experts in their own field, and so the gain must be considerably more for those reading Chaucer, etc., without having yet developed any expertise.

        Because of my own love of reading and how much I learn from picking up various books, I like to think that just reading the assigned materials will have students coming into a class period with a good understanding of what they have read, but that’s actually not the norm. They need the explanation, background detail, examples, context, and linkages that their teachers can provide.Report

  2. Avatar Sam MacDonald says:

    “later on, he mentioned that he was reading ‘The Canterbury Tales’ for fun, which prompted me to ask why he didn’t consider history or English as a potential major.”

    This is a point worth considering. Most people can, in fact, pick up a copy of Moby Dick and read it. People can listen to Nas and compare it something they have read. People can acquire a survey history of Victorian history and read it. If they find a few like-minded people at a book club or a bar, they can sit around and talk about such things. Presto… it’s a college course. Yeah, minus the professor, who should have some insights. But that doesn’t seem crucial.

    It seems far harder to freelance your own statistics course. Even if you have the drive and the passion and the text book, you don’t have someone to tell you the answers, or to EXPLAIN how to solve the problems correctly. It might be possible, but it seems like a far higher mountain to climb.

    I am not saying that a liberal arts degree is a $200,000 book club. BUt I can see why a lot of people feel that way. When a parent says, “Read Bukowski on your own time; when I am paying, you are studying something that will pay the bills,” that parent might be being demanding. But they are not necessarily wrong. You really CAN read Bukowski with a bunch of friends, apart from a college course. Ayn Rand, too. I went through both phases outside of college, and I don’t feel like I understand the material any less than someone who majored in English.

    “And, hey, this guy made having a PhD in history look pretty darn rewarding.”

    Sure. And the guys who play for the Yankees make dropping out of high school look pretty interesting. But the odds are extremely long… and getting worse.Report

  3. Avatar Trumwill says:

    I was tempted to echo Sam’s thoughts. I majored in Information Systems. So I was going to say that I can learn the humanities on my own time but for my career classes… but, actually, I could have learned those on my own time, too. So, unless you’re majoring in something that requires a lab, the rewards of college are more networking and credentials. The networking part you get regardless of what you major in. The credentials? That’s a bit different.

    I am sympathetic to the notion that employers should take humanities degrees more seriously. I suspect that they would if college were generally as selective as it was decades ago and having a degree Meant Something (or something more than it means now). But we live in the world we live in.

    BSK doesn’t understand why everything has to come down to cost-benefit. Well, when you’re spending as much as college costs, and spending four years outside of the work force, I think it has to be cost-benefit. The employers may be wrong, but they’re the ones that I need to hire me.

    There is a split in my wife’s family on this subject. My wife’s father insisted that the kids go to college with a career plan. State college. My wife and I wouldn’t think of doing any different. But then her mother’s siblings’ children are getting lower-level degrees that require upper-level degrees and then upper-level degrees where the solution to the food and shelter addiction is to marry a congressional aide (best case: law school). Or accept a mountain of debt from which they never will escape.

    It’s different responses to having money, I think. My wife’s parents, as well as my own, did well for themselves and in turn wanted to make sure that we had a roadmap to doing well. Her cousins’ parents took the view that their having done well for themselves means that their kids won’t have to worry about such things (until grad school, which is beyond even their means).Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Trumwill says:

      Allow me to echo my friend Trumwill: doing what you love is great, if you can pay the bills too. To attain happiness, one must meet at least minimum thresholds in a number of areas (see Maslow’s hierarchy) and if you have to live in a crappy apartment and eat Ramen noodles all your life, your happiness quotient is going to top out no matter how intellectually fascinating your career path may be.

      For every Spike Lee, how many other film students washed out of the entertainment industry and became insurance adjusters to pay the bills? It’s possible to make a very good living and have a lot of success doing the things you love.

      The model is professional athletics, Hoop Dreams style: how many kids even get to the level where a dream of being a professional athlete is even realistic to pursue, and of them, how many actually get there?

      By all means try out what you really enjoy for a while to see if you’re going to be one of those lucky few who has what it takes to make it big. Keep your eyes open and unsentimental about what it really takes to make it big if you’re serious about it.

      Picking the right path is a balancing act with many factors to balance, and money is one of those factors.Report

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Trumwill says:

      So I was going to say that I can learn the humanities on my own time but for my career classes… but, actually, I could have learned those on my own time, too

      I hold to my caveats above about the added value of a professor, but let me set that aside for the moment and agree that you could have learned these things on your own time. The question then is, would you have done so?

      If you aren’t going to college, you’re probably working. And you’re almost certainly working at an intellectually stultifying job. So after coming home from checking at the grocery store, or pumping gas, or laboring in the factory, how much mental energy and vigor do you have to put into independent learning? How long would it take to learn what it would take you 4 years to learn in a more regimented college experience? (And here I’m even allowing the assumption that you don’t waste time by reading the
      “wrong” things–nowadays anyone can get online and find college syllabi to direct their reading.) Ironically, only the intellectually stronger person could, as a practical matter, possibly manage to do this. The average person requires college in order to drive themselves towards gaining the education they want and need.Report

      • Avatar Trumwill in reply to James Hanley says:

        It’s hard to say for sure. I do know that I’ve done a lot more non-professional “studying” since leaving college than I thought I would. In some ways, I’m more inclined to do it on my own than I was as a student (thirteen, fourteen, fifteen years of schooling tends to sap it of its novelty).

        I wouldn’t have traded college for anything in the world. The issue, though, is that your options are not limited to (a) liberal arts degree or (b) going to work. You can also go to college, get the college experience, and major in something that will help your career.

        I think that in the overall I had a pretty good balance. I took some humanities stuff, some of the political science classes that I loved, but my college career didn’t limit itself to that. It gave me a degree that employers find useful. If laid down some technical knowledge to help me later on (and while I might read Lucian on my own time, it’s less likely that I would read Core Java Fundamentals from scratch out of personal interest).Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to James Hanley says:

        Anyone who wants to avoid an intellectually stultifying job should go into consulting. You’ll always be learning something and you’ll get to work with people of every description. You will also do a great deal of writing and nothing prepares you for writing like the humanities. I despair of many of the Computer Science and Information Systems graduates I see these days: they’re completely incapable of communicating clearly. Furthermore, they often exhibit blank contempt for the users of their software, producing hideous systems featuring seventeen elbows and fourteen wrists and two fingers and no thumb, the usage of which requires a postdoctoral degree to pick up a beer can.Report

        • Avatar Trumwill in reply to BlaiseP says:

          When I was in college, I had a professor who just loved me like the dickens. Despite the fact that my grades in his classes were somewhat mediocre. When I graduated, he offered to write me a letter of recommendation. When I asked him why, he said it was primarily because I was a very good communicator of ideas (I had a column in the school’s newspaper) and that was a rare – and valuable – commodity that IT departments sorely need.

          It’s not entirely unlike how I used to go to anime conventions, which skewed 5-to-1 male, and more often than not came home with a phone number. Even though my social skills are generally poor, and I was a little on the chubby side, compared to the guys I was surrounded with, I was solid gold.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Trumwill says:

            Good on ya, Trumwill. I can teach a gibbon to write code but I have yet to teach someone to think or write clearly. As you doubtless realize by now, the insanely effective coders have a few traits in common: scratch one and you’ll find an artist or a musician or the like. And there’s the laziness factor: a supremely gifted coder does as little work as humanly possible, writing loads of little tools, constantly horsing around in github looking for other people’s working examples and reading books on patterns and the like.

            My son asked me about a career in software. I told he might not be lazy enough: he’d have to be soooo lazy he’d write a solution to a problem just so he’d never have to solve that problem again.Report

            • Avatar Trumwill in reply to BlaiseP says:

              Out of curiosity, have you noticed that a lot of the coders and IT people that fit the most egregious stereotypes of being a coder are often… not very good coders? I know really good coders who have been muscle-bound hang-gliders and another who quit the field for photography and another who went from being a he to being a she. But the ones I know who aren’t very good tend to almost always fall into one of two categories: the stereotypical nerd without the skills (or often, smarts) to back it up, or people that should have gone into blue-collar work but muddle along in a career path chosen for them by a community college adviser.Report

              • Avatar Simon K in reply to Trumwill says:

                Oh, good god yes. Smelly nerds with no communication skills do not in fact make good coders. They just hang out with computers a lot so people assume they’re coders. Good coders have good communication skills and good thinking habits that mean they almost always do other things too. Software development, contrary to what people believe, requires a hell of a lot of interaction between team members and their managers and customers. Its really hard for that to happen if no-one can actually express ideas.

                I’ve wondered about hiring liberal arts graduates with some math and teaching them to program but by boss doesn’t like the idea …Report

              • Avatar Trumwill in reply to Simon K says:

                Well, I think it would depend on which liberal arts majors. The problem is that there is such a wide degree of variation. Some majored in English because they love it. Others did because Math Is Hard. Maybe the prospect of coding with scare off the latter group, but maybe not. I’d take special care to what school they attended, what courses they took, and what they did.

                All of this requires a lot more work than putting “technology-related degree required” and so a lot of people aren’t keen on the idea.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Trumwill says:

                Yes indeed. Ask yourself, at a fundamental level, what is coding? Is it not creating a simulacrum of the rules and exceptions of a specific problem domain?

                How can anyone accurately recreate such a problem domain? Does it not begin with an assertion of complete ignorance, at which point the coder can begin to capture the essence of the problem itself, its data elements and the rules which act upon that data, the destination of that data and its role in the larger decision making process by which money is made and customers are satisfied and efficiency is made manifest and the cost of development is recouped? Software is the product of the artificer’s mind, but it must reflect reality, as a sculptor or painter works. Michelangelo carved his David from a model submerged in water. Every day, he would lower the water level to expose that day’s work.

                Management thinks in exceptions but users think in rules and process. Only the user can give the coder any guidance: management never. Devise your software to first handle security, that you may know who is using it. Then compose data appropriately, as it appears in nature: it can be put into third and fourth normal forms after delivery and acceptance. But do not encode exceptions: promote them to a user immediately, for inspection and exception handling. Always accept data first into a queue, it is the most natural of all acceptance forms. Record who touches it.

                A good coder isn’t really interested in technology. Technology zealots are the most perverse of all coders: fire such people immediately. Only retain those coders who give a damn about the users and those who exhibit enough people skills to effectively interview the users and devise plans to encapsulate their knowledge into software. Should users lose respect for a coder, get rid of that coder immediately before corrupting the rest of the coding community around him or her.

                As for Simon’s point about training liberal arts majors, I’ve done it. They are intellectually pliable enough to master software by example, if not by theory. I watch them carefully: not all History majors do well, but the English and Philosophy majors do well enough. They learn via patterns: they are best utilized after a short, sharp and brutal introduction to UML and database theory and a period of probation as business analysts. I throw back their spec if it’s not conformal to what I like: they learn fast enough. After that, I put them in the buildmeister’s chair, making them ensure all the code is checked in, then run all the ant scripts and regression tests. That clues them in to the Big Picture soon enough. After that, they sit in my cube for a few weeks for Pair Programming following the Agile/Extreme paradigm for a while. They all seem to work out just fine. The nut cases and bullshit artistes are all sussed out by the users, I never have to do it.Report

              • Avatar Trumwill in reply to BlaiseP says:

                To some extent, it depends on what they’re coding. The last thing you want to do is put a technology person anywhere near the interface. But with a lot of behind-the-scenes work, there’s not really a problem. At the second-to-last software company I worked for, they had an art guy with minimal technology background handling the interface and input process. The drivers and such were handled more by tech people. This was all complicated somewhat by the fact that Japan wanted to dictate the input process design, which was dreadful because they assumed that Americans would want what Japanese want, but except for the culture clash it worked pretty well.

                Incidentally, the folks designing the interface and user input process for Electronic Medical Records need to be shot.Report

      • Avatar Sam M in reply to James Hanley says:

        My quick answer is, “Yes.” I know because I did it. As mentioned, I read the whole pantheon of young guy literature (HST, Bukowski, Rand, etc.) entirely on my own. This led me to explore a whole host of other writing, from the major Russians to the New Journalists to… you name it. Is my list exhaustive? No. But I am reasonably well read quite outside of my college courses. And I know a TON of people who have read a lot more than I have.

        And I know exactly zero people who have picked up civil engineering in their off time or on weekends.Report

  4. Just for a slightly contrary view, I entered school with the financial piece very much on my mind. It was medicine from the get-go, and there was little that distracted from that. And from a financial perpective, it was a great choice. And not only am I pretty well set financially, but I have an intellectually challenging job and work with amazing, brilliant people.

    However, I was also the kind of guy who would have read “Canterbury Tales” for fun. Right now, I’m slogging through Proust. And one can certainly read and learn a whole lot on one’s own. I’m very proud of what I’ve managed to learn about history and art and literature on my own. That said, I also know that there’s something valuable about learning something from someone who knows it well, and discussing it with interested, intelligent peers. I have no small amount of envy for people who studied something like comparative religions, just for the intellectual joy of it. Maybe I’d have liked “Ulysses” if I’d read it with someone who knew it well and could decipher it a bit. (Then again, maybe not.)

    It’s mainly a question of what’s more important to you. Financial secReport

  5. Avatar Fear and Loathing in Georgetown says:

    Good post.

    While there is definitely truth to the line of reasoning referenced in some of the comments that you can just pick-up a book and read it, while you can’t really just jump into a high-level math or econ or science, I, for one, think this misunderstands English classes. They aren’t merely about appreciating the Canterbury Tales, or Nas for that matter, but analyzing them from multiple angles and multiple levels and then making an argument about it. And that’s the genius of liberal arts. It allows you to look at a wide swath of human thoughts and feelings across time and place, and this helps illuminate what is meaningful to people.

    As a former engineering student who switched to a more liberal arts degree, albeit international economics, this is something sorely lacking in engineering, math, and science curricula. Graduates acquire great technical skill, but often lack an understanding of what is meaningful to people. For example, in most open source programs the user interface is done last and most poorly. This is no accident. Computer science graduates are habituated into thinking that the key goal is producing elegant code that does something as efficient as possible. The problem is that they often forget that this elegant tool needs to be used by people, many of whom don’t think like engineers or coders. They have an intuitive understanding from their personal experience, .i.e. they know what is meaningful to them, but lack the more broad comprehension that a good liberal arts education provides.

    You’ll pick up very important skills as a history or general liberal arts grad. The direct, immediate relevance is sometimes hard to quantify or explain, but the personal payoff is there and the economic one can follow if you make the right choices and the economic payoff matters to you.

    Lastly, a quote that I am fond of reposting, Tocqueville’s thoughts on the matter (http://xroads.virginia.edu/~HYPER/DETOC/ch1_15.htm), which I never would’ve known without my liberal arts education:
    It is evident that in democratic communities the interest of individuals as well as the security of the commonwealth demands that the education of the greater number should be scientific, commercial, and industrial rather than literary. Greek and Latin should not be taught in all the schools; but it is important that those who, by their natural disposition or their fortune, are destined to cultivate letters or prepared to relish them should find schools where a complete knowledge of ancient literature may be acquired and where the true scholar may be formed. A few excellent universities would do more towards the attainment of this object than a multitude of bad grammar-schools, where superfluous matters, badly learned, stand in the way of sound instruction in necessary studies.Report

  6. Avatar FridayNext says:

    If all you do in college is read Canterbury Tales and discuss it, yes. You can do that with a library card and some friends and you should save your tuition money for more and better pot to fuel said discussions. But learning how to write and otherwise communicate effectively about complex ideas should be part of a liberal arts education and that is much harder to get on your own. I would even propose that debating is also part of the process as is directed research, marshaling evidence, and constructing a coherent, convincing argument. All of these are much harder and need a more structured education experience than random reading and your average book club discussion. And, ultimately, the long term value of a liberal arts education is in teaching how to research, read, analyze, and communicate effectively and for that you need some sort of instruction and safe space to practice and experiment.

    And yes, even in the internet/twitter age there is value in being able to communicate effectively across different mediums and audiences.

    I majored in history and got my BA in 1988 and have had almost 23 years of constant advancement and promotion mostly because I know how to read, analyze and communicate. Almost none of my class mates who majored in more pre-professional areas are still doing what they went to school for and their curriculum provided them with none of the skills they needed for anything but an entry level job in their chosen profession. Most have them had to go back to school at a 4 year or 2 year college to get skills outside the narrow fields for which they trained. They had more career options and better salaries right out of school, but they are also the ones who need to go back to school to earn the skills they need for promotion, retraining, or some sort of flexibility and 20 years on I was making as much if not more than they in a career I loved and was being recruited by the top employers in my field.

    About every 5-7 years someone does a study of long term value of a liberal arts degree and they usually find the same thing. Right out of college they may not be rewarding, but long term liberal arts and humanities majors show more job growth and flexibility in the job market than professional degrees. The most recent addition to this literature was a recent Harvard Business Review article that reported many of the nation’s top companies are starting to recruit humanities majors for their ability to deal with complexity and ambiguity, their skills at analysis, and ability to communicate in written, electronic, and verbal formats. It seems MBA’s are taught catch phrases like “think outside the box” but they aren’t taught how to actually think outside a box.

    There is a wonderful line in the musical “Passing Strange” in which the narrator laments at the end that “Most of us spend a lifetime living with the decisions of an 18 year old.” If you are 18 and trying to decide on a college or major you need to ask yourself if you are preparing for a career or a life. If you look at college as mere career prep, then that is what you should choose. But if you are preparing to live a long, happy life give the liberal arts and humanities a try.Report

    • Avatar Anderson in reply to FridayNext says:

      I’ve heard this sentiment echoed before by other liberal arts graduates and, when I was considering my options for schools, I found it a very compelling reason to go with the liberal arts B.A. For example, a family friend who worked in banking would always tell me how he would look for the liberal arts degree, rather than just the pre-business/ MBA, when hiring. He could always teach somebody business or finance, but he couldn’t teach them how to read, write, or speak effectively. The Harvard Business Review article you mentioned gives weight to this idea.

      But outside of sheer “will I or won’t I have a good job” arguments (which are very important with student debt in the equation), the aesthetic goal “of a long and happy life” that you mention seems like another good reason to go with the liberal arts, though only a fool would suggest there is only one educational path to a rewarding life. And with ever-rising tuitions at (already expensive) small colleges, that path seems like more and more of a luxury. Although, thankfully, many liberal arts colleges are trying to expand financial aid options (even while raising tuition), as evidenced by some schools going “need-blind” in admissions.Report

    • Avatar Sam M in reply to FridayNext says:

      “I would even propose that debating is also part of the process as is directed research, marshaling evidence, and constructing a coherent, convincing argument.”

      Fair enough, but what you are talking about here is how to construct a basic and effective five-paragraph essay. Most comp programs either consider this form hopelessly retrograde, hopelessly paternalistic, or so rudimentary that it belongs in 10th grade English classes, never to be discussed again.Report

      • Avatar FridayNext in reply to Sam M says:

        I have no idea what a five-paragraph essay is and haven’t had an English comp class in over 30 years.

        What I am talking about STARTS at simple essay reading and writing and continues through following historiographic trends through a thousand years of scholarship, writing a 50 page paper based on original research, adapting the information for multiple audiences, and distilling the arguments and analyzing the weaknesses in 100 papers on similar topics and producing summaries and recommendations for policy. It’s complex, abstract, and has as much to do with simple essay construction as non-Euclidian geometry has with figuring how many cookies Sally had if she started with 12 and Dick stole 4.

        A liberal arts education, a true, rigorous quality program is NOT writing simple essays and it is NOT reading Chaucer and discussing it with friends. If you a know a program like that, run away fast.Report

        • Avatar Sam MacDonald in reply to FridayNext says:

          “What I am talking about STARTS at simple essay reading and writing and continues through following historiographic trends through a thousand years of scholarship”

          Yep. And what I am telling you is that a huge number of kids starting at universities across the country cannot do simple essay reading and writing. So the universities can react in two ways: ignore it, pass them through and hope nobody notices, or spend the first three years teaching rudimentary skills people should have learned in grammar school.

          I taught at a major university for four years and can think of maybe 10-20 students I had who had any real interest in historiographic trends. This is not a knock on the kids. Academia is not for everyone. Or it shouldn’t be.

          But that doesn’t matter because we have decided to require a four year degree for someone to be an administrative assistant or an insurance adjustor. So we get kids who can’t write or diagram a sentence reading Edward Said. Which really is like someone who can’t add doing Euclidean geometry or calculus.

          I think the percentage of literate people who have a serious interst academics is about the same as it always was, meaning pretty low. But we toss them all in college anyway and decree that anyone who doesn’t go is stupid. Which is ridiculous.Report

  7. My experience, as someone with two BAs in the liberal arts field, is that probably 75% of employers who are looking for candidates with a college degree don’t really care what field the degree is in. An undergraduate degree represents certain basic things. Critical thinking skills, good writing, attention to detail, etc. If they are lukewarm towards a particular field of study, the applicant needs to educate them. One of my degrees is in History. In job interviews I always emphasize my writing skills, the ability to convey information, organization. Often you can see the interviewer haveing a lightbulb moment because they never thought those things through.

    With my kids our college plan is simple:
    – The kids help pay (there are amazing lessons to be learned from this)
    – Don’t borrow a cent and graduate debt free, even if it means college takes a few extra years
    – Major in what you love BUT figure out how to market it when you need a job
    – When thinking careers a Plan A and Plan B are not enough. Plans Q, R and S are just as important.Report

  8. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    I am an old man, nearing the end of his career. Though nothing is less-wanted than unsolicited advice, here is some, anyway:

    You can love your wife and your kids and your cat and the taste of fresh-brewed red ale and a good fish taco and many other goodly things along the way in life’s rich pageant. But do not love your job. It will never love you back.

    University is the greatest invention in history. I told my own kids to avoid a major as long as humanly possible, an expensive proposition to be sure, but to make sure they’d taken at least one course in every department of study. Make friends with the reference librarians, I told them: they are the gatekeepers to many rare and beautiful things, among the most important people in any university. Ninety percent of the benefit of university study is the people you’ll meet along the way. My children were named for friends I made in university. Soon enough, you will find yourself excelling in some particular area and you will recognize this when others come to you asking for opinions and solutions.

    Do not allow your job to define you. I have seen people retire from their profession and die within a few years. Miserable and disconnected from what gave their lives meaning, their minds simply shut down in despair and anomie and their bodies follow in short order.

    If university is to provide any guidance in future life, it will be via a process of elimination. Unless you’ve had a taste of everything, you will not know if it’s any good. Medical school obliges everyone to cycle through the various specialties. Why universities don’t remains something of a mystery.

    The best preparation for a career is accounting and the management of money. There is no substitute; you’ll only get paid if you know how the money in your paycheck got there. The beating heart of any corporation, public or private or nonprofit is its chart of accounts. I wouldn’t waste too much money on it: the community college is an excellent venue for two semesters of accounting. Better yet, watch all the Finance videos on Khan Academy. You cannot have an informed view of your career, any career, if you do not understand the rudiments of finance. Money is the most powerful force in the world and though you can get by with surprisingly little of it, ignorance of its fundamentals will destroy you and leave you destitute.

    The humanities are the most important courses you will ever take. They will give you a window into your own soul and instil in you a sense of the vastness of your own ignorance, the sheer variety of the human experience through history. Never be intimidated by what you do not know: the humanities, unique among all the disciplines, will give you the confidence to begin to learn with humility and set your priorities aright. What did Chaucer say of his Clerk?

    A CLERK from Oxford was there also,
    Who’d studied philosophy, long ago.
    As lean was his horse as is a rake,
    And he too was not fat, that I take,
    But he looked emaciated, moreover, abstemiously.
    Very worn off was his overcoat; for he
    Had got him yet no churchly benefice,
    Nor he was worldly to accept secular office.
    For he would rather have at his bed’s head
    Some twenty books, all bound in black or red,
    Of Aristotle and his philosophy
    Than rich robes, fiddle, or gay psaltery.
    Yet, and for all he was philosopher in base,
    He had but little gold within his suitcase;
    But all that he might borrow from a friend
    On books and learning he would swiftly spend,
    And then he’d pray diligently for the souls
    Of those who gave him resources to attend schools.
    He took utmost care and heed for his study.
    Not one word spoke he more than was necessary;
    And that was said with due formality and dignity
    And short and lively, and full of high morality.
    Filled with moral virtue was his speech;
    And gladly would he learn and gladly teach.
    Report

  9. Avatar Uncle Tim says:

    Well done, nephew Andy.
    Liberal arts, plus a dash of my passion geology, sprinkled with a Master’s in mediaeval lit (pre-Chaucer but we can discuss Geoff anytime you like) prepared me o-so-well for a career in advertising and PR.
    Keep following the passion in your life, young man.
    Uncle TimReport

  10. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    When I went to college, the rage was the computer science degree. Plenty of people told me I was crazy to get a degree in history when computer science was where the money is at. Other friends told me that I should do what makes me happy and not listen to those people. Group A (the chickenshits) were all working these jobs that didn’t really interest them but paid well and were stable. Group B (the weirdos) tended to do all sorts of interesting things but with no common rhyme or reason. I’m now approaching middle age and Group B seem to have gotten used to getting by with their belts tightened and are otherwise doing fine. Group A are the ones who want to get together, get drunk, and talk about how hard life is and how much their ex got in the divorce settlement. You can see where my sympathies lie.

    As for the long-term health of the profession, here’s the secret: nobody has any idea where the humanities are going. They may be dying or in crisis; or they might well be going through yet another dry spell to be followed by a hiring boom, in roughly the same cycle that’s been going on for decades now. Anyone who tells you what the job market is going to be like when you get your degree might as well be reading your palm.Report

  11. Avatar Jaybird says:

    I had high hopes of becoming a priest. I was one of the few folks in my circle who had actually read the bible by age 17 and one of the fewer who bothered to show up on not-Sunday-Morning to argue/discuss with my fellows about what we were asked to read (and I had and they hadn’t).

    I lost my faith when I was 20 (I even remember the date, if you care to hear it).

    After that, I had *NO* idea what to do with my life. I still loved the topic and would crawl through glass to argue/discuss with my fellows about any given reading on the topic… but, sadly, there were few who cared *AND* shared my perspective. So I got a degree in philosophy (minored in Religious Studies).

    The degree in Philosophy (minor in Religious Studies!) was not as useful as I had hoped. I worked my way through college working at The Restaurant (you wouldn’t believe the tiramisu)… which meant that my resume, at age 22, was “degree in philosophy, restaurant experience”.

    Luckily, the internet boom was going on and my friends with real degrees and, therefore, real jobs knew that I knew how to type.

    I now do unix admin work in a computer lab for folks with C/S and Math degrees. They consider me the “smart” one for some reason. I think it’s because I read for pleasure. I certainly can’t do what they do.

    I don’t know if it’s the philosophy degree or not but there’s nowhere I’d rather be.Report

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