Thursday Night Bar Fight #8: The Darker Side of Higher Education in the 21st Century

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Tod Kelly

Tod is a writer from the Pacific Northwest. He is also serves as Executive Producer and host of both the 7 Deadly Sins Show at Portland's historic Mission Theatre and 7DS: Pants On Fire! at the White Eagle Hotel & Saloon. He is  a regular inactive for Marie Claire International and the Daily Beast, and is currently writing a book on the sudden rise of exorcisms in the United States. Follow him on Twitter.

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203 Responses

  1. Avatar Patrick Cahalan
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    says:

    Physics, Chemistry, Biology, (basic research in all those being too important to leave to the market), Mathematics, and Theology.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Patrick Cahalan
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      says:

      Is there no room for the arts in your world, or do you assume employers will take care of that?Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Tod Kelly
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        Nope. No room for arts. If we have to choose between keeping people alive and making them happy via art, we need to choose the former every time.

        Art will still exist. Art has always existed. It might not be as refined as we’d like, we might not understand art history as much… but people will still create. We’d be foolish to waste one of our majors on the arts.Report

      • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Tod Kelly
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        I suspect that our current model of industrialized production is going to assist greatly in this manner in the next twenty years.

        In any event, the patron system gave us arguably as good a set of results as anything we’ve cooked up since 1919. Physics, Chemistry, and Biology have too much basic research that you need to get done to advance anything.

        I’m surprised that nobody asked about the Theo.Report

    • Avatar Just Me in reply to Patrick Cahalan
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      says:

      Nice core foundation of studies that allows the employers to build upon in their individual training programs.Report

    • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Patrick Cahalan
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      says:

      Why Theology? Like theology in general — the study of various religions? Theology in specific, like a Christian Seminary? Comparative religion? Just god-bothering in general?

      Replace Theology with something useful, like English or Philosophy. Lord knows, we need someone to do the translating between lofty physicists and mathematicians to the rest of the country.

      God knows who is gonna build anything, though. Physics is a love of mine, but I’ve yet to meet the physicist who could design a decent bridge. 🙂Report

      • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Morat20
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        says:

        Sorry, I should have specified Theology in the comparative religions sense.

        Everybody I know who was a Theology major (disclaimer: this is heavily weighted to Theology as taught in Jesuit institutions) comes out the other end highly ecumenical and/or atheist.

        Either result is fine with me.Report

        • Avatar Fnord in reply to Patrick Cahalan
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          says:

          I won’t dispute that teaching Theology can have good results. I would dispute that those results are worth including it over all the other possible majors.

          The other four are probably a good choice, though.Report

          • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Fnord
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            says:

            I was thinking along the lines of Jaybird, below, but far more charitably.

            Those who can do sciences will get into the sciences. Those who can’t will take Theology.

            Most of the people who go to college with no idea what they want to do? They’ll take Theology. At the very least, they’ll learn why people act the way they act when they’re not driven by sex or money.Report

      • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Morat20
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        says:

        Oh, and Engineering will still exist, it will just become a trade school with a very high entry requirement.Report

        • Avatar dragonfrog in reply to Patrick Cahalan
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          Trade schools are banned, remember?

          Which makes the expertise of theologians all the more important – before you go over or under a bridge, you’d want to be fairly confident of where your immortal soul is headed.Report

          • Avatar Fnord in reply to dragonfrog
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            says:

            Even without trade schools, most engineering can probably be shoehorned into “job training” if you have candidates with a solid grasp of the science and mathematics behind it already, although it may be less efficient than formal engineering study.Report

            • Avatar Reformed Republican in reply to Fnord
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              Homogenize college and ban trade schools, and businesses would handle the necessary training themselves. Engineering, computer science, business, whatever would be taught in house. Unless college was mandatory, there would be practically zero demand for it.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Reformed Republican
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                says:

                Haha! Funny, no they wouldn’t.

                They’d complain no one qualified wants to do the job at the rate they’re hiring (as all the people with engineering degrees earned under the old system would, sensing they were a scarcity, charge more) and then try to hire people under Visas to do the job for as close to minimum wage as possible.

                Companies don’t “train” in America. They put out ridiculously specific HR requirements (ie: They used the resume of the guy that just quit), for ridiculous pay (ie: under the level of the guy that just quit) and get angry when none of the dozen people in the US with that set of qualifications wants to take a pay cut, move to whatever back end of the country they operate from, and work for them.

                So they yank people in from overseas, who are also untrained but will work for cheap and even though they’re useless for a year or three, they’ll eventually figure out the job and do it. Hooray, capitalism!

                Sad thing is? If they really wanted to save money, they’d do all that for management. I betcha Indian managers would work for a fraction of the cost of some American with a degree in Communications and a bunch of rich frat buddies charges!Report

          • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to dragonfrog
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            says:

            Trade schools as they currently stand incarnated.

            You’re going to need engineers. Unlike basic sciences, most engineering isn’t speculative in the decades sense. It’s probable that the market will provide engineering training.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Morat20
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        it’s not /hard/ to build in safety margins. you just need to beat it into the physics majors’ heads.Report

    • Avatar zic in reply to Patrick Cahalan
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      Down-voting theology.Report

    • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Patrick Cahalan
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      says:

      Theology?

      Not Literature or Philosophy or History?Report

  2. Avatar Russell Saunders
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    Before I comment, I need to clarify something — if I pick “American Literature,” for example, does that mean that along with the major being preserved/enhanced, it would entail the preservation of a certain canon of books?Report

  3. Avatar BlaiseP
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    Eliminate them all. Most of what people pay for in college is worthless in the workaday world anyway and the Gentleman’s C is the rule for those who can afford them. College sports have pretty much defeated the idea of “college” anyway. Chuck it all out. Good riddance to all of it.

    Instead, students and colleges have a bid and ask system. Name brand schools will be at an advantage, naturally. As with college sports, there’s no goddamn education going on there anyway. When some prize jumping hog puts on his School Cap after being heavily recruited by twenty unscrupulous coaches, do you think he’s going there for the academic excellence? Of course not. In the same way, all these kids who maxed out their SATs and got in Harvard — do you really think they are one bit different than the prize hog who worked on his rebounding and went to basketball camp every summer? He isn’t. Neither of these kids are in college for an education. And the professors who will teach both are certainly not the finest pedagogical talent. They will get TAs. The talent is too good to teach: they’re up there in the Ivory Tower, writing papers for each other.

    So let’s not pretend the college experience is worth a bucket of warm piss, beyond the people you’ll met there. They’re the people who will matter in your life. And maybe the college library. You’ll learn something there. But beyond that, the undergrad experience is pretty much worthless to anything you’ll ever do in life.

    In BlaiseP’s little scheme, we would return to the old university, of Paris and Oxford and Cambridge and Padua, where professors would work out deals with students and get paid on that basis. If kids want all these courses in art history and women’s studies, that’s great. Supply would meet demand on the basis of popularity and relevance. The Ivory Tower, full of name brand research talent, can learn to support itself as surely as the Big Stadium crowd has learned to do so.

    I have been watching these Higher Education posts with grim fascination. The irrelevance of the College and University Experience now varies directly with its insane price tag.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to BlaiseP
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      An unexpected and quite characteristically awesome reply, BP.Report

      • Avatar Barry in reply to Tod Kelly
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        Not really; it can be summed up in ‘F— it’.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Barry
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          says:

          If only it could be fucked, it might actually be fun. The university system is producing herds of debtors lacking the skills for gainful employment and woefully ignorant of life skills.Report

          • Avatar Barry in reply to BlaiseP
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            “If only it could be fucked, it might actually be fun. The university system is producing herds of debtors lacking the skills for gainful employment and woefully ignorant of life skills.”

            Actually, in general they *do* have the skills for gainful employment.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Barry
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              Actually, in general, they don’t have a clue. You might actually contradict me from the facts. I see herds of chumps come out of four year CS programs who can compose a palindrome algorithm but are otherwise useless writing production code. I’ve seen better product out of little community colleges and technical colleges, DeVry and the like.Report

              • Avatar Troublesome Frog in reply to BlaiseP
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                I agree that recent graduates are bad at writing production code, but what can be done? As far as I can tell, writing good production code is a function of experince. I don’t expect the average English major to write a good novel right out of school either.

                I suppose we could make all freshmen write one monster semester-long piece of code and then be forced to drag it along and maintain it every year until they graduate. Make it a 4-person group project and then hand one copy to each student to maintain solo for 3 years. That’s how we learn it in the real world.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Troublesome Frog
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                Again, most professionals are bad at writing production code. For empirical proof I offer every security-announce mailing list, ever.

                It doesn’t help that writing good production code has almost no linkage, whatsoever, to short-term success. Indeed, given the turnover in technology, it has almost no linkage, whatsoever, to long-term success either. It’s only in the middle ground where you get a real payoff for writing good code.

                And most companies in the technology sphere are either in the short term and will never go anywhere near the middle, or they’re in the long term and their success has poisoned them.

                This is stupid, but it is true. There are massive externalities in the software market and nobody wants to go anywhere near correcting them. The software industry has done a great job of inoculating its customers to expect quality. People don’t buy quality.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Troublesome Frog
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                Huh? You could start by putting all four members of that team on a common instance of git with the professor. The professor would make them write use cases, check them in, and they’d work out how to implement those use cases. They’d have to work together, do code reviews, write test cases, implement a back end, the usual stuff you’d do in a pro shop.

                Then they’d be handed changes to implement. They’d have to learn to manage forking and merging. They’d have to audit changes. They have to learn to deploy and manage security.

                I’ve seen none of this taught in schools.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Barry
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              Actually, in general they *do* have the skills for gainful employment.

              We can argue about whether the ones that do got them from college. I’ve a friend who is a manager at a fairly decent-sized business and he tells me that he’d rather hire someone who has spent age 18-22 as an assistant manager at Domino’s or McDonald’s than someone who got a degree in (whatever).

              He knows that the person who was an assistant manager at Domino’s has skills. He doesn’t know squat about the person with a degree.Report

    • Avatar rexknobus in reply to BlaiseP
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      I love BlaiseP’s “little scheme” — had I the ready cash, I’d do it today. But that’s because I’m all growed up and know better. As a student, at typical student age, that wouldn’t have worked for me at all.

      I’m uncomfortable with the idea of “supply and demand” in education. If my (middle-class American) education had allowed me much choice in the matter I would have skipped just about all of it. A lot of what was forced on me in school, up to and including university, has turned out to be valuable and useful. A lot of it hasn’t. I’m guessing that only most motivated of students would pick a decent curriculum for themselves. I was far from that.

      (special snowflake stuff: years in the medical field; years in the military; years of documentary filmmaking; years of CGI and CD-ROM design; now a NASA-funded science writer.)

      All with a BS from a state university and an insatiable reading habit (well, and a ton of weird luck). But I wouldn’t have even the basic notion of algebra without being forced into it. I would probably never have picked up Hawthorne or Hardy (though I still sort of regret time spent on Hardy). And history? Not so much. The exposure to those things at school enabled me to pursue them later, when I got a little older.

      I’ve always wished I was one of those good, driven kids — I just wasn’t. The “paternal hand,” in the long run, helped me a great deal. I suspect that is true of many.

      I have lots of problems with what I see in our educational “system” (one more snowflake — I have no children), but to call it worthless throws a lot of bath water out with the baby.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to rexknobus
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        The paternalistic, or more properly, the alma mater-istic system is overpriced and irrelevant. It’s a mug’s game. Overpriced textbooks are a racket. Student loans, a massive scam, can’t even discharge them in bankruptcy. The TA system is a preposterous affront to the profession of teaching. Sitting in some vast lecture hall listening to some TA droning along like some bored priest rattling through the mass — for this kids pay good money, or more properly, borrow money?

        The Ivory Tower needs a kick in the ass. A rude awakening, bringing it into line with the real world. Colleges and universities should educate students in accordance with their talents and not via some procrustean curriculum. This “well-rounded” crap is merely so many stones thrown in a tumbler. Find what a student’s any good at — and teach them to be better at it.

        A few courses should precede all the others, and here a TA system would really work: English composition with the stated aim of producing people who can write a paper. Math review with a focus on logic, prerequisites for subsequent STEM courses. And a basic humanities course load, not so much to fill ’em with facts but to teach them how to learn and the history of learning itself.

        TAs would become tutors and there would be some pretty good money in it, if the system were organised correctly. Department heads would manage gangs of them. The more, the better: he who cannot teach what he has learned has not really mastered the material. The current teacher training courses are worse than useless: I’ve seen what goes on in them. I put a wife through two master’s degrees, one in Bilingual Special Ed and the other in Community College Administration. Beyond worthless. Actively stultifying.

        Instead of washing people out, you’d have a system where you’d master a given level then go on to the next level. As in the British system, you’d be assigned a tutor and you’d read a subject. It might take you all four years, but you should graduate with mastery of the material.Report

        • Avatar rexknobus in reply to BlaiseP
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          says:

          BlaiseP — We’re pretty much on the same page (you just say it better). My POV is skewed by having gone to a Big Ten school 40 years ago. Tuition – $300/semester. GI Bill check every month. My eventual major was a very creative field, that I had some skill/talent in. Cool for me.

          I love the idea of “well-rounded,” but I know it conflicts with “useful and productive.” How do we get the terrific citizens of depth and breadth that we need if education is only trade school? One of my strokes of luck was that I came up in a time and place where a directionless youth could dabble for a while and then find a path. Isn’t it all “do or die before you’re 22” today?

          “Find what a student’s any good at — and teach them to be better at it.”

          Wise words. The hassle I could have avoided if I had realized earlier on that what I liked doing was what I was going to be good at.

          Your system sounds like a great improvement.Report

    • Avatar rexknobus in reply to BlaiseP
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      I’m sorry, just a little more. After three years in a degree nursing program, I switched majors to Journalism and Film. Yeah, the people I met were cool and occasionally valuable later on, but the real value of the program I ended up in was that I had university equipment to work with, almost no restriction (other personal finances) on my topics, and a built-in audience for my work. It wasn’t the classroom that gave me what I learned, but it was the university. I knew, even then, that I would never again have it so good.

      Is that such an unusual experience? I really don’t know. The University as Testing Ground. Failure doesn’t count against you — it only encourages your next try. There was a real freedom there that I never found in either Hollywood or the Real World. Anyone else find that?Report

    • Avatar Kimmi in reply to BlaiseP
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      Arggh. no go. The mentor/mentee relationship has fallen in the open market to the american system.Report

  4. Avatar Kazzy
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    First, a question…

    Are we limited ourselves to undergrad majors? Medicine immediately came to mind, but no one majors in medicine as an undergrad. Similarly, law… will we still have law schools regardless of which majors we choose?

    Now, as I think about the question, the first thing I realize is that we are going to need to make a lot of sacrifices. If Congress is determined to go such a route, it is going to have a profound impact on our society. Eliminating physics, for example, might lead people to fret over us losing our standing as the leader in scientific development. But ya know what? You don’t get to be a leader in scientific development if you only have five majors. So, we need to prioritize. Basically, we need to look at a hierarchy of needs…

    As such, I nominate the following…
    1.) Medicine: We have to keep people alive and healthy.
    2.) Law: We should not allow our constraints on the education system to lead to (further) abuse of our rights.
    3.) Education: If we’re going to have such a cockamamy education system, lets at least make sure those employing it are talented enough to do it well. The last thing we want is a fucked up system led by piss poor teachers. Wait a minute… that’s exac… no, no… not the time…
    4.) Agricultural sciences: I’m tempted to leave this one to the market, as humans have been successfully farming for millennia, but given the realities of climate change, population growth, and other factors, ensuring we can maintain our food supply will be vital.
    5.) Chemistry: With so many fields being weakened, we’re going to have to get creative with how we account for that. Energy, building materials, textiles… damn near everything can be improved or maintained via chemistry. At least that’s what my 10th grade teacher told me.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Kazzy
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      I agree with all of these except for (sorry, Kazzy) education.

      Civil engineering and/or physics are more important. Educators can continue to teach one another techniques in informal ways after the major is abolished, so education can continue to exist despite formal study of education. But if our bridges collapse (or less dramatically, if we have to scrap them halfway through construction) the waste of resources and risk to life and limb would be intolerable.

      Next to go would be law (cutting me own throat here). Again, law would continue to exist, but it would be a great deal more random and probably rely on positive law (statutes) as opposed to common law (cases) and the quality of resolution in individual cases would certainly decline — but we’d have to live with it.

      We don’t have room in this very limited academy for the arts at all, I’m afraid. Again, the arts would continue to exist. There would still be musicians and painters and sculptors and writers and filmmakers — but there wouldn’t be academic study of these things. Some would fall by the wayside and without university support, a lot of forms and kinds of art would die out. A pity. But art wouldn’t stop existing and more will continue to be created.

      What would be indispensable would be medicine and agriculture. Without formal academic study of those things, our ability to sustain life would immediately and palpably diminish.

      This is easily the most dreadful of all of Tod’s bar fights to date.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko
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        I can accept ed going. One reason I included it was because Tod noted remaining fields of study woumd thrive and a triving education field might mitigate some of our losses.

        I’ll defer to your expertise on law.

        The two you’ve added would have been my next ones probably, because the identified need, though I didn’t necessarily know which majors were best suited to achieve the ends.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Burt Likko
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        Crap, I forgot to honor Tod’s rule about “if you attended college one retained major must be your own.” My major was political science. Frankly, I cannot offer a justification for retaining PoliSci at the expense of medicine, agriculture, engineering, physics, or chemistry. But I did indicate that “law” would be preserved and tomorrow I intend to state a case that we might be better off if law were its own field of undergraduate study, which it really isn’t right now; it’s at best a subdiscipline in political science. So maybe I did obey Tod’s rule anyway.

        I beg forgiveness for inadvertently skirting the rules, O my Tod.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Burt Likko
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          Heh… I missed that, too.

          I guess education has to stay then. I had an “interdisciplinary major”, a requirement for ed majors, of math and computer science education… but this was mostly useless.

          I also didn’t realize we were up-voting and down-voting… I’ve got some work cut out for me!Report

    • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Kazzy
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      I downvote all of these (can I?) except chemistry.

      Law, agriculture, and education can all be learned as skills on the job.

      Medicine, too.Report

  5. Avatar Maribou
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    Sorry, Tod, no time to pick majors, the New World Order’s announcement prompted me to step outside my door and what do you know, there’s a lot of other people out here too.

    There’s a revolution what needs starting.

    (Jaybird always swore this day would come. I made fun of him for it. Also for his constant trotting out of Lysenko as an example in favor of local control of education. Assuming we both survive, he’s going to be bringing up how wrong I was for the next THIRTY YEARS.)

    (I’ll ponder later; I didn’t miss the point. You just got me off on a tangent thinking about what moves would *actually* make me want to revolt against the government, and what’d’you know, turns out the homogenization of all education is one of them.)Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Maribou
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      Tis trueReport

    • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Maribou
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      Across this bridge, you will not pass.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Maribou
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      OK, I’m putting you down for “Chemistry – to learn how to make bombs out of common household products.”Report

      • Avatar Maribou in reply to Tod Kelly
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        Psychology – to learn how to influence people (and to keep oneself from going insane).
        Rhetoric – see psychology. Also a good way to keep a solid canon of literature and artwork as examples of effective verbal and visual rhetoric.
        History (subconcentrations: Regime Change, History of Philosophy, History of Religion, History of Science) – in order to make new mistakes.
        Music – well-trained musicians are generally good at a LOT of other stuff, IME (fixing things, mathing things, sewing things, etc.). Between them and the chemists, we should have the practical side nailed down.Report

        • Avatar Maribou in reply to Maribou
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          I broke the rule! Sorry! None of these were mine.
          Let’s swap out Biology for Psychology, then. Bio gets us somewhere toward medicine, somewhere toward psych, somewhere toward molecular physics, somewhere toward art, somewhere toward logic, somewhere toward systematics and logic, and a nice heavy step in the direction of statistics … it’s a very generalist major, now that I think about it.

          Chemistry, Biology, Rhetoric, History, and Music, then.Report

        • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Maribou
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          Interestingly, although government-run educational dictatorship immediately provoked you to thoughts of revolution, once you were game to the idea you picked History and Rhetoric.

          I threw out all of the liberal arts from contemplation… under the principle that I would not want a government who established an educational dictatorship setting such a curriculum.

          Government-run History would be just about the worst thing ever (see Korea, North).Report

          • Avatar Maribou in reply to Patrick Cahalan
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            As far as I can tell, no one in North Korea BELIEVES that stuff, they’re just afraid of the guns. And starving. I suspect (but of course cannot prove) that many dissidents (in North Korea and elsewhere) get that way from studying history and rhetoric. You can frame the primary sources as carefully as you want, but some people are still going to react more to the thing you are exposing them to to the manner in which you expose them. Teach someone the mechanics of propaganda, and they will (sometimes) see how transparent their own beliefs are.

            If we’re going to run a sneaky shadow college, we need places to hide the professors, man.Report

  6. Avatar Pub Editor
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    Hmm. No one has mentioned civil engineering yet…Report

  7. Avatar Jonathan McLeod
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    Football, basketball, tailgating, house parties and Economics.Report

  8. Avatar Pinky
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    Pre-Med
    Engineering
    Mathematics
    Liberal Arts

    I’m cheating a little bit here. Three out of the four are lumping.

    Pre-Med would produce future doctors, but also chemists, biologists, pharmacologists, et cetera. Engineering, well, this is the one I probably won’t get away with because it does combine a lot of fields. If I can’t get away with it, I’ll add Mechanical Engineering and Electrical Engineering to my list. Liberal arts could be seen as a super-major today, but it didn’t used to be. If necessary, I’d ditch the liberal arts major for a Great Books program.

    Mathematics is mathematics, and we wouldn’t last a month without it.Report

  9. Avatar Jaybird
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    Philosophy, Physics, Agriculture, Business Management, and Pharmacology.Report

  10. Avatar Bob P
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    1. Physics (my major), but see 2. Geology (you have to learn physics, chemistry, and biology to do it). 3. History (assuming the postmodernists have been shot). 4. Philosophy. 5. Music. At the same time, BlaiseP has a point.Report

    • Avatar Pinky in reply to Bob P
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      Interesting about history. In prior conversations (I think with the same people) we’ve talked about the importance of an understanding of history for good citizenship. But when we’re forced to choose, at least so far we’ve gone mostly with STEM, and history has been a low priority. It’s interesting that that’s how society tends to react as well.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Pinky
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        if we need to know something for good citizenship, it is not a good idea to teach it to only about 1% of the population (an over generous estimate of the proportion of History majors in each cohort. For a more real number, divide that by 80)Report

        • Avatar Pinky in reply to Murali
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          We’ll need history teachers to spread that information.

          I also have a hunch that we’ll lose more history knowledge in one generation without historians than we’d lose music or computer science knowledge without academics in those fields. That might be the best way to analyze the original question: what fields would suffer the most?

          I should add that I don’t think many specific facts would be lost if we lost our history majors. But an appreciation of the big picture, of what facts are worth knowing, could easily be lost. Understanding of history seems not to be cumulative the way understanding of the sciences is. Each generation does better or worse understanding history, and gets rewarded or punished accordingly.Report

      • Avatar Pinky in reply to Pinky
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        For clarity: generic “we”. I don’t think you and I have talked about this issue before, but some people on the boards have.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Bob P
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      History (assuming the postmodernists have been shot).

      Wouldn’t history have taught us that killing “intellectuals” isn’t a very sustainable model to build on.

      Oh, I forgot. No one knows any history yet in this scenario. Carry on!Report

  11. Avatar NewDealer
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    1. Drama

    2. Music

    3. Medicine

    4. Law

    5. LiteratureReport

    • Avatar Murali in reply to NewDealer
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      Drama, music and literature?

      Why?Report

      • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Murali
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        says:

        Because I think they are the most human things in the world and most likely to cause resistance to this horrible new world order. Drama is also the most local and most subversive of all arts.

        Art is what makes us human and joins us together in commonality. Great art is universal and I was intrigued by Tod’s claim that these subjects would go under a renaissance. I would like to think that this renaissance will cause a freeing from the shackles of the hypothetical.

        The overloading of engineering and business on the list depress me.Report

        • Avatar Maribou in reply to NewDealer
          Ignored
          says:

          Drama is also the most local and most subversive of all arts.

          Yes, yes indeedy.Report

          • Avatar Maribou in reply to Maribou
            Ignored
            says:

            However, it’s also very co-optable. My hesitation with *teaching* Drama, Art, Literature, Film (especially Film), etc is how very subject they have been to propagandist schools over the years.

            Maoist China had a flourishing artistic side.Report

            • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Maribou
              Ignored
              says:

              This is an interesting debate that I get into with some of my fellow liberals/people on the left.

              I like Milan Kundera’s definiton of Kitsch being “the absolute denial of shit”. Kundera thought that most Soviet art (and other Communist regimes) fell into this category.

              My fellow liberals disagreed and felt that high culture/art was inherently totalitarian and it is the pop culture stuff that is free of control.

              I have a bit of reputation for being a dissenter on the wonderfulness of mass/pop culture.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to NewDealer
                Ignored
                says:

                Most non-commercial art is just crap with a nice bow tied around it.

                Few artists are really as insightful as they think they are. It’s a profession that attracts bullshitters.

                By the way, have you ever been to a showing of wayang kulit? Happened to see that they’ve got a theater company that does that in SF. I am /so jealous/!Report

              • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Kimmi
                Ignored
                says:

                “Few artists are really as insightful as they think they are. It’s a profession that attracts bullshitters.”

                “You’re charming!Report

  12. Avatar Stillwater
    Ignored
    says:

    Agriculture, chemistry, mechanical engineering, economics and MBA. The first four disciplines would create systems necessary for survival as well as indirectly entail systems of governance and healthy institutions. The MBA wouldn’t be applied to anything in my system – just a nominal degree – but it would give the privileged kids something to feel good about and keep them out of the way.Report

  13. Avatar Kimmi
    Ignored
    says:

    Game Theory
    Logistics
    Physics
    Biology
    Chemistry

    [yes, Game Theory as currently taught is a multidisciplinary mess. it’s still being taught, and would work better combined together.]

    Physics will teach you all you need to know about Computer Science (well that and Logistics…)

    I wouldn’t mind someone putting something else in for chemistry (most of the good work is in biochem or combinatorial stuff, anyhow, and you could pick that up with a good C.S. based physics prog)…Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Kimmi
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      says:

      Physics will teach you all you need to know about Computer Science (well that and Logistics…)

      The question here is whether the physics department is allowed to teach computer science, or even computer programming. This is a good opportunity to ask the judges for clarification on the “lumping” restriction. How much can a department teach from outside the discipline? Can a physics department teach CS 101? How about calculus?Report

      • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Michael Cain
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        says:

        I had originally considered making a joke about having Philosophy and… well, that covered everything. We can go home.

        Couldn’t make it work, though.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Michael Cain
        Ignored
        says:

        I guess I ought to clarify:
        Most of physics nowadays is either experimental, or modeling. To write good models requires a good knowledge of math (particularly discrete approximations), and a very good knowledge of computer science.

        To teach physics as it’s currently used, as a good professional background, you must teach a decent bit of CS.

        The OP said that the subjects chosen would flourish. So, nu, this is flourishing!

        Physics can teach calculus… in physics courses only! Lord knows, the difference between PDE taught by math profs and physics profs is enormous!!!Report

        • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Kimmi
          Ignored
          says:

          I don’t think I’d want to trust my life to a computer program written by a physicist anymore than I’d trust a bridge built by one of them.

          Anyways, it’s hilarious to see “physics” as one degree all on it’s own. Sure, an undergraduate degree — but post-grad? What sort of physics? 🙂Report

          • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Morat20
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            says:

            *snort* best not to come to pittsburgh then.
            Or fly on airlines.

            Check. Mate.

            (in other words, I, a physicist, have lives depending on the quality of computer programs that I write on a daily basis. I have had precisely two useful CS courses in college.).Report

            • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Kimmi
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              says:

              A few decades back, one of the jokes that went around inside Bell Labs was that the Labs hired 25% of all the new physics PhDs in the country each year… and one or two of them actually got to do work in physics. New physics hires were almost guaranteed to have picked up a bunch skills the Labs could make use of along the way to their degree. I knew several who were outstanding real-time control programmers.Report

            • Avatar Morat20 in reply to Kimmi
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              says:

              I — routinely — work with code written by folks with the same sort of “relevant background” as a physicist would. (In fact, that has included guys with physics degrees — although most often aerospace engineers of late).

              A small handful are good coders. The bulk can code, in the same way an 8th grader can write an essay — it’s English, it gets the information across, and it works as long as your standards aren’t too high.

              The rest are, bluntly, poo-flingers. They get gently moved out of the job.

              I spend about 80% of my time redoing their code into something vaguely professional. And by “professional” I mean “It works like it’s supposed to, it can be altered, updated, or expanded without making you want to cry, and it doesn’t require being the one guy who wrote it to use it”.

              I flat-out wouldn’t trust code not written by professionals. I will caveat that to state that code written by non-professionals to handle their profession (ie: code written by, say, aerospace engineers to handle flight control surfaces) is acceptable.

              Then again, I get kvetchy about code written by ‘professionals’ who can’t be bothered to use a decent data structure for their work (“Yes, let’s take that data and just shove it into an array you sized at three times bigger than you need. Heaven forbid you use a vector, or what you should be using — a hash — because to you a “hash” is breakfast”), or whose algorithms are so poorly written (“Is there a reason you have eight nested for loops iterating over that when you can do it in two?”) that it makes machines choke on their own entrails….

              Seriously, a good chunk of my job is running around between coders (some nominally my seniors in experience) fixing crap they use but never grasped the underlying fundamentals of. They use arrays because they know arrays, because every “How To” book covers arrays.

              The ones that took a STL class sometimes use vectors, but never maps (hashes) because they don’t understand them. Or they use a map of a map of a map, when what they wanted was to store a class in a map….Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Morat20
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                says:

                I don’t trust code written by most professionals, so the amateur bit doesn’t put me off so much.Report

              • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Morat20
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                says:

                Very, very, very few people are good coders. I don’t imagine you could write self-modifying code and have it work for more than a week.

                I write decent, functional code, and get paid a lot for it.

                I have never been paid to put bugs into code. When you’re that good, yeah, you can speak about what good coding is.

                Nested for loops are gonna be taken out by the compiler, nine times out of twenty. It’s unnecessary ifs that are trouble.

                My pet peeve with STL is folks using its “allocate on demand” feature when it’s absolutely not necessary. Absolutely kills performance.Report

              • Avatar Nathanael in reply to Kimmi
                Ignored
                says:

                Oh, I know what you mean.

                I don’t write code for money (I, uh, don’t need to work for money…) but I’m a *damn* good coder, what I write is maintainable and clear, and I document my work, and I can debug, and… well… this is extremely, extremely rare. I’ve met others, but wow, there’s a lot of bad programming out there.

                I’ve actually dealt with self-modifying code that worked but only on an extremely tiny scale. Patching machine code for variant opcodes on different variants of a chip architecture is not a very intensive form of self-modifying code.

                “Seriously, a good chunk of my job is running around between coders (some nominally my seniors in experience) fixing crap they use but never grasped the underlying fundamentals of.”
                I *hate* this.Report

            • Avatar George Turner in reply to Kimmi
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              says:

              I’ll bet it wouldn’t take much effort (though this might be asking too much) to turn many of them into good programmers by having them read a few books that convey the sense of elegance and beauty that code can have, or at least how to pound out things that are halfway competent and maintainable. Perhaps start with some classics like Brooks “Mythical Man Month”, then a few good ones on data structures and algorithms, and maybe something like “Code Complete.” There are so many out there.

              In math, showing someone a beautiful solution can sometimes open their eyes to cleverness, simplicity, and clarity. Of course if the desire is lacking then code, no matter how elegant or how expertly implemented, is just indented text on a screen and you’d just as well teach art to a pig.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to George Turner
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                says:

                You might make a good coder yourself, Mr. Turner.Report

              • Avatar Nathanael in reply to George Turner
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                says:

                You’d think, but no. The key to a good programmer is something which is very hard to train.

                There’s a reason most good programmers have autism spectrum disorders.People with narrow, fine-grained pattern recognition do much better, on average, than people with loose pattern recognition. It’s best if you can actually do *both* of course.

                A really good programmer has to have a *habitual* attention to detail simultaneous with an ability to grasp the big picture. The attention to detail is what’s usually missing in bad programmers — and it’s far more important, it’s what makes you code units which actually follow their stated APIs — but I’ve seen the other half missing too, and it makes it hard to structure a program.Report

        • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Kimmi
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          says:

          I’m trying to get Patrick to put some better bounds on it. Contemporary chemistry is in much the same situation. For example, Patrick’s “blossoming” in chemistry would have to include nano-scale catalyst development. Doing productive research in that area is going to pull in most of the engineering school. I suspect that his original intent was not to allow someone to say “chemistry” or “physics” and get high-tech broadly as a freebie. The linkages run all sorts of different ways. If I say “computer engineering” in the sense of continuing Moore’s Law, then I again get most of the rest of the engineering school, plus a lot of chemistry and some physics.

          The question would probably have been better posed as “Tech is a given; what four non-tech majors would you have, and why?”Report

  14. Avatar Murali
    Ignored
    says:

    Life Sciences (My undergrad major)
    Chemistry
    Physics
    Mathematics
    Philosophy (My major as a grad student)Report

    • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Murali
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      says:

      Perfect list. Upvote all.

      You need bio, chem, physics, and math. And philosophy is the ultimate humanity. Also, a lot of psych and social science, poli sci, etc. gets rolled into philosophy and comes out of it.

      I would eschew anything practical on my list because skills can be picked up away from the school. People can learn how to farm, how to use medicines, etc. in practice. I see the choice of the majors as requiring us to determine which pieces of abstract knowledge are most important to human life. that need to be kept alive for future generations and spread widely.

      Math and Philosophy are important. And the trio of Chem/Bio/Physics are also important.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Shazbot5
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        says:

        The reason I called it the Lifesciences is because that’s what NUS calls it. In our first two years all the modules are compulsory. In the third (and fourth if you are pursuing honours) years, there are three concentrations: Biology, Biomedical-Sciences and Moluecular and Cell Biology. Biology is mostly, plant bio, ecology, evolution, animal behaviour etc. BMS is mostly physiology and applications of Med-tech. MCB is mostly genetics, proteomics, cancer biology, biophysics, bio-informatics etc. So, when I think of biology, I tend to think of something with a far narrower scope than what most people think it includesReport

    • Avatar Shazbot3 in reply to Murali
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      says:

      With Murali’s list (maybe substitute Bio for Life Sciences, or not), you can recreate the knowledge that any other now defunct majors create in a given person by combining some of the five remaining majors and life experience in a certain practice.

      Medicine (and Nursing): 2 Degrees: Biology, Chemistry, and practical experience dispensing medicines and observing some specific set of ailments (or carving up bodies: sewing and butchering experience!).

      Agricultural Sciences: 3 degrees, Biology, Chemistry, Math, and experience working with and observing farms and land use.

      Psychotherapy/Counseling Psychology/Social Work = 2 Degrees: Bio (especially neurobiology), Philosophy (especially theories of human nature and phil psych and phil mind), and the experience of working with the mentally ill

      Linguistics: Math, Biology (especially neurobiology), and Philosophy (especially Phil Lang.) and working knowledge of multiple languages.

      Psychology (more generally) = Philosophy (especially phil mind, phil of psychology), Bio (especially neurobiology), and a life spent observing people’s behaviors in some specific arena

      Engineering (lots of different kinds): Math, Physics, Chemistry and a whole lot of experience building and observing the building of some specific set of objects, depending on what kind of engineering.

      Literature: Philosophy and being extremely widely read (in some specialty, e.g. Russian novels, or British poetry)

      Pharmacology: Chemistry, Biology, and experience observing the effects of medicines and poisons.

      Economics: Math, Philosophy, and experience working in and observing the behavior of individual companies and non-proft organizations and governments.

      Sociology: Philosophy, Math, and a wide set of experiences of observing human behavior, say, cross culturally.

      Anthropology: Philosophy (especially relativism, ethics, political philosophy and epistemology) and a lot of experience observing very different cultures.

      Education: Biology (especially of development), Philosophy (especially Phil of education by Dewey, Rousseau, etc.) and experience working with and observing children and students of all ages.

      And so on for Poli Sci, History (History of Phil and Phil of History and access to a library, ha!), and so on.

      Remember, philosophy gave birth to all the other disciplines, except math. And many of those births are pretty recent. I’m looking at you linguistics, economics, psychology, and anthropology. And all of those recent births could be redone if we had to.Report

      • Avatar Shazbot3 in reply to Shazbot3
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        says:

        Just to amend that last statement, I’d say Engineering was born from math. And more modern forms of Engineering are born from Math and some mix of the three traditional hard sciences: Physics, Chem, and Bio. Physics, Chem, and Bio were all born from philosophy and math, though they were all orphaned by their deadbeat parents.Report

      • Avatar Shazbot3 in reply to Shazbot3
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        says:

        Also, I now realize my post is outrageously offensive to anyone with a degree outside of the 5 majors. And given that I have a Phil degree, I sound like a jerk.

        Just a post for fun. I’m probably wrong.Report

      • Avatar Nathanael in reply to Shazbot3
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        says:

        Actually, philosophy gave birth to essentially ALL the other disciplines.

        Any discipline where a “Ph.D” is awarded is a descendant of philosophy.

        The major exceptions: law (J.D.), religion (D.D.), and medicine (M.D.). Medicine is not only a trade school thing, it’s not taught at all at the undergraduate level, so it’s irrelevant to this discussion. Law is also a trade school thing. And I don’t think a D.D. is good for anything.

        Another exception is physical education. Which was considered important by the ancient Greeks, so perhaps we had better not forget it. But most people here have omitted it entirely. 🙂 Practical art and perfoming music and dance are others which don’t descend from philosophy.

        Anyway, all the significant discliplines which we consider “academic” are descendants of philosophy.

        The unfortunate result of this is that philosophy is a dead field; it contains only those topics which weren’t “good enough” to break out on their own and become their own department. Or joined another department. During the 20th century, logic walked out of the philosophy department and into the math department.

        Several of these topics, such as metaphysics, are quite likely to turn out ot be meaningless — things which appear to have meaning due to wordplay, but actually don’t. Some, such as epistemeology, have been better solved outside the philosophy department, while the people remaining in the department are the ones who disagreed with the correct result. One of the few fields which is exclusive to philosophy, ethics, may be unsolvable in principle.

        So don’t keep philosophy as it is now — even though nearly every subject descends from philosophy, they all *left*, some of them hundreds of years ago.Report

        • Avatar Murali in reply to Nathanael
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          says:

          Except in the UK, Australia, Newzealand, Singapore, Malaysia and a huge number of other ex-colonies medicine is an undergrad course. You get an MBBS after 5 years of study.Report

        • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Nathanael
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          says:

          Not that it matters, but I think mathematics actually predates philosophy, depending on how you define “philosophy” and “mathematics.

          If Thales was the first philosopher, then math, even the formal study of math, is older than philosophy. Thales was heavily influenced by mathematics and the work of prior mathematicians. Plato was heavily influenced, though this is sort of controversial, by Pythagoras. Ancient Greek philosophy came from math, maybe, but not the other way around.

          On the other hand, if philosophy is just any sort of attempt to think about big questions of any sort, then philosophy might predate seem to predate math. But then again “Two halves is a whole” might even be an older thought than a philosophical thought about why or how or what is the meaning. Philosophical thinking and mathematical thinking would be equally old, then, under this latter definition, but neither would come from the other.Report

  15. Avatar Christopher Carr
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    says:

    1. English (one of my majors) is most important. It’s shocking how versatile and important the ability to communicate clearly has proven in my adult life. My other major was a BS in economics, which has been fairly useless except for in arguing about Keynes and Hayek on the Internet. I believe proper communication needs to be taught/acquired by dissecting and critiquing texts in the formal setting of an English major.

    2. Physics is #2: physics majors can easily transition to engineering/finance, and, in my own anecdotal experience, were preferred over econ majors/engineers by all the big bank/tech recruiters due to their ability to quantify anything.

    3. Biochemistry covers both biology and chemistry.

    4. Psychology is a more self-critical, more humble, and more open (yet more rigorous) social science than economics. And its future as a natural science is wide-open considering promising recent neuroscientific discoveries.

    5. History is broad enough to encompass the critical – as opposed to creative – remaining humanities (like philosophy, economics, art, etc.), provided this influx of new talent/ideas thoroughly destroys the ossified arrogance plaguing the professional discipline. I’ll touch on this in my education symposium post, which I’ll hopefully get around to posting tomorrow or this weekend!Report

    • Avatar Murali in reply to Christopher Carr
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      says:

      On the contrary, Philosophy allows us to sneak in economics, psychology and History all in one go. Think about it: Theories of mind and action can get us psychology and economics. Moral theory can get us another part of psychology. Political Theory can get us economics, psychology and History all in one go. Knowing how societies have worked or failed in the past is an important component of figuring out what we should or shouldn’t recommend.Report

      • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Murali
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        says:

        Game Theory lets me shoehorn in a ton of crap. Way more than Philosophy. And testable to boot!Report

      • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to Murali
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        says:

        I’m thinking more of methodologies, and sort of imagining that history would include philosophy (the history of thought being the better part of philosophy, since normative philosophy is largely disguised aggression and little more), as well as historical perspectives on the development of economics, science, etc.

        As far as I know MIT takes this historical approach to many of its intro science classes for the reason that a discipline is best learned at the individual level as it has been learned at the level of the society, which is the argument I intend to make with my contribution to the symposium if I ever get around to it!Report

        • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Christopher Carr
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          says:

          Well if. History contains philosophy, then since physics, Darwinian Biology, psychology (through James and Freud), and economics (through Marx, Smith, amd others) were all offshoots of philosophy, then you get all those things with Philosophy too.Report

        • Avatar Patrick Cahalan in reply to Christopher Carr
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          says:

          A discipline is best learned at the individual level as it has been learned at the level of the society, which is the argument I intend to make with my contribution to the symposium if I ever get around to it!

          From 10,000 feet, I’d probably agree with this post. It’d be fun to read it.

          The details, that’s where some things get tricky. I think we can skip the four humors as anything other than a couple of lines in a slide.Report

      • Avatar Pinky in reply to Murali
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        says:

        A Great Books program would address all of those and more. If properly taught, it also encourages intellectual clarity.Report

    • Avatar Pinky in reply to Christopher Carr
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      says:

      “…thoroughly destroys the ossified arrogance plaguing the professional discipline”

      Interesting thought. I hadn’t considered what would happen to each of the five majors once the previous fields fold into them. I imagine that the New World Order will have its hands full just trying to keep academia from reasserting itself. It’s the unstoppable force of the black helicopters versus the immovable object of a tenured professor who refuses to do anything but analyze gender issues in Huckleberry Finn.Report

      • Avatar Christopher Carr in reply to Pinky
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        says:

        Ha. ‘Twould be an interesting battle indeed.

        Another reason I selected biochemistry is because I can see both chemical and life sciences – including agriculture, ecology, chemical engineering, genetics, etc. – rolling into it. This would make biochemistry more than just memorizing the names of the enzymes that catalyze each step of the tricarboxylic acid cycle.Report

  16. Avatar DRS
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    says:

    Off-topic, but since Tod did give me indirect credit for inspiring these Thursday posts: do the hypothetical topics have to be so complicated? How about something like: describe your ideal school curriculum, K-12, and briefly explain why.Report

  17. Avatar George Turner
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    says:

    Medicine and chemistry of course, as those are critical and not something people just pick up through osmosis. I’d also toss in pharmacology.

    I’d have difficulty deciding whether both physics and electrical engineering should be taught, because physics is fundamental to advancing semiconductors (along with lots of other things) but doesn’t delve enough into some other specialized aspects of electrical systems that are required to keep the lights on and the internet running. I rate both fields as pretty critical because if nobody keeps making advanced communications equipment and computers then we’ll eventually regress to the 1950’s no matter how many programmers we have sitting around.Report

  18. Avatar Angela
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    says:

    1. Math (my major)
    2. History (the past)
    3. Philosophy (the future)
    4. Engineering (build it)
    5. Biology (fix it)Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Angela
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      says:

      This may be the best answer, simply be virtues of the simple reasons given.

      Big time golf clap.Report

      • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Tod Kelly
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        says:

        I’ll take the acceptance of “Engineering” here to imply that all “tech” can be lumped together. No one takes a major in “engineering” — it’s mechanical engineering, or chemical engineering, or civil engineering, etc. And engineering broadly isn’t going to thrive at a rate to fascinate future historians unless there’s a lot of basic science stuff thriving as well. So,

        1) Tech (including my math degree, and for all the reasons people have given),
        2) History (because we should know where we’ve come from),
        3) Communications (given my preferences I’d say this includes Art, which is all a form of communication),
        4) Sociology (if it races ahead, it should subsume fields like political science, economics, and psychology), and
        5) Philosophy (becoming broadly useful, as in everyone agrees on whether we have an obligation to other species).Report

    • Avatar Maribou in reply to Angela
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      says:

      I upvote this list. It is a fine list.Report

  19. Avatar zic
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    says:

    1) Mechanical engineering. This would include the necessary maths, metallurgy, etc.
    2) History of science, presuming we can get all sciences in there plus documenting new science.
    3)Communications. Languages, writing, drama, music can then be rolled in; anything that requires communicating ideas.
    4) Medicine, because people get sick and I don’t want to go back to the day where death in child birth is common.
    5) Agriculture, because people have to eat, and I believe soil fertility is the bedrock upon which everything else flourishes, including clean water and fresh air.Report

  20. Avatar DavidTC
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    says:

    There is no actual way society can thrive with just five specialties (You need, at minimum: doctors, three or four _different_ types of engineers, lawyers, biologists, chemists, telephone sanitation specialists, and probably more I haven’t throughy of)

    So I have to suggest that the thing we want to do is _fix_ the situation we’re in. And thus, the things we should teach would be:
    Computer science
    Electrical engineering
    Education
    Neuroscience
    Psychology

    Why? In the hopes we get some sort of actual workable ‘self education’ system working, where we don’t actually need ‘colleges’ in the current sense, but people can self-educate. Perhaps via subconscious education, or implants, or just AI teachers that personalize themselves for each student.

    I am assuming we’ll get something like 100 years advancement in 10 years. This will hopefully be fast enough to _stop_ everything else from falling down the memory hole, and hey, even if it _does_, we have it all in the computer so can easily relearn it!

    Heck, the worse case scenario is that we build an AI that runs everything. Which sounds like it could be bad, until you realize that any other five majors would have resulted in us dying because we left out doctors or automotive engineers. (Hey, everyone who left those out…how are we going to get food to our cities?) Robot overlords _probably_ won’t have us starve to death.

    Alternately, let’s go with teaching Politics, to see if we can get this New World Order removed somehow. 😉Report

    • Avatar George Turner in reply to DavidTC
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      says:

      Well, allowing guns on campus would fix this whole mess.

      “I don’t care what the new education law says. You WILL teach me interpretive dance 302 or I will blow a hole in both your kneecaps.”

      Repeat as necessary.Report

  21. Avatar Diablo
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    says:

    The most important thing in your life that most of you never really notice is the shipping container. Almost everything you own, use, eat, and depend on traveled in the standard intermodal container.

    Modern society collapses overnight if those containers don’t arrive on time.

    So you need
    1) Mechanical engineer
    2) Electrical engineer
    3) Computer engineer
    4) Process engineer
    5) Sales department

    Everything else can be bartered for.Report

    • Avatar Maribou in reply to Diablo
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      says:

      I would be okay with modern society collapsing overnight if it were the society described in the OP.

      Wait, maybe I should’ve gone for all the most useless and annoying majors possible so only useless people* would go to college and the rest of us could start working on overthrow. *slaps forehead*

      *I don’t actually believe that anyone is useless. But, you know.Report

      • Avatar Diablo in reply to Maribou
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        says:

        Cost of everything would skyrocket as just getting simple things from point A to point B would become a nightmare. Theft would increase ten fold as port facilities would go back to operating by hand. Smaller markets would simply die off as it would be too expensive to ship anything in any meaningful volume.

        People would starve.Report

        • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Diablo
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          says:

          There would be nothing to put in those shipping containers in your world! We would have the shipping containers but nothing else.Report

          • Avatar Diablo in reply to NewDealer
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            says:

            The same concepts to automate a port are the same concepts that automate many things. I work in mining, drilling, energy production, steel mills. plastics, food production…etc…etc…etc.

            Heck, its the same operating systems, PLCs, drives.

            You lose the ability to automate a shipping port, you are losing the ability to mass automate any process. You would then have a reduction in overall production in hundreds, if not thousands of percentages.

            Massive starvation on a global level.Report

    • Avatar Kimmi in reply to Diablo
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      says:

      Logistics covers all of these nicely. Well, except for sales.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Diablo
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      says:

      A world of engineers and salespeople.

      How bloody dull.Report

  22. Avatar Boegiboe
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    says:

    The undergrad part of this New World Order isn’t really so crazy. A Bachelors degree was never supposed to be a stopping point, but a leaping off point to learning for the rest of your life.

    Physics (one of my majors, and a sufficient background for any engineer to start learning, plus also sufficient for economics or any other highly mathy field)
    Biochemistry (biology + chemistry, plus the option to move into medicine)
    Liberal Arts (yes, that’s a major, and from it one could spin off into lit, history, journalism, editing, etc.)
    Political Science (an undergrad degree in PoliSci can spin off into law or any kind of leadership or business-related fields)

    aaaaand…
    That’s it. Every profession can come from one of those four programs. I considered the art majors, like music or visual arts, but people will do that themselves if they love it enough to major in it.Report

  23. Avatar Kal Lis
    Ignored
    says:

    1. Aesthetics-it it is indeed a “critical reflection on art, culture and nature” should allow for literature, music, art, and philosophy.

    2. Computer science

    3. Engineering

    4. History

    5. Medicine

    I would like to include agriculture science, but a practical unit in aesthetics or a holistic unit in medicine should give enough practical skills for gardening which is all most will be able to do. Engineering should include a class in auto mechanical engineering including maintenance.Report

  24. Avatar Nathanael
    Ignored
    says:

    I actually don’t think it’s possible to ban do-it-yourself books and so forth. Music lessons will still be conducted, perhaps clandestinely.

    Therefore I would focus on the subjects which the people would *not* spontaneously conserve:

    I’m going to cheat further and exclude English. It’s critically important to teach language and reading and writing skills, but we’ll suppose that this is done before college. I realize it’s not actually done very well right now, but it is on the curriculum and they do a tolerable job.

    (1) Math. Incredibly linear, has to be done in order, get started early. Includes logic which is absolutely critical. Includes most of what you need for physics and engineering; not the experiments, but those will be dealt with by employers quite likely. Also includes computer science, which was part of math departments originally and is generally taught by math professors. 🙂 My major.
    (2) Biology. It’s gotten absolutely huge and you have to learn all of chemistry in order to do it propertly nowadays, so it’s a bit of a cheat; a way of getting a HUGE amount of education in one subject.

    You can’t do a proper survey of biology in less than THREE SEMESTERS at this point, and four would be better. Includes numerous counterintuitive concepts like evolution and the importance of chance in the world. In bio the world never corresponds to your preconceptions. Enough bio classes and you may get some students to learn critical thinking. Extremely empirical. The gateway to medicine and agriculture. Includes ecology. Includes neurology and therefore the well-understood part of psychology as opposed to the highly questionable parts. Requires hunks of geology to be introduced.
    (3) History. Those who do not learn it will be condemned to repeat it, and all that. Includes everything which is actually well-established in most of the humanities, as opposed to the wooly speculation. But it’s got wooly speculation too.
    (4) I realize this is an odd choice: geography. Nobody knows where anything is these days; this is also the jumping off point for most students to learn about, well, anything, by going “What’s that there? Why is it there? What used to be there?”.

    So by cheating quite a lot, I got it down to four subjects. Thbbt!

    Mind you, given how much biology has expanded, the bio department could easily occupy the *entire* campus of *every* university, so I really *am* cheating. Bio is breaking up into multiple departments as we speak because it’s such an enormous subject.Report

    • Avatar Nathanael in reply to Nathanael
      Ignored
      says:

      Bio also needs labs. Lots and lots of labs. And fieldwork. And greenhouses. And stables. And so on and so on and so on.

      In contrast, math, geography, and history are kind of cheap. I’m basically advocating spending the entire budget on bio.Report

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