Thursday, June 20, 2013

An Open Response to "Want A Job? Don't Bother With These Degrees" by Jennifer Berry

Logging into my email I stumbled across the article: “Want a Job? Don’t Bother With These Degrees” by Jennifer Berry. It’s a recent trend in blogs and online writings that I am seeing more and more lately. It seems there is a slew of weekend authors turned guidance counselors who hold a major ambition to steer college students away from the fine arts. Citing high unemployment and the down economy, these fierce guardians of personal economic security are bent on warning parents and young scholars to avoid creative fields at all costs.

I don’t even know where to begin with this. The authors’ ignorance of history and total disregard for the long-term needs of our society leaves me with an irritation that I can hardly express in words. I can’t totally blame the authors though; it is symptomatic of the greater issues surrounding our culture, especially in relationship to the economy. When employment is scarce there are many who feel justified in their obsession with short-term gains and completely disregard what happens to the next generation, or the generation following. 

These articles (carelessly) advise students not to pursue degrees in arts, philosophy, or religion – all hallmarks of traditional higher learning. Instead (as Berry does) they recommend that young people look into more trade-oriented diplomas such as nursing and finance. This leads me to the main issue surrounding these ignorance-peddlers. There is a fundamental question facing our society regarding higher learning: does college exist to train the next generation of intellectuals, or is it simply there as vocational training? More and more people seem to be gravitating towards the latter.

If our research universities (now becoming dwarfed by the onslaught of “for profit” schools) currently exist simply to train young people to do a job, why fuss with a four year degree at all? Putting it bluntly, a nurse is not a better nurse for knowing classics, argumentative fallacies, or the history of the French revolution – therefore; if someone is earning an accounting degree, that should be all the student is squared to learn, why delve into any other subjects whatsoever? After all, it won’t boost their all-important earning potential. Wouldn't it be better to set up small, inexpensive vocational/technical schools where these positions could be filled?

So our destiny is to be cogs in the capitalist machine, we don’t need art, music, philosophy, ethics, historians, or advanced thinkers of any kind. All we need are human drones trudging off into the workforce to perpetuate a monetary cycle so that everyone can keep happily feeding the hyper-materialistic culture we have erected.

I wonder how long it will take society to realize that the power to change these ugly assumptions rests in all of us. We can make our colleges and universities a real place to advance human pursuits. We can embrace skepticism, music, art, and science which all feed into and support each other. Finally, we can reject the notion that intellectualism is something to be feared. The humanities are a pathway to a more enlightened civilization, which in our age of paranoia, selfishness, and celebrated self-centeredness is something we desperately need. 

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