By Rob Hardy
One of the bigger decisions of our lives is not only what kind of education we should pursue and where, but also what field we will choose to study. In recent years, and ever since The Great Recession, this has become a larger concern for the majority of people who enter higher education these days. But in true Socratic fashion, this becomes a much bigger debate we have with others and ourselves. Whether we realize it or not, we gradually develop philosophies on which things we value and, consequently, which we don’t.
As our time in university plods on, we are forced to confront what value means to us. Is it some kind of inherent quality regarding the sanctity of life on all levels? Are we okay with resigning those ideals once money enters the equation on a more pressing level? Or are our values what we actually practice when it comes down to the wire? These are only some of the dilemmas facing us as we choose courses and think about graduate school.
While it is prudent to be aware of what awaits us when we choose to study philosophy or any of the other programs under the umbrella of Humanities, it is also prudent to understand the ways our experiences will vastly differ based on whether we make our decisions on external or internal forces. Simply put, doing things we intrinsically enjoy versus our current idea of what practical is.
And therein lies a distinction. We never have to think about, or usually regret, those things that truly give us joy and make the minutes and days a pleasure to go through. But some conception outside of us about what constitutes security and a safe path is always to some degree arbitrary, shifting and not wholly clear.
I’m talking about this because there has been so much negative press circulating about the validity of pursuing a degree in the Humanities, or what others similarly refer to as the Liberal Arts. But what is ironic and unbeknownst to most, is that these subject areas of language, philosophy, music, as well as mathematics, in relation to our place in the world, formed the core of university curriculums since their inception. The line of reasoning was that in order to be a truly free person, one must be educated, and that these subjects were the essence of enlightenment.
So while the marketplace, something which is extremely fickle to say the least, is demanding students study business, technology, and other cut-and-dried industries, we are drifting further away from a core understanding of the institutions we comprise. And while there is nothing wrong in formulating a resume in order to optimize your chances of gaining secure employment and future prospects, we have to be aware of how much we are giving up as we essentially design and subsidize our own job-training programs then later nostalgically wonder about having forgone those courses for which we had a genuine curiosity. When we ask others to validate our paths and experiences, we lose control and confidence in becoming the captains of our own life journey.
It is no secret that university departments across North America are slashing budgets, and that Humanities departments are front in line. But we need to take another look at the real value of dismissing what has been, up until now, the heart and soul of academia. After all, if we don’t care what others have shared and discussed in the past, why should we be presumptuous enough to ask future generations to give us an audience?
As idealistic and passionate as I am about those courses many now deem a waste of time, I have to admit that I would have no problem with going into fields which are big money-earners if I had the aptitude. No one wants to feel like whatever they have worked on for years is not valued and rewarded by society as a whole. At the same time, there is a transient quality in current trends. Certain fields are booming now, but busts always follow sooner or later. And for all the talk of “experiential learning” and teamwork, I still fail to fully grasp how this applies despite reading every word of Forward with Integrity, our esteemed University president’s views on the direction we are/should be heading.
As much as we want some kind of short cut, the fact is that acquiring substantial knowledge has always involved the discipline of a tremendous amount of individual study over time. Other skill sets are also important today, but they are not so much academic in nature as they are broader social requirements newly demanded of everyone now.
Like many articles you have read on the subject, this is all just food for thought. Some of us are looking forward to careers in professions with a clearly defined track with little room for flexibility, while others have priorities that extend to other life areas, leaving little curiosity to debate the place of education in our lives. Still, we should not be afraid or dismissive of the long rows of books we pass by as we walk through the library, thinking them irrelevant to our everyday lives. Just as Twitter has formulated the catchphrase “Join the conversation”, there are many other conversations waiting to be engaged, some via the printed word, spanning space and time.