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David Byron

David Byron is a software developer working for the military-industrial complex. At Popehat, he writes about art, language, theater (mostly magic), technology, lyrics, and aleatory ephemera. Serious or satirical poetry spontaneously overflows from him while he's recollecting in tranquility. @dcbyron

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102 Responses

  1. Grifter says:

    Ahh, employers and their inability to understand the difference between education and ability, forcing metrics that never quite work out.

    I wish more employers just had a test of things similar to what they want you to do; pass, and you are qualified, fail, and it doesn't matter if you have 6 engineering degrees, you aren't.

    Having never gone to law school or taken the bar, I obviously don't know about it, but isn't it true that technically you can take the bar exam even if you haven't gone to law school?

  2. A leap at the wheel says:

    The clerk at my wine store has a degree in art history. He's hoping to make manager some day.

    And by degree, I mean PhD.

  3. Todd Erickson says:

    I got my degree in theater and communication arts. Then I taught myself to program websites. I've worked in call centers for the last decade.

    Communications (done properly) actually teachers very important things. The primary rule (you can't assume that your audience is going to perceive what you are trying to communicate the way that you intend it to) is probably the most important thing I learned, and what I see violated constantly.

    The willingness to learn and adapt supersedes just about anything else. Knowledge is nice, but the ability to say "okay, well, let's change this" is far more valuable in the long run, it seems.

  4. David says:

    Every academic discipline, including the STEM areas, leaves in its wake a cohort of content, semi-content, or malcontent underachievers. While the job market for geeks bearing art historical gifts is narrow, it's at least as broad as, say, the English major or the History major or Poli Sci. As we all know, those are stepping stones to the JD, fortune, and glory! ;)

  5. Shannon Lynch says:

    Communications can be very useful if applied the right way.

    I am studying communications with a corporate concentration. I am double minoring in business science and public relations, so I take classes on business management, advertising, journalism and more. I am on the Forensics Team at my school, which is where teams of students create speeches and compete, perfecting public speaking and impromtu speech. I'm competing nationally in the Spring in St. Louis.

    So I personally think that my degree in communications can help me be employable =], but that's just me.

  6. A leap at the wheel says:

    I'll make you a deal then. You stop asserting that my education in computer science and software engineering didn't train me to deal with "paradox and gray" and I'll stop asserting that many people will be better off with a degree in some job focused field + a library card and a bit of self motivation.

  7. Ae Viescas says:

    So first you complain that no one takes your discipline seriously, and then you proceed to defend it by saying "people don't realize how important we are but we're not like those other disciplines that people don't take seriously (but I don't know what they do either)?"

    In short you've managed to criticize "STEMmers" while acting exactly like them to everyone who's not you.

    I think that might be your problem there.

  8. Tali says:

    I agree with you for the most part Ken, but I also feel that the same can be said for dance history. As far as I know most schools don't offer "Dance History" as a major, but there is certainly the ability to specialize as a history major in dance, as that falls under cultural history which is a legitimate sub-discipline, for how can you understand history if you don't understand the people and their culture (their literature, their architecture, their dances). The skills of a cultural historian (particularly the ability to look understand what motivates people, by looking at their choices) is very valuable in the work world. I've known several history majors who when on to be successful lawyers, insurance adjusters, and academics.
    So I don't think that it is fair to group someone who studied "dance history" in with Gender Studies or Pop Culture, they should be on the same plain as art history, but then again as someone who majored in history and almost wrote my senior thesis on Irish Dance and culture in the late 18/early 1900s (I ended up changing to something less time consuming when my pregnancy became difficult), I may be a bit biased.

  9. David says:

    I'll make you a deal then. You stop asserting that my education in computer science and software engineering didn't train me to deal with "paradox and gray" and I'll stop asserting that many people will be better off with a degree in some job focused field + a library card and a bit of self motivation.

    A binary alternative, eh? ;)

    Ode to a biconditional

    A chip on his shoulder quite boolean
    About whether he got enough schoolean
    Of just the right sort
    To frame a retort
    Left the programmer feeling cerulean.

  10. Paul says:

    The purpose of a college education is to learn critical thinking skills; all else is gilding the lily.

  11. TheOtherMatt says:

    This is John Leo we're talking about though, the guy who once said that the ACLU was a left wing front that didn't care about the First Amendment. So it's not like he actually knows anything about anything He;s just a dime a dozen pundit who thinks because he's working in the traditional media his opinions ipsofacto hold more weight then say The Mad Monarchist's

  12. Adrian Ratnapala says:

    Art history is indeed all that Ken says it is. But it is also almost the epitome of what you do because your are upper class and therefore will go to university. And that has a good pedigree, it's been going on since at least 859 AD (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_oldest_madrasahs_in_continuous_operation0

  13. David says:

    Ceci n'est pas un Ken.

  14. Gavin says:

    Actually, it may be a "good luck" scenario because of the prevailing perception that those fields are easier than others or somehow inherently useless. It doesn't really matter how useful or how difficult the degree actually is, it only matters how the interviewer perceives it. This is unfortunate but it's also why I double majored. I majored in Religion for my first degree because I wanted learn about cultures and what people believe around the world and then I majored in Business Administration (a.k.a. my money making degree) simply to have employability. The continued education I recieved after that made this point moot but I'm still glad I took that route early on.

    My point is that my religion degrees was hard as hell and I learned more about the world around me than I ever did in Business Administration. I could have slept through my business classes I was so bored but still ended up at the top of my class. I don't think my classmates even tried and this was a legitimate college of business. I did learn how to manage my finances, how to manage individuals given the situation, how not to get sued in business and even what some contracts mean. But my first job was in research. My religion degree taught me everything about that but it was the business degree they demanded. *sigh*

    So yes, good luck to anyone getting those degrees who wishes to find somewhat easy employment compared to those with degrees in areas percieved to be more desireable. It will be more difficult for you whether or not the perception is right. Just remember how you were once treated when you finally achieve a position to hire others.

  15. David says:

    @Ae Viescas:

    So first you complain that no one takes your discipline seriously, and then you proceed to defend it by saying "people don't realize how important we are but we're not like those other disciplines that people don't take seriously (but I don't know what they do either)?"

    I believe I said that I couldn't speak with authority on the disciplines I hadn't undertaken. Wittgenstein, eh wot eh wot.

    I mention late-comers and novelties with a dubious whisper, but that's only because common sense leads me to infer that there must be some fluff out there, even if this ain't it.

    In short you've managed to criticize "STEMmers" while acting exactly like them to everyone who's not you.

    I think that might be your problem there.

    Er… I am a STEMmer. My target is the set of those who only see mutual exclusion in a world of possible conjunction.

    Reading is fundamental.

  16. Sean says:

    Art history can and should be defended. The number of people who currently study art history, probably not. The quality of information provided to students of art history about their future employment prospects in that field, not at all.

  17. Mike K says:

    I'm feeling like I missed something. When did someone named Ken say something?

    Liked your point, but then I did major in two fields that most people agree are legit. Really the major only sets an area where you are knowledgeable and beyond that doesn't mean that you aren't in some other area or that you will have a job just because there are jobs somewhere in your field.

  18. A leap at the wheel says:

    "A binary alternative, eh?"

    No, a marginal one.

  19. zipper says:

    As someone who got a well-paying job right out of college (2008, no less) then a better job in 2009 with what amounted to a BFA in creative writing, I've always had questions about this whole debate.

    Basically, I had one good idea when I got out of college that has been paying me ever since: instead of looking for jobs under the 'writing' category in craigslist, I looked under 'business/management.' People who advertise jobs in writing tend to have extremely narrow criteria ('Masters degrees only', 'published authors only', 'background in mid-20th century hard-edge abstraction criticism preferable'), to pay poorly, and to behave as if they're doing you a favor. People in business and management, however, have the strange experience at age 25 or 30, after their businesses are doing well, of realizing that all that 'writing' and 'grammar' stuff they didn't pay much attention to at school is now necessary for them to do their marketing/industry reports/customer communications. And they approach that problem in a businesslike way: they find and hire someone to do the job. The people of this sort that I have dealt with have been great at setting expectations and knowing when they need to get out of the way and let the writer do the writing–precisely the opposite of the experience I've had at the jobs advertised as writing jobs.

    I definitely have friends who shoot themselves in the feet around this: they want a job that fulfills them as a writer, as an artist. I'm all for trying to find a job like that if you can, but insisting that anything else is unacceptable? If you develop the mindset that you're a craftsman, the way a blacksmith or a saddlemaker was a craftsman, then you start to realize that the most important thing in your business life is not self-fulfillment; it is finding honest, honorable people with whom to deal. There are whole categories of art that craftsmen throughout history made to satisfy their creative impulses. Instead of cultivating the mindset that you're above that, if you have a degree in the humanities you should be learning to celebrate it. I know I have. I still write and love writing poetry, but because I don't rely on it for income I have the freedom to release it into the public domain without worrying at all about it. My poetry is a tiny speck in a vast universe of creative work by pretty much every living human since there were such things. That's the most honorable company I can imagine being in.

  20. David says:

    @Sean Indeed. But then, the number who currently go to college at all probably cannot be defended, and the number of colleges probably cannot be defended, and the quality and timing of job counseling (and financial aid counseling) probably cannot be defended! So "art history" is just a placeholder for "higher ed" in your remark, right?

  21. NL_ says:

    I think the problem with art history is the same as gender studies, literature, English or other humanities: they are very subjective, so it's harder for outsiders to gauge the rigor of a program.

    "isn't it true that technically you can take the bar exam even if you haven't gone to law school?"

    I think this is only true in California and maybe a couple other states. In California, if you study under an attorney (for 3 or 4 years) or go to a non-ABA law school, you can take the "baby bar." If you pass, then you can take the regular CA bar. Which is apparently one of the harder states.

    Wisconsin has the opposite. If you graduate from Wisconsin or Marquette law school, you can skip the bar and practice automatically in the state.

  22. Gavin says:

    To summarize what I said earlier:

    The actual value of a major to society and it's actual relative degree of difficulty doesn't matter if the interviewer thinks it's worthless.

    What he listed are degrees that employers regularly snub their noses at. He is not wrong that employers do that with these degrees. If the goal of the interview is to get a job, these degrees will be a liability and not a benefit except in very specific areas.

  23. David says:

    "A binary alternative, eh?"

    No, a marginal one.

    @A leap at the wheel

    The deal is that if I concede your sensitivity to the nebular, you'll stop equating humanistic education with the hearty wielding of a library card.

    If I concede, then you stop. Material implication.
    Presumably, given the language of dealmaking that you employed, it's also the case that
    If I don't concede, then you don't stop. (This does not and cannot follow from the material implication. Rather, it interprets "deal".)

    More simply, then, the deal you propose is this: you stop if and only if I concede. Biconditionality.

    You recall the truth tables for biconditionality, right?

    1. 'I concede' and 'you stop'.
    2. 'I concede' and 'it is not the case that you stop'.
    3. 'It is not the case that I concede' and 'you stop'.
    4. 'It is not the case that I concede' and 'it is not the case that you stop'.

    As you'll recall, there are exactly two of those four possible worlds in which the biconditional is verified: 1 and 4.

    So there are exactly two worlds relevant to your "deal": 1 and 4.

    So the option on your deal is a selection of exactly one of two mutually exclusive worlds.

    So your deal is a binary alternative, as you no doubt learned early in your study of computer science and software engineering.

    Of course, it's possible that the response I expressed in a natural language left room for misunderstanding. But then, that's where competence with paradox and gray would've served you well. ;)

  24. Ae Viescas says:

    @David

    I believe I said that I couldn't speak with authority on the disciplines I hadn't undertaken. Wittgenstein, eh wot eh wot.

    I mention late-comers and novelties with a dubious whisper, but that's only because common sense leads me to infer that there must be some fluff out there, even if this ain't it.

    Which is funny, because "common sense" also says that Art History is a worthless filler degree. As one learns in "academy novelty" cultural studies classes, "common sense" is nothing more than a commonly held opinion, correct or not.

    Er… I am a STEMmer. My target is the set of those who only see mutual exclusion in a world of possible conjunction.

    Reading is fundamental.

    Actually, you said you were in both, hence why I surrounded "STEMmer" in quotes to delineate you from the "purists."

    Who frequently make spurious arguments, to be sure, but riddle me this: if you can't be bothered enough to learn about other disciplines to give even a passing opinion as to why they're relevant and just sort of "assume" that fluff must be everywhere, why should the purists — who have no humanities background or see what humanities background they have as a useful hobby rather than a "real education" — bother?

    I'm not trying to attack you, but rather say that defending one's discipline(s) while ignoring others is a losing battle. A losing battle for everyone.

  25. Dan Irving says:

    @Shannon, @Adrian,

    The author of this post is David, not Ken.

    Full Disclosure: I'm double majored in Communications (Film) and History. Neither prepared me for my job as a Quality Analyst.

  26. It's not clear to me from the tone of his piece whether Leo himself inhabits that context-free world or whether he is merely reporting on an attitude prevalent among employers (I gather from comments upthread that it's probably the former, or at best both, but I'm not qualified to judge). He's right about one thing, though: Many college graduates aren't really educated. Not necessarily because they devoted themselves to new-fangled or otherwise impractical disciplines, but because of failures earlier in the process. How so many people can get into college, let alone graduate, let alone go on to pursue and achieve more advanced degrees, without some rudimentary level of literacy, I don't quite understand, but so it is – they may have long strings of alphabet soup after their names, but they can't spell worth a damn, put three words together into a coherent sentence, or tell you how many beans make five. I don't know when I became a you-kids-get-off-my-lawn curmudgeon advocating the three R's, but I think it must have been about the time copy-editing went out of fashion because 1. nobody cared; 2. nobody was competent to do it; 3. self-esteem had become more important than clarity of language. The day the Washington Post mistakes "principle" for "principal"…. Oy, Zeitgeist – ARGH. But I digress. As usual. Or at any rate I diverge, because I do think the point about literacy is an important one. Still, where I really intended to go with this is that no discipline or field of endeavor exists in a vacuum, and educators and employers who fail to see that are doing themselves (and their students or prospective employees) no favors. Me – OK, granted I'm probably unemployable, so it's just as well I've always been my own boss, but the principle still applies – I've been a lighting designer, a computer consultant/programmer, a culinary historian, and now a knitting designer, and I'm here to tell you, ALL of those skills (throw in my extensive background in music and dance, too) are interdependent. There is no art or design without math; there is no code without style and structure and syntax; there is no life without context. My own predilections tend to come down more on the humanistic side than on the STEM side, but I never lose sight of the fact that one informs the other, and that I'd be sunk if I didn't have some proportion of both in my make-up.

    Sheesh, narrow-minded blinkered thinking… it annoys me and it scares the bejesus out of me.

    ObTopic: Those who forget Art History – or indeed Music History, Gastronomic History, Textile History, or any other deep thoughtful cultural exploration – are probably doomed to repeat it.

    Disclaimer: I ain't got no degree, nohow. College drop-out, I are it. But I'm still better-edumacated than most of today's crop of alphabet-soupers, I betcha, because I know how to think and I have some idea what learning is FOR. That and a couple of bucks will almost get me on the subway.

  27. David says:

    @Ae Viescas

    Which is funny, because "common sense" also says that Art History is a worthless filler degree. As one learns in "academy novelty" cultural studies classes, "common sense" is nothing more than a commonly held opinion, correct or not.

    "Common Sense" has more than one definition, as one might have learned had one undertaken a philologically or philosophically oriented study of art history. In contrast to "nothing more than a commonly held opinion", here's a tasty option: "the basic principles at work in human reasoning and belief formation." I like the cut of its doxastic jib.

    In any event, I'm willing in principle to grant the possibility, whatever its likelihood, that every academic discipline, however fresh or trendy, is a precious snowflake wholly worthy of its place in the curriculum. I'm thus willing because the question you raise is logically irrelevant to the point I was making. You're struggling to gain purchase on the claim that I'm being hypocritical for disdaining Z while complaining that X disdains Y. But I'm uncommitted with regard to Z. Your struggle is in vain.

    hence why I surrounded "STEMmer" in quotes to delineate you from the "purists."

    Sorry I don't natively grok your special language of semantic quotation marks. Is a guide available for the new?

    I'm not trying to attack you, but rather say that defending one's discipline(s) while ignoring others is a losing battle. A losing battle for everyone.

    With respect, your claim is incoherent. Let's say there are infinitely many disciplines. If I wish to defend one, must I defend all? Of course not. Now let's say there are finitely many disciplines but a good ol' heap indeed. If I wish to defend one, must I defend all?

    You see, rational communication about this sort of thing requires delimited scope. That's why you're mistaken to think that "defending one's discipline(s) while ignoring others is a losing battle". Did Chamberlain fight a losing battle by focusing on Little Round Top?

  28. Leif says:

    Education is to give people the tools to communicate and think within a field. Once you start working you actually begin to learn. Information is too easily obtained now to dismiss someone so easily, and those who do are putting themselves at a significant disadvantage.

  29. Ken says:

    I can't honestly say that I learned any valuable skills majoring in Political Science — except, perhaps, how to get an A- without really mastering a subject or particularly trying. Oh, and it got me into law school.

  30. David says:

    @Tsarina No question, the standards have slipped. Social engineers failed to play the long game, and now the teachers and methods are themselves a product of the system. The long tail of excellent educators and apt pupils cannot reverse the trend without some sort of liberating systemic intervention.

    I admire your enterprising spirit.

  31. Missiletoe says:

    @zipper – I like your argument for craftsmen over artist.

  32. Dan Irving says:

    For some reason Gordon Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares came to mind when I read the article. One of the things he does with any restaurant he helps is pare down the menu and make things simple (or 'Rustic'). Restauranteurs want diverse, complex menus thinking it will entice more customers. The fact that they are failing is lost on them.

    Colleges are a for-profit enterprise. A diverse 'menu' of majors will temp more HS graduates and thus rake in a greater share of the subsequent student aid which is guaranteed by the government.

    This is by design. That is what I got from the article. As a COM major I wasn't offended by the authors inclusion of my major as one that was perceived as having less weight. For me it was an attempt at levity – good natured ribbing, "Eh, You majored in Underwater Basket Weaving? Good luck with that!".

  33. Luke says:

    I think part of the disdain towards some of the humanities majors (both old and new) is the thought that those obtaining those degrees have not gone through the same level of academic rigor as someone who has obtained a STEM degree. Can they be academically rigorous? Certainly. Are they as academically rigorous? I have no idea. As someone with a BS in Computer Science I have met my fair share of programmers that can't even write basic code.

  34. Jim Hall says:

    I run a technical consulting firm. One of the most important people here has a degree in communications. She prepares proposals, edits technical papers, negotiates contracts develops business and calms angry clients. She .. communicates. On the other hand, I often run across engineers who can't compose a coherent sentence.

    With that said, I often wonder about the usefulness of degrees in things like "gender studies". In the end, it is all about the individual person and the effort they put into their education. And the effort that they put into their job, and their life thereafter.

  35. David says:

    @zipper Excellent stuff!

  36. Luke says:

    @Jim Hall & @zipper

    What I wouldn't have given if some of my past employers would just hire someone to write business requirements & help with technical documentation. Managers seem to view scope documents like poisonous snakes.

  37. Grandy says:

    How weird it is that I work in an industry where I usually do have to pass a test as part of the interview process; indeed, if no test is given that's likely a red flag for the part of the prospective employer.

  38. @David –

    … now the teachers and methods are themselves a product of the system. The long tail of excellent educators and apt pupils cannot reverse the trend without some sort of liberating systemic intervention.

    Yes! This! So very, very much this. Could not agree more. The issue there becomes not so much whether a particular discipline is or is not worthy or practical (though incidentally I would submit that the problem with many of today's specialized disciplines is that they are lacking in… well… discipline), but whether it is of any value at all if it is unsupported by a broader and more basic educational foundation. My closest friend is a high school English teacher with a bright and inquiring mind, a thoughtful and unflinching approach to her work. At crunch time I often help her with her mountain of grading, and it scares all hell out of me to see what passes muster in the current educational system. Not to mention the narrowness of focus in the curriculum. (I also find it a little spooky that she constantly defers to me for questions of language, definitions of words, and all-round knowledge of the literature. It seems wrong to me that she should not by definition be the better-read of the two of us – but even she, only a few years my junior, is to some degree a victim of the only-what's-literally-required approach to teaching. Really only a short step sideways from the blinkered world-view Leo writes about. And mind you, within that framework she is a really EXCELLENT teacher; I hate to think what students get, or rather don't get, from the mediocre ones.)

    As for the enterprising spirit… thanks, but some of us don't have a choice; for good or ill, it's just how we're wired. Ain't no point in swimming against that tide. It leads to FAIL. That way madness lies. Also, tears before bedtime.

  39. Bill says:

    I'm fond of saying that I have a minor in art history, so I may end up homeless, but at least I'll know what statue I'm lying under. I don't know who to attribute the saying to.

  40. Bearman says:

    @zipper, like your point. Though I would imagine that a blacksmith would want to make some ornate piece of art but most of the time people pay him to make horseshoes. So even in craftsman trades, you can't always do what you want.

  41. George William Herbert says:

    Paul wrote:

    The purpose of a college education is to learn critical thinking skills; all else is gilding the lily.

    I'm shocked; my parents and the adults around me taught me that starting when I was young. By college I was figuring out how to be both highly knowledgeable and educated, and simultaneously able and willing to admit when I got it wrong / fucked it up.

  42. sam says:

    I can't honestly say that I learned any valuable skills majoring in Political Science — except, perhaps, how to get an A- without really mastering a subject or particularly trying. Oh, and it got me into law school.

    I still joke that I majored in "not planning on getting a job after college".

    But my joint degree in Political Science and (yes) Women's Studies, with a minor in Sociology did get me into law school (back when that was still a good idea).

    Somehow no one who has seen me practice corporate securities law for the past dozen or so years seems to care that I had a silly major. Of course, it wasn't actually silly, and is the foundation for much of what I consider my critical thinking skills today, but I recognize that other people may see it as such.

  43. zipper says:

    I've run into this humanities v. STEM argument in a few places, and I think I can articulate the caricature of both sides:

    STEM: Those lazy artists think they should be paid for their finger painting/poetry/interpretive dance, even though those things add nothing to society! I go to work every day and I have to meet firm requirements regarding what I have to produce. Why should THEY get paid for just making stuff up as they go?

    HUMANITIES: Those STEM people were just born with temperaments and aptitudes suited to doing easily-measurable work! They get out of college and they're GUARANTEED jobs that pay > $80k/year instantly! The dream for us is finding a residency at an art program that comes with a $20k annual stipend, which we'll still have to supplement by working at a coffee shop. Why is that too much to ask?

    Anyone familiar with the reality on either side of that can see the fallacies instantly. Almost everyone ends up letting go of some of what they want when they need to actually find a job. I know I was surprised to find that there were almost no real 'business types' in the cube farm–there were sports fans and hikers and parents and one or two truly world-class drinkers. A lot of those people had STEM backgrounds. There are probably about as many STEM people who are temperamentally suited to spending long hours in the office as there are artists who get to make a living from their art.

    And when it comes to the stuff STEM people say about humanities majors, about the way none of it is measurable, it's exactly the same. There are huge numbers of artifacts in the world that aren't empirically measurable. Take a pair of jeans and say, "Is this OPTIMAL?" The question is as nearly meaningless as makes no difference. Look at a wedding bouquet, or a corporate event, or a logo. The most common misunderstanding I've heard STEM folks exhibit is that there are standards for any number of disciplines that you can just follow to get the result you're looking for. There aren't, and the ability to be creative and make stuff up is hugely valuable in a lot of fields.

    The thing that makes everyone uncomfortable, no matter which side you're on, is the fear that society isn't going to value your contribution highly enough to support you. And for artists, a lot of that fear really can come from the fact that, deep in your heart, you think that you might be the only one who cares about your art, and that what you're doing is just totally self-indulgent. And I'm less sure what it is for STEM folks, but my guess would be that it's a fear that what you do is so easy to overlook that no one will give you credit when their car doesn't explode, or their bank transfer goes through, or their house continues to stand up for the 50th consecutive year. And those kinds of doubts and fears are just hard to fight, no matter who you are. And that's why you need to be observant, and try to notice what someone else needs that you can help with, because that's what's going to reassure you that you're valued. You don't get a guarantee that you'll be valued for what you want to do. You'll probably be valued for something you CAN do, even if it's not exactly what you wanted.

  44. David says:

    …my religion degrees was hard as hell…

    @Gavin Well put!

  45. David says:

    I'm less sure what it is for STEM folks, but my guess would be that it's a fear that what you do is so easy to overlook that no one will give you credit when their car doesn't explode, or their bank transfer goes through, or their house continues to stand up for the 50th consecutive year.

    Perhaps that. But perhaps the fear is also that within your lifetime, or within that of the little STEMsprouts you're rearing, a job function such as yours will be wholly automated because your professional judgments and tasks are, in the end, wholly quantifiable. The fear, in other words, that you are reducible without loss to the proverbial cog in a machine….

  46. Orville says:

    I have twenty years of experience writing software professionally. I have been writing computer programs since I was eight years old. Problem is I do not have a college degree, so there are tons of employers out there who will not even look at my resume.

    This makes me think that the problem with employers today goes beyond their viewing specific college programs as worthless. The underlying issue is they are using college degrees for something they are not really intended to be – proof that someone has the necessary attributes to do something professionally.

    Please note – I am saying "attributes" not "knowledge". College can certainly teach someone how a process works, underlying philosophies and other important information. What it can not teach is how to apply that knowledge in the real world – and that is what businesses need people to do.

    I have met several people with computer science degrees who can not program their way out of a wet paper bag. They are incapable of looking at how their piece of the puzzle fits into the greater whole. They lack the foresight to imagine how what they have built can be broken. They have the skills college gave them, but lack the attributes necessary to thrive in the profession.

    A good interview process is needed to identify people like that before they are hired. Judging people based on the degree they have does not play any part in that process. Their college degree only tells you what they were taught – not what they can do.

  47. Mike K says:

    @Tsarina I can see what you are saying about teachers. There are so many requirements for public schools and high schools in general that it's hard for things to go beyond what's required. I was talking with one of my teachers once and mentioned that I felt like she was teaching to the bottom of the class (I was one of the crazy kids that would take the final that was graded on a curve just for fun when I didn't have to) and she always thought she was teaching to the middle. Either way the approach leaves some students with less than they could have had, but enough to pass the tests. That said, I had several teachers that went beyond the bare minimum and actually attempted to inspire students.

    I wouldn't say the great teachers that do really inspire their students are gone, they're just harder to find under all the teachers that are mediocre. I also get the feeling that private schools suffer less from that problem than public and colleges suffer less than high schools. This is subjective since I attended a public high school and a private college and know that the attitudes of the teachers were a lot different between the two and otherwise I have no information on it.

    As far as usefulness of majors, I picked both of mine because I enjoyed the subjects. I took 16-18 credit hours a semester and other than a handful of classes that were required, I enjoyed at least some aspect of every course. In some I was pretty much able to do what I wanted. Based on what I enjoyed (and majored in) I decided on a broad profession. Now, I'm doing some tedious things and have the opportunity to try new things and do some cool stuff. I enjoy thinking about how a process that took hours of work to get a quote done before now takes minutes and is actually accurate rather than being guesswork.

  48. Dan Weber says:

    I'm frightened when I think of what advice I need to give to my kids. The colleges seem only too ready to charge as much as possible in all cases. Yet not going to college leaves you marked in the job market; employers can legally discriminate against you all they wish if you don't have one.

  49. Gavin says:

    @Sam,

    I'm guessing your LSAT had a little more to do with you getting into Law School than your degree. Then the subsequent passing of the bar along with your law degree got you the job. That's one of the great things about law, the undergrad can be anything you want to learn (probably to compensate for the next few years of getting shit on).

    @Orville,

    Job experience is often taken over degrees. But nowadays employers don't even look at resumes without a degree in the appropriate area. Likewise, consider that someone who had a degree in computer science and only ten years in your field could get preference over you. You paid for your place in this field in years and sheer experience. People like you are becoming a rarity and that's kinda funny because it's usually your type of worker that does a great job.

  50. Ae Viescas says:

    @David

    "Common Sense" has more than one definition, as one might have learned had one undertaken a philologically or philosophically oriented study of art history. In contrast to "nothing more than a commonly held opinion", here's a tasty option: "the basic principles at work in human reasoning and belief formation." I like the cut of its doxastic jib.

    In any event, I'm willing in principle to grant the possibility, whatever its likelihood, that every academic discipline, however fresh or trendy, is a precious snowflake wholly worthy of its place in the curriculum. I'm thus willing because the question you raise is logically irrelevant to the point I was making. You're struggling to gain purchase on the claim that I'm being hypocritical for disdaining Z while complaining that X disdains Y. But I'm uncommitted with regard to Z. Your struggle is in vain.

    Except we both know that wasn't what you meant, because it would turn your original use of "common sense" into mush. "I used those phrases because I was informed by basic principles at work in human reasoning and belief formation" is a pretty poor argument. "I used those phrases because everyone knows this is true" otoh makes more sense, is more often what people mean when they use the phrase, makes you sound like less of a jerk, and might be an effective argument in some circumstances but not really this one.

    For what it's worth, I don't think you're a hypocrite. But neither have you entirely thought through your argument, its context, and its implications. Falling prey to the unchallenged assumption that "fluff disciplines are everywhere" is one of them.

    Sorry I don't natively grok your special language of semantic quotation marks. Is a guide available for the new?

    Yeah I could have explained that better. I meant the people who think that STEM is the most important part of education and the rest is fluff, quoted because I just made it up two seconds ago. "Team STEM" would be another phrase, and "STEM purists" is probably more effective than my original choice of words.

    With respect, your claim is incoherent. Let's say there are infinitely many disciplines. If I wish to defend one, must I defend all? Of course not. Now let's say there are finitely many disciplines but a good ol' heap indeed. If I wish to defend one, must I defend all?

    There is actually a middle ground between "completely ignoring other disciplines" and "learning every discipline to better defend it."

    It generally involves some or all of the following:
    -learning a few disciplines that you're unfamiliar with (such as those that don't have a long and venerable history like Art History does) and then determining whether or not you can generalize from them. Note that you don't really need to learn the discipline in its totality to know why it is useful. Just as one "judges a tree by its fruits," you can determine whether or not these disciplines produce good students (defining "good student" in a satisfactory way)
    -learning the process behind how disciplines get selected by colleges, generally by consulting people who have a close proximity to how it all works (I personally like blogs such as Easily Distracted[1] for this… but its quite long and focuses on a lot of topics. This will give you more insight as to when "1950's dances in Montana" is a good discipline to have at a college or a bad one.
    -summarizing the information you've got from these sources not to distract from the main point or try to defend all disciplines in one post but to augment the general "pro-humanities" stance you're attempting to take.

    That middle ground is actually quite important if you want to preserve the humanities by spreading awareness about it. It is less important if all you want to protect is Art History, but that's what I say is the losing battle.

    You see, rational communication about this sort of thing requires delimited scope. That's why you're mistaken to think that "defending one's discipline(s) while ignoring others is a losing battle". Did Chamberlain fight a losing battle by focusing on Little Round Top?

    This is a very interesting analogy, though I wonder about the implications of proclaiming Art History the Little Round Top of humanities. I think quite a few people would disagree that defending Art History is the key to winning Gettysb–er, I mean, keeping the humanities from being eliminated.

    [1] Professor Burke teaches at my alma mater, though I never took any classes from him (and rather regret it)

  51. Adam says:

    IMHO, the intrinsic value of the study of fine arts and liberal arts is real, but overstated as it comes to applicability elsewhere. Yes he wrongly impugns art history and study. But he starts by saying that "many college graduates aren’t really educated." That's the truth.

    The real problem is the failure of some (perhaps many) students to broaden their interests and skills so that can contribute and gain employment beyond their chosen specialization. Certainly this is also a failure of the universities – and certainly a failure of lazy employers to *assume* that somebody who studied art doesn't also know how to do math or write project proposals or whatever is required – but sadly, the stereotype exists for a reason.

    So if you want to study clarinet playing, excellent. Clarinet playing is a lovely and rewarding endeavor, and the study of music generally will likely bring you lifelong fulfillment. Those are good enough reasons to pursue formal education in the field. You will also perhaps learn a few other transferable skills simply by applying yourself to your passion. But assume you have no chance of becoming a concert clarinetist. Or accept that the reality is actually going to be the much less fun – gigging and teaching 12-year old kids in order to stay poor for the rest of your life. Act accordingly: pursue your passion, but *don't just study music*. Get good at math; learn how to write well; learn how to code; learn how to learn. And not to pick on the softer sciences, I think engineers, etc., would do well to do the same.

    Then figure out how to make sure your potential employer realizes that's what you've done.

  52. M. says:

    Surprising words from an art history blogger.

  53. @Mike K. – I should probably clarify. I think my friend is a great teacher, one who inspires her students, and I know many such. What worries me is not their attitude or the quality of their work; what worries me is that from factual and cultural standpoints they can only teach what they know themselves, and what they have been taught does not measure up to what I consider a real education. (There's also a fuzzy line to be drawn here between formal education and knowledge acquired in other ways. I think I've learned a lot more from omnivorous/obsessive reading and varied experience than a lot of people learn in schools. Then again, I was lucky – both my home environment and the peculiar combination of schools I went to taught me a lot about how to channel my natural curiosity and make it work for me; far be it from me to undervalue either.) There's this narrow focus these days on "teaching to the test," which in my view is very much analogous to evaluating a prospective employee based on academic credentials alone. Neither of these has anything to do with real learning or accomplishment. The thing is… I don't remember a time when learning something new didn't make me want to explore further in the same direction, and it confounds me that so many people end up eating only what is served to them without ever thinking to look at the menu and see what else there might be to tempt them. I don't know how much of that is nature and how much nurture, but either way it seems to me that one of the prime functions of education is – or should be – to draw people out, to challenge them to reach beyond their grasp and carve out learning and discovery for themselves. I guess I liken it to the old saw about teaching a man to fish (and not just so he can spend the day in a boat drinking beer, not that that isn't a delightful and worthy pursuit in itself).

    Actually, I take it back. I do remember a time when I was taught something that I didn't pursue to its extreme, and this may be exactly why I feel so strongly on the subject. I was started on music theory when I was 7, and somehow it never occurred to anyone in my extravagantly-music-oriented family that it might be necessary to explain to me what this stuff was about and what it was for, and why I was being subjected to it. I was substantially younger than everyone else in my class (that's nepotism for you), and a fish out of water in almost every possible way. I dutifully learned what I could by rote and did reasonably well at it, considering, but with no context for what I learned I never made the leap to applying it, never acquired the mental muscle memory that would have integrated it into a real skill. It wasn't until many years later that I found myself wishing for that foundation, and realizing how and why I had missed the boat. Never again.

  54. Kat says:

    @Paul: "The purpose of a college education is to learn critical thinking skills; all else is gilding the lily."

    Unless you're studying something like accounting, in which case you want to learn that things like tax law, cost accounting, the dreaded Sarbanes-Oxley Act, and how to operate most accounting systems you'll come across, among others.

    There might be a distinction to be drawn between majors that prepare you for tests vs. majors that teach you general thinking skills, in that with the ones that are for tests it's pretty standard what any graduate learns, because they want you to be able to pass the test and the test is standardized.

    I don't want to make the argument that majors without tests are inherently worse than the ones with tests. I'm just saying that they seem to be less standardized and so can vary in quality more easily. The standardized ones tend to not go beyond the bounds of what the test looks for, so they tend to be less flexible than a well-designed non-test major.

  55. LTMG says:

    In the past 31 years I have interviewed about 1500 candidates and hired hundreds of them into manufacturing operations companies and at all levels up to director level. Degrees in the hard sciences, engineering, technology, and business are door openers but are not absolutes. Holders of any degree need to show me how they can get results and help me achieve the targets my bosses have given me or the ones I set. I also look for the internal fire the candidates have to do something. Finally, the right combination of experience and wisdom can definitely trump a STEM degree. Relevant experience can certainly come from hobbies and outside interests candidates have pursued.

    If holders of liberal arts degrees can show me how they can use what they have learned to satisfy internal and external customers, then they will get my attention.

    After reading Professor Allan Bloom's book The Closing of the American Mind and reflecting on what he states, I am convinced of the power of a liberal arts degree combined with a STEM or business degree. People holding STEM or business degrees know something about how to solve problems. People holding liberal arts degrees often have good critical thinking skills, and will know why certain problems need solving and others do not. In my world, the distinction is often very important. In addition, knowing when to solve problems or to act also matters.

    To summarize, I look for the internal drive to get things done, knowing how to get things done, knowing what things to get done, knowing when to get them done, being able to work within a team, knowing when to lead, and knowing when to stop opining and follow. A combination of both a STEM and liberal education can often provide the foundation for these attributes in a candidate.

  56. David says:

    @Ae Viescas

    Except we both know that wasn't what you meant, because it would turn your original use of "common sense" into mush.

    Actually, that usage is exactly what I had in mind because I'm much more preoccupied with Reidian epistemology than with what the madding crowd happens to think.

    Is it your normal practice to tell people what they mean rather than to learn from them what they mean?

    "I used those phrases because I was informed by basic principles at work in human reasoning and belief formation" is a pretty poor argument.

    That's not even a paraphrase of what I wrote (which was an explanation, not an argument). Here's what I wrote: "I mention late-comers and novelties with a dubious whisper, but that's only because common sense leads me to infer that there must be some fluff out there, even if this ain't it." Substituting the relevant definition of "common sense" yields this: "I mention late-comers and novelties with a dubious whisper, but that's only because basic principles at work in human reasoning and belief formation lead me to infer that there must be some fluff out there, even if this ain't it."

    Far from being "mush" and "a pretty poor argument", that paraphrase is a decent approximation of what I had in mind: (a) That the empirical appraisal of academic disciplines, especially in the humanities, is bound to be difficult; (b) that the same challenges of confirmation that plague the endeavor are themselves evidence of varying rigor and relevance in the sample; and (c) that warrant for beliefs, with countervailing defeaters accommodated, is the key determinant of whether I assert (as I did) that fluffy academic enterprises and those who overestimate their value likely obtain in the wild. Whether that might serve as a sound premise in some valid argument is open; here it only matters that what I meant and said is divorced from what you ascribe to me.

    But then, as noted, I think in epistemological terms nearly by default; for others, preferring a model of common sense to a colloquial definition of it may not come naturally. And that's fine. We hash these things out in a civil manner all the time.

    But please note: the fact that your mind goes to one place and mine to another when using ambiguous language doesn't automagically mean that you may first impose your preferred definitions on me and then criticize me for having employed them. They're yours, not mine. It's not my fault that an argument trussed up in what you mean, rather than in what I mean, fails to thrive.

    "I used those phrases because everyone knows this is true" otoh makes more sense, is more often what people mean when they use the phrase, makes you sound like less of a jerk

    Hearing what people mean rather than informing them of what they mean would make you sound less like a child.

    For what it's worth, I don't think you're a hypocrite. But neither have you entirely thought through your argument, its context, and its implications. Falling prey to the unchallenged assumption that "fluff disciplines are everywhere" is one of them.

    That's pretty amusing. :)

    There is actually a middle ground between "completely ignoring other disciplines" and "learning every discipline to better defend it." It generally involves some or all of the following:
    -learning a few disciplines that you're unfamiliar with (such as those that don't have a long and venerable history like Art History does) and then determining whether or not you can generalize from them….
    -learning the process behind how disciplines get selected by colleges, generally by consulting people who have a close proximity to how it all works….
    -summarizing the information you've got from these sources not to distract from the main point or try to defend all disciplines in one post but to augment the general "pro-humanities" stance you're attempting to take.

    Observations:
    1. You assume a great deal.
    2. When making a point using a token as a type, there's no reason to review and epitomize all tokens of that type.
    3. There are many ways to defend a pan-humanistic academic stance. There are few reasons to cling narrowly to the one you describe. Why not tolerate multiple approaches that serve a common cause rather than imperiously prescribe that anyone who mounts an argument along these lines must occupy what you regard as the middle ground?

    That middle ground is actually quite important if you want to preserve the humanities by spreading awareness about it. It is less important if all you want to protect is Art History, but that's what I say is the losing battle.

    Again, you're combatting a position that nobody has taken. "All you want to protect is Art History" is a strawman of your own imagining, not a representation of any claim I've made.

  57. David says:

    @M

    Surprising words from an art history blogger.

    That's an intriguing remark. What seems surprising to you?

  58. David says:

    @LTMG

    A combination of both a STEM and liberal education can often provide the foundation for these attributes in a candidate.

    I like this line of thinking.

  59. Patrick says:

    (n) Ger. An essential concept; a basic idea.

  60. David says:

    @Ae Viescas
    In case it helps you to understand the error in your thinking, here's the precise point at which you went off the rails:

    if you can't be bothered enough to learn about other disciplines to give even a passing opinion as to why they're relevant and just sort of "assume" that fluff must be everywhere

    The fallacy you commit is to start with my comment that "there must be some fluff out there, even if this ain't it" and to infer (mistakenly) that some other specific item on Leo's list (or some discipline you favor and imagine I have in view) is something I'd name as an example of that fluff.

    Note the conceptual difference between:
    a: the disciplines of material culture, critical theory, and comparative literature are fluff, and I claim that art history isn't.
    and
    b: with no particular discipline in view, one can safely infer that there must be some fluff somewhere, and I claim that art history isn't.

    If you discern the diff between these propositions, then consider that you're ascribing something formally like a to me while I'm actually proposing something like b.

    Hope that helps.

  61. George William Herbert says:

    LMTG:

    A combination of both a STEM and liberal education can often provide the foundation for these attributes in a candidate.

    David:

    I like this line of thinking.

    I do as well, but implementing it may be challenging.

    If you're in a STEM major, in top schools, they seem to be throwing more STEM stuff at you. I have a STEM degree from a tippy top tier public school, and taking time to get more humanities and broadening classes was like pulling nails with my teeth. I had 90+ out of 120 required semester credits in STEM coursework.

    It might be easier for for non STEM majors to take STEM classes, not sure. Can't speak to that from personal experience at least.

    If you believe in lifelong learning you will make your own ways anyways, but the system is aiming straight at specialization. Which is sad, because a lot of the top of the fields I play in are generalists…

  62. David says:

    @Patrick Genau. No shock, then, about my preferred definition and claims concerning it. :)

  63. Kathryn says:

    @George William Herbert

    It is doable. I went after two degrees simultaneously – one engineering, one philosophy. I knew I was looking for the ability to make this combination going into my college experience and selected accordingly. I picked a very good school, with a very dedicated and challenging engineering undergraduate program, that not only also had a great philosophy school, but a system in place to allow students to combine the two.

    The effort wasn't trivial, but good schools aren't ignorant of the benefits of a broad base in one's education and can be convinced to support the endeavor.

  64. M. says:

    @David: Nothing, actually, I was being facetious.

  65. Mike K says:

    Tsarina, I've learned a wider array of things from my own reading than I've ever learned in school. I don't really think it's necessary to know something to encourage a student to learn it. I know I've learned things in school that my teachers haven't taught me (other than social interactions). I've also discovered I can learn in many different ways while others can't, so that could have a lot to do with it. In your case, you might learn better with less foundation where most people require structure.

    I didn't mean to imply that your friend wasn't a great teacher, but I have known teachers that have seemed to rise above the problems you've mentioned. In general I agree with you that there are problems. One of the things I've read about that bothers me are elementary teachers that don't even understand the math they need to teach their students.

    I keep remembering how one time I was the only kid in the class that understood what the characters were saying. The characters were all speaking in dialect. Then again I also remember how a girl was bragging about having more points in the Accelerated Reading program than I had, which caused me to actually read for a little while other than at school in order to pass her.

  66. David says:

    @M Sorry I missed your irony. Point taken. Though strictly speaking I'm an eclectic tech blogger, with art as one of the techs….

  67. @Mike K. –

    I don't really think it's necessary to know something to encourage a student to learn it.

    Exactly right. Which in fact is why I do consider my friend a great teacher even though I am occasionally dumbfounded by the limits of her knowledge in certain areas. ;-) (Damn, that sounds condescending. It isn't meant to. She knows rings around me in other areas, though they don't happen to be directly related.)

    Also, your point is well-taken about different people having different learning styles, some needing more structure and some less, and others still responding better to different kinds of structure. (Vaguely analogous – since I started writing complex knitting patterns I have learned an enormous amount about how different people read and comprehend them. Left/right brain stuff – charts vs. language, depth perception, orientation, the complexities of handedness, mind-blowing things I'd never really thought about before. When you have to stop to make sure everybody knows what you mean by "up," "down," "near," "far," "front," and "back" – well, it really does something to your ideas about what constitutes precision in technical writing. A humbling business, sometimes.)

    Which sort of brings me back to David's original remarks about shades of grey (oh damn, will we EVER be able to use that phrase again without the sardonic eye-roll?), because most of us fall somewhere between the extremes, and the tricky part is finding the right balance. Me… I do need structure, but woe betide the structure that doesn't make sense, that is imposed without reason or justification (or even aesthetic purpose) just because. (Why yes, I did spend nine years too many at a Lycée, how could you tell?) When structure does more to hold me back than it does to support me… yeah, that's when I go out and build my own. I don't mean to suggest that everyone can or should do the same, but I am sad for the people who don't ever realize it might be a possibility. Somebody should tell them.

  68. George William Herbert says:

    Kathryn:

    I picked a very good school, with a very dedicated and challenging engineering undergraduate program, that not only also had a great philosophy school, but a system in place to allow students to combine the two.

    From what I experienced and have found researching and talking to academics, you found a gem there. Most places do not seem that open.

    That it can be done somewhere, anywhere, should be a lesson to the college students and schools. Students, in selecting their schools, and schools, in considering their students major/breadth education balance, and things like dual majors and serious credible minor programs and the like.

  69. Robert White says:

    Computer Science, that youngest of disciplines, is treated as a hallowed degree by so many. In the eighties, and internal study (not publicized) done by a number of private institutions of higher education (one of which employed me at the time) determined that about 85% of graduates with "computer science" or "information technology" degrees were essentially unemployable in their field on the day of graduation.

    Truth be told, however, most people are unemployable on the day of graduation from any undergrad degree. That's why in law there is a Bar Exam _and_ a sort of post-school internship. That's why doctors explicitly have an "internist" phase. It's also why the smartest graduate lieutenants from military academies immediately shut up and listen to what their senior chief or sergeant have to say as soon as they start talking.

    The only thing you -really- can assume upon seeing a degree is that the person so gifted has the ability to stick to a project for a given amount of time and swallow all the bullshit that was generated in that time.

    As a programmer et al, any job interview I go on starts with "okay, lets do a linked list" test of computer science 101 principles. (I actually find this hard to do since, in real life, I know when to pull out the libraries instead of insisting I can reinvent the wheel better than everyone who has come before; So I have had little temptation to keep doing entry-level reworks.)

    In fact the average job interview selects against experience, cleverness, and most of the paradigms of a professional (such as code reuse instead of reinvention).

    Why should any other job interview paradigm work out?

    You are basically trying to guess whether you should marry a complete stranger based on a checklist someone else handed to you.

  70. Robert White says:

    P.S. If sending a youngster off to school, tell them to avoid taking their undergrad work from a school famous for its graduate programs. The undergrad will never see anything but fumbling grad students and inconsistency in curricula engendered by same.

  71. SPQR says:

    David, I think you've gotten yourself quite lost in this discussion. While one can debate the intrinsic merit of various kinds of humanities degrees to the more esoteric, the reality is that the higher education industry has convinced people that these degrees are valuable in economics terms.

    And they are not.

    They are luxury goods. But they've convinced people to borrow obscene sums of money, in a legal environment that refuses to allow any escape from those loans, to buy luxury goods that the student/victims can't afford.

    STEM degrees have direct ties to career paths with remuneration above Starbucks wages.

    That's the bottom line.

  72. SPQR says:

    As for STEM versus liberal arts degrees, my experience has been that liberal arts degree holders were more credentialed but not more knowledgeable about the humanities than my STEM degreed acquaintances.

    In fact, I've seen more than one STEM degreed friend of mine turn out more knowledgeable in both depth and breadth in a humanities field than a humanities major. Its my opinion that today the Humanities departments do a poor job of actually educating people in their specialties.

  73. Ben says:

    It seems that formal education yields a benefit corresponding to your investment. If you perceive it as vocational training and pursue it as such, you will learn things among the realm of 'best practices' – and that may be very valuable. If you perceive it as pursuit of knowledge, you will learn things among the realm of the 'philosophies' (by which I mean, 'natural philosophy' or the scientific philosophy of physics, chemistry, et cetera…) – that too may have a great deal of value. If you perceive it as pursuit of personal enrichment, you will learn things among a less quantifiable realm of the 'humanities' – and that can hold value as well.

    I know two linguists, who have since moved to Israel and married ("because war zones are so romantic"), who have helped me in my efforts to communicate clearly and concisely tremendously – so just consider what I was like before I knew them.

    Now I would hardly say linguistics is a 'hard science' (other than that it is hard, for me personally), but it is one that yielded a massive benefit to me – via their deep understanding of it – in understanding and being understood.

    Purely anecdotal, of course, but I think we can extrapolate that simply because a study may not hold value to you, right now. does not mean that it is totally without value.

  74. Grandy says:

    I think FizzBuzz is a pretty good programming test in part because there's nothing about it that says "if you were doing this for serious, you wouldn't be writing this code".

  75. PhilG says:

    I've started to write this comment about 5 times now, so I give up on trying to get exactly what I want to say in words and here is my best shot:

    I think the difference between the pro/con Art History degree comes down to this: We have created a higher education system where you can focus not on the liberal arts, but on the study of the liberal arts. This is a purely personal pursuit that we have someone told our youth it is acceptable on which to solely focus. Attending a conservatory for music or art is not under attack by the "STEMmers" it's the culture of meta-study surrounding it which is leading to an ever increasing amount of degrees which are solely applicable to the continuation of the topic of the degree. The study of art history by itself does not prepare the average college student for any sort of reasonable job experience. This is not to say that no college study is capable of studying only art history and coming out prepared for all sorts of jobs, but that on average, this is not going to be the case.

    The idea that education should solely be for "job training" isn't a bad thing. Education should absolutely train you to be able to work whether that is in a STEM position, in the arts, or just study enough chemistry to make the perfect cup of coffee. I think the difference here is that people are saying you should focus your early education on something that will benefit you in the real world of life after college. Once you are on your feet, you should absolutely continue your education whether it is furthering job training or expanding your horizons in culture and arts. But to suggest that it is okay to do it in reverse seems counter productive and dangerous.

    Blah, there it is, please forgive typos and grammatical errors because I can't go through changing all that again.

  76. David says:

    David, I think you've gotten yourself quite lost in this discussion.

    I feel quite centered and content, thanks. A silver thread of discursive consistency runs through my remarks, and that's enough to get me back to Ariadne no matter how deeply I delve into the labyrinthine commentary.

    While one can debate the intrinsic merit of various kinds of humanities degrees to the more esoteric, the reality is that the higher education industry has convinced people that these degrees are valuable in economics terms.

    And they are not.

    I don't think the higher education industry goes to great lengths to convince anyone of the economic value of humanities degrees. Rather, the argument has to do with the claim that some values trump economic pragmatism.

    They are luxury goods. But they've convinced people to borrow obscene sums of money, in a legal environment that refuses to allow any escape from those loans, to buy luxury goods that the student/victims can't afford.

    No doubt there's a bubble, but I'd say the banking lobby has been more aggressive than the ed lobby in preventing legal escape from student loans.

    As for whether a humanistic education is a luxury good, I suppose that's inevitably so in one sense. In another, though, you posit a Dickensian world in which the poor lad lacking means and harboring dreams had better learn a trade, mind his place, and keep his distance from socially hallowed ground.

    STEM degrees have direct ties to career paths with remuneration above Starbucks wages.

    That's the bottom line.

    Not everyone lives a life in which cost-benefit analyses drive all decisions and benefits are always construed as monetary or material. Perversely, the dystopian vision you describe is one in which those who prize the "luxury" of humanistic learning lose access to it, while those who retain access to it do so precisely because they regard it as negligible!

    I've seen more than one STEM degreed friend of mine turn out more knowledgeable in both depth and breadth in a humanities field than a humanities major.

    I'd wager they're not representative of the whole. In my experience, though many stereotype-busters exist, most STEMlings are not just woefully uninformed on the humanities side but more than a tad anosognosic about that fact.

    Its my opinion that today the Humanities departments do a poor job of actually educating people in their specialties.

    Possibly so, though I'm not sure the humanities are unique in this. Too many colleges, too many students, and too much call for remediation complicate the endeavor.

  77. JWH says:

    I think what people (including possible employers) forget is that it's not so much the degree as what you do with it and the market for your specialty when you graduate.

    I will stipulate from the outset that somebody who majors in art history, but has no real interest or aptitude for the subject, let alone plans for a related career, is a fool. And quite frankly, that also goes for somebody who has little aptitude in, say, engineering, but nevertheless struggles for an engineering degree when his real aptitude lies in … art history!

    The problem with art history, IMO, is not that it's a "useless" major, but that prestigious jobs, let alone high-paying jobs, can be rare. An acquaintance once related to me the results of her graduate degree in art history, specializing in a particular period and geographic location — essentially, she needed to wait for a tenured person somewhere to die before she could move into her ideal job.

    But consider art history for a moment. Isn't that a good background, for, say, an art appraiser? Or perhaps somebody with a more general interest in history and archaeology? Or maybe that person wants to be an artist. Or maybe grab a few miscellaneous courses and work for an art-oriented nonprofit.

    My point is that the humanities majors aren't per se bad. The problem is that people who take them, but refuse to open their eyes to the reality of their fields post-graduation.

  78. Joe Pullen says:

    “The study of art history by itself does not prepare the average college student for any sort of reasonable job”

    I would say the study of art history, or any other discipline for that matter, does not necessarily prepare the average college student for any reasonable job. Well, first I suppose there is the whole task of defining what would be a “reasonable” job as that would vary depending on the individual. But I digress.

    I’ve seen far too many students graduate (whether STEM or liberal arts), only to do a “core dump” and essentially forget most of what they’ve learned over the last four years before entering the workforce and they have no idea how to practically apply what they’ve learned to a real world job.

    I ended up taking a different path out of pure economic necessity. My first two years were at a good community college where I graduated with a liberal arts Associates degree. I then went into the workforce in a lower paying job, saved up some money, and took out a student loan for the rest, and went back to school to complete the 2 ½ years needed to get my BSBA with a focus on technology and global economics. I did this while working full time and going to school at the same time. As difficult as it was to work full time while completing my degree it allowed me apply what I was learning to my job, and as a result I retained more of the material. I don’t regret the investment given that my current salary is close to 10 times what is was before I obtained my degree. Although that success is not necessarily due to the degree, the degree was the requisite entry card to my line of work. More importantly it was only after entering the workforce that I knew precisely what I wanted to do and subsequently what I really needed to accomplish in the way of a proper education.

    As far as employability – I always say if you are in a role that helps a company make money you will always have a job.

  79. Ben says:

    Grandy,

    I feel that it is far more important for someone to understand design patterns than to have a firm grasp of concrete implementations. It is far easier to demonstrate a superior algorithm than it is train them to practice proper encapsulation, coupling and cohesion.

    Some individuals that emerge from universities with Computer Science degrees have developed numerous bad habits. For the most part, my brother will not hire them – he believes it is more efficient to hire someone inclined towards mathematics, physics, chemistry (and a few English degrees, actually).

    In the rare case when something can be so complex (like migrating information from legacy systems, or complying with certain government standards) – he will satisfy that requirement by contracting it out.

  80. LTMG says:

    Regarding critical thinking skills, people who have a fair amount of probability and statistics in their tertiary education have experience in closely examining assumptions. Rigorously applying valid assumptions is crucial to designing useful experiments and performing tests of statistical significance. Without assumptions that are entirely correct, statistical inferences crumble to dust. Thus, there is at least one STEM discipline that does yield good critical thinking skills.

  81. Christopher says:

    Leo's article, to me, is a series of unconnected cliches. Here are three quotes:

    "Almost 54 percent of recent college graduates are underemployed or unemployed, even in scientific and technical fields, according to a study conducted for the Associated Press by Northeastern University researchers."

    "Good luck if you majored in gender studies, communications, art history, pop culture, or (really) the history of dancing in Montana in the 1850s."

    "Pop-culture courses are spreading—studying Lady Gaga, Madonna, or a TV sitcom is no longer unusual…"

    Questions like "How much less likely is the Montana Dance Major to get a job then the Engineering student?" or "Are these Lady Gaga classes the foundation of liberal arts degrees, or are they meant to be side classes that engineering majors can take to fulfill their non-engineering requirements?" seem to be suspiciously absent.

  82. S. Weasel says:

    I worked in the art department of a big corporate engineering company for many years (and, by the way, my own credentials wouldn't be sufficient to land me the job today — I'm an art school dropout). Don't overlook the extent to which the insistence on credentials is an easy way to turn weak candidates down without getting into a legal pickle.

    I heard through the grapevine we had an applicant for a field engineering job who had no engineering training at all. When he was turned down, he sued for racial discrimination. Apparently, he tried this game all over town.

  83. Grandy says:

    Ben, I see no reason why an interview can't check for both things. Though I wouldn't expect a college graduate to necessarily know a lot about design patterns. Those things are pretty teachable, though.

  84. Lizard says:

    Well, with a BA in English Writing, I'm clearly in the fuzzy wuzzy hippie commie camp… but I've earned a living for the past 20+ years primarily as a programmer, with a bit of writing (mostly in the RPG field, but some fiction) on the side. No one, at least no one smart, will say that the liberal arts are worthless (we'll leave aside, say, Otherkin Studies) — but at the same time, it's very foolish for people to study the liberal arts for the purposes of getting a high-paying job, and if you take out a humongous student loan in order to get it, yes, you will be laughed at. What any person wishes to do with their own time and money is 100% their business — study art history or smurf history, I'm not going to stop you — but don't then act all butthurt because, as it turns out, the only job you can get with one of those majors is teaching classes of similar hopefuls, which is a lot like any good ponzi scheme — one art history major teaches 20 more, and each of them need to find 20 more, and each of them… you get the idea. Want to enrich your soul AND pay the bills? Have a minor in accounting or engineering or anything that people are generally willing to pay for. (On the door of my college's philosophy dept. head's office, there was a cartoon showing a classroom. On the blackboard was written: Philosophy Final Exam. Question: How do you plan to make a living with a degree in Philosophy?)

  85. Lizard says:

    Oh, and as a quick PS: In my opinion, and based on my experience, in reality, your major doesn't matter much. Most employers want a four year college degree not because you learned anything useful, but because it shows you have the necessary tolerance for bullshit, arbitrary rules, and taking orders from people you have contempt for, all of which are the REAL skills needed for any kind of professional career in virtually any business. That wasn't sarcasm. People who can't manage to get through college probably won't do well in a typical office environment. Plenty of individual exceptions, of course, but having a BA does prove that you have a certain level of ability to deal with the stupid, the arbitrary, the frustrating, and the pointless, which you'll need to get anywhere in the modern world unless you're a truly exceptional genius.

  86. Kathryn says:

    @George William Herbert

    Most places aren't that open. It requires a large enough institution to have both. (Or institutions with swap programs with another college, I found more of those, 3 years of STEMish, 2 years of humanities. I wanted a combined program because I designed for myself a single course of study that happened to include a pile of both.) It requires at least one driven administrator to help with the paperwork. It requires the average person in power of your programs to grok the idea of a combined (or balanced or complex or just different) course of study.

    I would say I was lucky – and in some ways I am – but I put a lot of work into understanding what I wanted out of a school and I looked for it.

    I will say that a combined study will probably never be a usual course of business. As much as I think that splitting thinking into STEM and humanities is detrimental to everyone, that categorization is very ingrained. I was an avid student. I put the work into studying and manipulating the system to make sure that I could take the classes I wanted to and graduate. (Sometimes that meant I found professors and helped them design a new class so that I could take it.)

    I knew what I wanted and stacked the deck to make it happen. (Which, as Lizard points out, is a job skill.)

  87. Gavin says:

    @LTMG,

    Great posts. I have found that having both those degree types has been immensely beneficial to me. I wonder if the choice itself to take a degree because we know it will make it easier to find work is the kind of decision making that already displays a form of forethought regarding the ramifications of choices that businesses like their employees to have?

    @David,

    Do you think that the John Leo's intention may have been to tell people with degrees publically percieved as non-useful that they'll have a hard time being employed when this method is used? I definitely think you (if you are the author David here) are correct in taking offense to the jab he gave people by putting their degree in the same sentence as "history of dancing in Montana in the 1850's", but I don't think his overall sentiment can be completely dismissed.

    That is a list of publically dismissed "popcorn" degrees that only those of us who have gotten B.A.s seem to understand the value of. You will have a harder time finding jobs with those particular degrees. That is generally true, wouldn't you agree? Bear in mind that I mean no disrespect towards any of those degrees (except the dancing one, I mean all kinds of disrespect towards that one). I only mean that the decision makers view them negatively or neutrally when compared to a degree they consider positively.

    @George William Herbert,

    I'll admit that combining the majors did take me an extra semester of school. Religion and Business Administration have no overlapping coursework. Even my ethics philosophy coursework didn't replace business ethics. I also attended a prestigious college of business but not in ivy league if that gives any shadow of a gauge that neither of these degrees were easy. I will admit to being a tri-enrollment student in high school while attending two colleges, but I never did more than 15 hours in a semester and never did summer courses. So the extra semester could have been done away with if I had to (I wanted to give my education the attention it deserved).

    And yes, after the difficulty of my Religion degree, taking business was a joke. I even managed to do work that has since been published in a couple text books (I just clarified a few dumb and confusing charts that famous social economists had made by using my calculus background) and yet I still can't claim that I worked even half as hard as I had to in the Religion department.

    @Robert White,

    You may be interested in my current company's inteview process. I had to take a grueling 2-hour long aptitude test that only 1 in 10 people pass. This test has been shown to have a 90% success rate with new hires (don't know how they define success here). While this works well with the quality of hires, the downside is that it's difficult to staff positions here. If you pass the test you practically have the job.

    That's funny about the statistics on computer science. It doesn't particularly relate to the degrees in the article which aren't particularly growing fields as far as their need in the workforce (as hiring agents see it).

    I wish there was a preview option so I could be bothered to proof read my work. Wouldn't want to copy it over to notepad or anything.

  88. Laura K says:

    As an English major, with an MA in History (because I could not afford to continue with a PhD and am now glad I didn't)I am now persuing an MDiv (as an aspiring UU minister). I'm an unabashed humanities geek. Whilst in graduate school I was frequently apalled by the attitude of fellow students and professors: nobody was willing to invest muct time in teaching undergrads–critical thinking or anything else. Nobody cared much about making their highly intelectuallized subject interesting, enriching and accessible for non academics. Some degree holders were vociferously proud that they knew nothing about historical topics outside their research focus. (That was an interesting revelation.)

    So I have little or no tolerance for people who go for degrees in some of the more academic fields, like Art History, for instance (which I love) who won't see the importance of taking their knowledge outside the Hoity Toity University Conference of 20—- and using it to make the world a better place–or trying to.

    This long ramble gets me to my point: I think that there is a connection, a truly useful, enriching and helpful link between every single 'obscure' academic field and anybody uninterested in those particular areas, or focused on different disciplines.

    Other commenters have already said it here: Critical Thinking. As the humanities (obscure to broad) are pounded out of public schools and underfunded/ignored/derided/etc at college/university level, critical thinking suffers.

    Because yes, Tali, I agree! The history of dance may be obscure but if someone was willing and able to take the method of analyzing dance and dance trends and what they mean for society and share those, they are good tools for learing how to think about, explore the thoughts of others and form an opinion on a topic.

    Then there's Historiography–which usually gets treated like Poe's Red Death. But if more people had learned in high school or college about reading a document for the author's prespective, looking at how that perspective fits in with other arguments, claims or supporting beliefs, questioning the motives behind the word choice etc…before they ran into mortgage and lease agreements, enlistment bonus contracts etc…would they have fared better?

    Or on a less obscure note:
    In my home state, secondary school teachers have only been required to have a masters or some form of advanced study certficate or SOMETHING in the subject they teach for a year or two. Maybe this doesn't seem like a big deal…until you walk into a literature classroom and the instructor teaching the Caterbury Tales has never actually read Chaucer. At all. Not in translation, not in the original, nada. Or the teacher in the history class on the civil rights movement, or the contributions of the Middle East to western civilization took one class in American history (general) during her Masters in Ed.

    And it may be that I am wrong about all this and I beg everyone's patience. But I think until we abolish the disconnect between the humanites and appreciation of context or critical thinking we're going to suffer as learners and citizens.

  89. Lizard says:

    @Laura — while it might seem otherwise from my comments, I agree with you. I spent many hours in college just wandering the library, picking up any book that looked interesting. Knowledge for knowledge's sake is a great thing. I read encyclopedias for fun as a child, and I randomly surf wikipedia today.

    I do not think anyone, or anyone worth respecting, would claim that the humanities, or knowledge in general, is valueless. The claim being made — especially in an era of bloated student loans — is that there is a saturation point. A single art history major can teach thousands of students (over many years) enough about art that they have some sense of cultural context and they might be less inclined to make moronic statements of uneducated outrage over some whipped-up controversy. But how many do we need? How many people have the interest or inclination to be willing to learn in the first place? How many books on the topic can be written before there's no audience but the other authors? How many documentaries can be produced? Supply and demand, people. If there's so much cheese produced that the government has to give it away, and someone says, "Hey, maybe we should make less cheese.", they should not be greeted with cries of "Cheese hater! Anti-cheesist!" and given long lectures on how yummy cheese is. If you need to ask someone — a bank, a government — to loan you money for college, they, in turn, should be able to ask you "And do you think you'll earn enough to pay this loan back?"

    (You can argue we need to increase demand, to make people more aware of the value of an intellectual life. Yeah. Good luck with that. Hell, even reality TV — Bravo's Work of Art, for example — can only go so far in uplifting the masses like me. I did learn a lot about what's passing for art in the modern world from it, but that didn't exactly inspire me to go to a gallery and buy something. More like "Wow, if I made up the most cliched, shallow, stereotype of artists, it wouldn't be this bad." Maybe they picked people for their entertainment value alone? Maybe I don't know enough art appreciation to appreciate art? I'm willing to admit the possibility, but then, how do you inspire me to learn it? How do you inspire someone even less intellectually inclined?)

  90. SPQR says:

    David writes: I don't think the higher education industry goes to great lengths to convince anyone of the economic value of humanities degrees. Rather, the argument has to do with the claim that some values trump economic pragmatism.

    David, I teach as an adjunct at a local community college (business law and other paralegal courses) and I've heard college advisers explicitly claim that the humanities degrees are going to pay off in better salary for the students.

  91. David says:

    @SPQR
    So you're saying that an unspecified number of advisers you've overheard at your CC simply are "the higher education industry"? Surely you're not. But perhaps you're saying they're both representative of the whole and consequential in behalf of the industry. Do you have some reason to suppose that they're a representative sample of advisers in general, and that advisers are the chief means by which "the higher industry goes to great lengths" to accomplish anything in particular?

    I don't dispute your anecdotal report, of course. I'm also acquainted with academic advisors who have fallen short in various ways. But rather than adducing this detail to defend your overstated claim, you ought to consider rolling the latter back!

  92. David says:

    @Gavin

    Do you think that the John Leo's intention may have been to tell people with degrees publically percieved as non-useful that they'll have a hard time being employed when this method is used?

    That would be why I quoted him to that effect.

    I don't think his overall sentiment can be completely dismissed.

    That would be why I affirm its possibility by saying "Maybe so" rather than dismiss it.

    Gavin, I agree with Leo and with you, as I understand you, that the practice of paying closer attention to majors and transcripts during vetting for employment may pose a greater problem for folks bearing degrees perceived as non-rigorous.

    I also agree with various commenters above that this vetting process is likely to be driven more often by ignorance, prejudice, and social comfort than by competent evaluation.

    I also agree with those above who have emphasized the two factors chiefly demonstrated by acquiring a BA–any BA: some skill at critical thinking and some patience with bureaucratic nonsense and guardians of petty fiefdoms.

    My point isn't to dispute whether art history is perceived in the manner Leo implies; my point is to affirm that it shouldn't be and, by anyone who bothered to scratch its surface, wouldn't be.

    I refer you to Ae Viescas on the matter of whether any other humanistic or performative disciplines also deserve an Obamacare waiver in the face of Leo's enormity. :)

    In short, take my defiant remark in the spirit of Stephen Wright's joke about headlights.

  93. Gavin says:

    @David,

    Excellent response. With that in mind I don't think I disagree with anything you've said. Thanks for writing this article and generating such an interesting discussion! I look forward to more entries from you.

  94. David says:

    BTW, who among us thinks that China has the right idea? Shall we shut down programs that underperform with respect to relevant placement? What say ye, gossips?

  95. Lizard says:

    In reading some of these comments, and some others on sites with somewhat less erudite commentators, I've noticed there's a common thread of "one size fits all" when it comes to "why go to college, anyway?" Is it to qualify for a higher paying job? To embiggen one's spirit? To get drunk and laid, usually in that order? The thing is, it's not one single reason for all college attendees. If your purpose is to get a good job on graduation, then, get a major that will impress the suits, regardless of why it impresses them or how ignorant they are being impressed by it. If you want to gain Higher Learning, then do so, but don't kid yourself into thinking your brilliant essay on how "Sesame Street" furthers the white male hegemony by implicit reverse normalization is going to get you a job on Wall Street enlightening the masses at 100K a year — and don't then spend all your post-college time writing long, self-pitying essays about how everyone is just ignorant and stupid. (Doubly, don't get a job that pays "only" 40K a year and whine about how you're "undervalued" while unemployment is generally estimated at significantly higher than the official 8%-ish.) But, you see, you don't have to choose. Take that boring major in Capitalist Greed, and then suck up every History Of Historical Studies and Introduction To Living Female Philosophers of Color course you can. Or take your major in My Ethnicity Studies, but pick up some accounting (it could be handy tallying up the donations to the non-profit you volunteer at, after all). And for those outside of college… don't tell people why they "should" be going or what they "have" to do or how they're "wasting" their time if they take the "wrong" courses or have the "wrong" focus. A choice is only "wrong" if it's made to achieve a goal, and won't achieve that goal.

    (Also, writing with the age of 50 years coming on way too fast, I can look back at my teens and twenties and realize that, at the time, it never even occurred to me that going to college WAS a choice, in itself. My grandparents were lower working class immigrants who did not have an advanced education; their children all went to college, and their grandchildren were raised in an atmosphere where college was what happened after high school, the inevitable next step. My friends came from similar backgrounds and we never discussed "should we go to college", just "what college should we go to". This isn't uncommon. That college is a choice, not an inevitability, is something that older adults ought to think more about conveying to older teens.)

  96. Gavin says:

    @David,

    I certainly don't advocate shutting down entire programs that underperform but I'd like to see a more responsible use of tax payer dollars in public universities. Perhaps there are programs that can be swallowed up by others or individual classes that simply should not exist even within their majors. I think some classes waste time and money just for the sake of filling a credit. The problem with this is that I don't trust officials to accurately gauge what is important enough to keep and what isn't.

  97. Laura K says:

    Lizard–I get your point. I worked with a great art teacher at a museum once, one that for years now has been the ONLY access to art for Boston Public schools. She centered her actvivites out of experience, not expectation. –make a collage of random shapes that YOU want to lay out. Make a Clay shape YOU are drawn to. Do a Crayon resist painting to make the Sky look the way YOU think it does. Not your parents, who have their idea sitting right next to you. Not people who think what you did is stupid because you're not trying to make it look "good" (Whatever that means). Not the Art teacher you may eventually get in high school who only hands out the decent supplies to the kids who "can" draw. The idea is not to reward everyone to make them feel good, like somne nany state practices. The idea is to let each child decide what the colors and shapes mean to them. This engages them so that when they get a chance to see other colors and shapes they like–maybe some in a Van Gogh Painting, or others in a Petrus Christus–they think about those works of art and start, however inadvertantly to think critically and analytically.

    Lizzard, my great grandmother was a miliner. My grandfather delivered newspapers. All but one of my ancestors (and yeah of course his family) were working class immigrants. But college is not the same as exploring ideas, images, colors and forms. Asking "how many do we need" is departing from the question of "what would everybody's life be like if they were given an insight into the demensions of their imaginations or a wider understanding of thoughts, ideas and their presentation?"
    I'm not saying this to pick on one bit or two bits of your posts or to be bellicose. It's just what occured to me.

  98. Lizard says:

    @Laura: "what would everybody's life be like if they were given an insight into the demensions of their imaginations or a wider understanding of thoughts, ideas and their presentation?"

    Better, I'm sure. But I am equally sure the vast majority, given the choice as to how to best allocate their resources (time and money), will not choose to be bettered, and so, there's a cap on how many people pursuing the betterment of humanity can be supported, and if that cap is exceeded, some of them will need to do other things. The issue, as I understand it, is not the benefit of liberal arts, or of critical thinking, or of understanding history and culture; the issue is that no matter how good these things are, they are of little interest to most people, and the overlap between "people interested in them" and "people so interested in them they want to make a career of them" is extremely high — and they can't all earn a living trading their knowledge, insights, and viewpoints with each other.

    When I say "How many do we need?", I'm not asking for a quota system or any kind of top-down determination of what we "need". That doesn't work, can't work, won't work. Much as with being an athlete, a musician, or film star, the supply of those eager to do the work exceeds the demand. I'd be happy to take about a 33% pay cut if it meant I could be a full time writer. Hell, I could probably make it on 50%. It won't happen, most likely, because my ability to write code to do boring stuff is valued much more highly than my ability to string words together in an amusing fashion.

    I'm sure there's a lot of genuine anti-intellectualism out there; it's been a strain of American culture, right and left, for generations. We are a pragmatic people, and "What good is it?" is often the only question people ask. I am pretty much the only one in my family with any creative impulses. Any interest I expressed in any topic was usually met with "How will you earn a living doing that?" from my family. (And, gee, they wonder why I want nothing to do with them. Hmm.) However, I think that a large part of the reaction to people with, let us say, commercially undervalued knowledge (and huge, government backed, student loans), is the overwhelming sense of entitlement that radiates from them. Any person has a right to pursue their bliss, but not a right to demand someone else pay for them to be blissful. I consider myself an intellectual; I read constantly, I study constantly, I love to learn for the sake of learning, I love to debate for the sake of debating, but I feel no pity or sympathy for the hordes of 20 somethings bemoaning the fact that no one will pay them to analyze poetry, lecture on the history of 14th century Lithuania, or compare and contrast anything that doesn't consist of columns of numbers. Whether or not society *should* find these things valuable, the fact is, it doesn't, and those individuals who choose to pursue them must accept that fact knowledge may be its own reward, and that the landlord probably isn't going to accept payment in the form of enlightenment.

  99. Laura K says:

    Lizzard I agree with your feelings on the hoardes of whiny aca-wannabe 20 year olds. (I'm jealous too, I meet the football huggers)

  100. AlphaCentauri says:

    My dad always said, "Go to college to get an education. If you just want to make more money, drive a truck and invest the money you would have spent on tuition."

    Too many people sit through four years to get a piece of paper with no real interest in enriching themselves. And too many professors are unable to prevent their classes being dragged down to the level of the seat-warmers.

  101. M. says:

    @David: No prob, that's what I get for trying to be strictly cheeky on such an intellectual blog. ;)

  102. Amanduh says:

    I'm late to this thread, but as a popular culture major, I would say that dismissing any major because one can't see immediately-monetizable value in it is foolish. I didn't just sit around and gossip about Seinfeld and Jerry Springer. I took classes in Psych, Sociology, Marketing, Economics, History, and other disciplines. My simple-English explanation of it was, "I'm studying why people like what they like." In my senior year, I averaged over 10 pages of papers written per week – in other words, I learned to communicate, and to analyze others' communication.

    Many of my classmates decided to go into marketing and PR, and they beat out marketing majors for jobs in those fields, because they were better at communicating why they were the best choice for the job. I decided that being a PR flack made me feel too oily and spent a few years working low-level jobs before discovering that I like computer programming. And despite my lack of any programming degree or certificate, I'm great as an analyst because when we're designing a system, I have the communication skills to prod the users into giving a good description of what they want (which is much harder than you'd think, if you've never done it before).

    I realize this comment is going to be "tl;dr". But it just frustrates me that people like John Leo often give the impression that they believe in a capitalist version of Five Year Plans, that People Who Know Better can decide how much of Commodity X or Service Y our society needs, and that society only needs to invest in training Z amount of workers to perform the specific skills needed to produce those things.

    But life is filled with intangibles, and job interviews are filled with intangibles. I ran circles around people whose degrees looked better on paper, because of those intangibles. Underestimating someone because you think their degree sounds dumb is a very bad idea that may backfire on you. I've been answering amused questions from interviewers about my degree since 1995. By the time I finish explaining my educational background and how it can help their company, the interview is no longer joking about my degree, he's offering me the job.