The Price of the Life of the Mind
I’m having a lively conversation with PissPoorProf about the value of a Liberal Arts degree. He maintains that liberal arts should be corollary studies in college while I think they should be central. Others are chiming in. It’s a discussion I welcome because the topic goes well beyond the choice of undergrad studies.
Recently I posted about a Yahoo! Education article (one of many such that pop up with startling regularity) which indicated that the value of a liberal arts degree is, in short, not worth the investment. I concurred.
Kirkistan, his blog is Conversation is an engine, posted a reply. It is a well presented rebuttal, and even garnered a less-well worded follow-on comment.
Here is my reply:
So sorry to come so late to the party.
I, too, don’t “buy what they are selling,” partly because I can’t afford to buy much.
One of my frequent clarions is to advise the younger generation away from the pain I have experienced from the decisions I made. Is a liberal arts degree a death knell? Not always. It seems that Kirkistan beat the odds. I applaud his good fortune. He followed his path, and it led him well.
You are, though, the exception that proves the rule. Far too many baristas struggle to pay off their student loans pulling them into a cycle of wage slavery that, arguably, sucks their life faster than working a better paying job that would allow them the economic freedom of movement to explore their intellectual passions. And that is the dirty little secret…economic elbow room allows for more “leisure” time to pursue those passions in life that make life worth living.
I say this after having worked the only jobs available to a PhD in literature–adjunct teaching, which is about as soul-sucking as a wage-slave job can get (the DOD should look into teaching composition as an alternative to water-boarding). I not only did NOT have the time to pursue my passions, but because of the nature of the beast I began to lose the passion in what I had, up to that point, dedicated my energies to… In the past few years, I have moved away from beating my head against that wall and only take up an online class here and there—kind of a hobby class. I have also pursued, at times in a mercenary manner, alternate revenue streams. Finding a lucrative means of supporting my family while giving myself time and room to breathe (not grading all weekend, nights, etc.) has opened up my life again. I can now feel the deep joy of backyard chicken raising (my other blog is a chicken blog), advocate for just causes and generally explore life again.
I say all of this to say that I wish that I would have had better counsel/information twenty years ago that would have allowed me to better position my education around a marketable skill over a “calling.” Sometimes the call ends.
I will open up this discussion with some related article below which offer some pro and con.
I welcome your input into Kirkistan and my discussion. With him, I agree, that conversation is an engine.
I see articles like this a lot lately…filling in some copy space in the 24 hour news cycle. I get that. You need something to write, and here is a ready-made list that, on the surface, seems relevant: looking to go to college, don’t study this! The list!
So, out of self-flagellation I read these lists, only to see my degree (ok, I have a literature degree which is, really, just a more specific liberal arts degree) rounding out the top of the do-not-get list.
I really wish I would have paid attention to these sorts of things as an undergrad. I think that honing a really cool world-view could have been a nice add-on to a paying degree over being the central theme to a degree that doesn’t pay the mortgage.
STEM debates focus on that old saw of liberal arts versus “hard” degrees (hard as in non-theoretical or abstract): Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.
InsideHigherEd has an article, “We need more than STEM” which prompted my response that follows:
While I sympathize with Pomeranz’s basic assertions (public policy, both domestic and foreign, would be greatly informed by increased usage of academic research–I would extend this to include methods and practices), he really misses the point.
- Essay criticizing President Obama and other politicians who appear to focus only on science (insidehighered.com)
- 2 Paths to a Degree and a Career – Career-Oriented Majors and Liberal Arts Majors (bigfuture.collegeboard.org)
The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.
Here’s an excerpt:
600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 4,300 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 7 years to get that many views.
There are times when, in the course of my reading, that an item comes along that I just cannot let go unaddressed. This is just one such item.
Rick Snyder, Michigan’s governor, today signed into law a bill that outlaws attempts of teaching assistants at public universities to unionize. Read that again…slowly. It is now against the law for a research assistant, who is getting paid by the university, to attempt collective bargaining.
Let’s go side by side…the dumb side and the right side. Dumb side first: the argument goes that graduate students cannot be recognized as employees, therefore have no right to unionize. According to Michiganlawyerblog:
The state Public Employment Relations Act, or PERA, defines a public employee as someone who holds a position by employment or appointment in state government, in the government of a political subdivision in the state, in a public school or in any other branch of public service
I was a graduate student in a public school. I received money from the school to teach Intro Comp. I was, in some sense, an employee. I did not receive benefits (like that was going to happen), but I was remunerated for my services.
Michiganlawyerblog goes on to say:
House Bill 4246, sponsored by state Rep. Al Pscholka, R-Stevensville, adds an exception to PERA by clarifying that the position of graduate student research assistant at universities does not fit the definition of a public employee because they primarily are in school to learn from their professors and earn advanced degrees rather than to earn a wage, according to the governor’s office. However, graduate student teaching assistants are considered employees, and are unionized at the U of M.
Because they are not considered public employees, graduate research assistants are not entitled to union representation or collective bargaining rights. (emphasis added)
That has to be one of the stupidest quotes I have ever read…students choose to read over eating or living in a shelter.
The counter side will be presented in U.S. District court (which is good because the state courts are bought, part and parcel, by the current Michigan ideology).
Final evil actor in this farce is the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a propagator of the ideology of oppression, which presents the law as a victory over enforced unionization. Patrick Wright states:
People pursuing graduate degrees are clearly students, not government employees. Our clients look forward to getting back to their studies and research, free from the looming threat of forced unionization.
The Center is providing legal counsel for Melinda Day, a graduate researcher finishing a dissertation in Life Sciences.
- Mich. bill to block grad student unions advances (sfgate.com)
- University of Michigan graduate students cry foul during unionization campaign (talkingunion.wordpress.com)
I look, each year, to the MLA conference with a sense of expectation saturated with dread…perhaps this will be the year, like a forelorn Cubs fan, that the MLA will pull their collective head our of their collective (insert orifice of choice) and address a matter that actually, well, matters.
This year, I was not disappointed. That is, the MLA, once again, disappointed.
The e-mail note popped into my box, and I hurriedly clicked the link Council Statement on Student Debt.
Here is what I found:
Public attention has been directed recently to the educational debt students accumulate in the course of undergraduate, as well as graduate, study. A major contributing factor has been the increasing portion of educational costs students must bear in the form of loans. To reduce debt burdens in the future, we call on Congress, state legislatures, and institutions of higher education to calibrate educational costs and student aid in ways that will keep student debt within strict limits. We also call on them to hold in check tuition increases, which often far outpace inflation, and to ensure that degree programs allow for timely completion.
I am going to take a few minutes to parse this statement down a bit. To begin, why begin in such an apologetic manner… “public opinion” thinks debts are too high, so we are going to issue a strongly worded statement. OR, perhaps they could have stated what the MLA thinks–student dept is crippling our workforce, and it shall not be tolerated! (Does the keyboard at the MLA Executive Council even have an exclamation mark?)
So, after noting that the issue is of public notice (or explaining why they are finally issuing a statement–due to the embarrassing nature of public pressure, we will issue a strongly worded statement), we get a causal argument as to what the public has noted: students take out loans that are really high–sorry, they don’t say that. They say a major factor is that students cover more of their educational costs through loans. If this were a freshman essay, I would critique and point out that their argument has not been properly delineated. How does the proposition that students use loans to cover more of their expenses show/demonstrate anything? What are we talking about here? Where is the thesis?
The thesis lies in the third sentence, buried in the phrase “debt burdens.” Oh, the debt, incurred by students to cover their educational costs (nothing has been stated/shown that these costs have risen in a disproportionate manner than earlier generations, inflation, other standards of measure–any of which would show that it is a new and unique burden) burdens the students in some undefined way.
So, with an inferred thesis about student debt, they offer a “solution”: tell the government to “calibrate” costs with educational institutions. Really? Their solution is to ask the government (both state and federal) to balance a budget? And they ask institutions to freeze or reduce tuition? Why not ask for a pony for Christmas while they are at it?
As a “statement,” I give the MLA Executive Council a failing grade. They should know, and write, better.
Where are the comments/observations on the saturated job markets due, in no small part, to graduate programs producing a glut of graduates–to such an extent that the numbers far outpace the available positions something like 10:1? Where are the calls for the old guard, which were supposed to retire en masse in the 1990′s, to retire and open up positions? Where are the calls for better working conditions for all of the adjuncts that, through their low-wage, high-work, institutionally-important, low-level classes keep programs/institutions afloat?