Where a liberal arts education fails
What is presently chapping my derriere revolves around the notion that professional success, or merely gainful employment, hinges on the acquisition of a college degree, and that degree has somehow, as if by divine intervention, qualified us to perform a specialized occupation. Not only is this counterfactual, but also, it perpetuates an apocryphal standard, that knowledge workers are somehow more valuable than craftsmen, and that the values pertaining to the craftsman don’t pertain to the intellectual elite.
The craftsman is something of an endangered species in our society. Free-market capitalism has exported his talent overseas, and consumerism has reduced his necessity by marketing disposability as a virtue. Intellectuals often overlook the inherent values that a technical education provides. As anyone who exhibits expertise in a tradecraft knows, in order to truly learn, you have to get your hands dirty. The true character of the American craftsman should be resurrected in the college undergraduate.
A liberal arts degree furnishes us with an abundance of theoretical instruction. We become proud members of the intelligentsia, a secret society of useless generalists who know a little about a lot. The prevailing educational trends favor knowledge as opposed to efficacy, a grave error that subjugates us to a complete lack of relevant skills as they pertain to job performance. As a result, the vast majority of liberal arts majors will leave here with an incomplete education. At $42,500 per year – not including parking tickets – it might be suggested that our degree is but another example of western consumerism, selling us something we don’t need by hoodwinking us into believing it has a value beyond what it truly does. Prior to returning to college, I spent several years recruiting and hiring within the realm of business management. Experience taught me that recent college graduates were about as valuable as hookers wearing chastity belts. The best indicators for success included both knowledge and skills. A college degree only implied the latter, and even that was often wishful thinking.
So, what is the true value of a bachelor’s degree? Well, I’m going to be downright un-effing-stoppable at Wednesday night trivia. I’ll have a working knowledge of both glassblowing and 17th century Europe, and I’ve already incorporated elements of operant conditioning and positive reinforcement to teach my roommate to put the toilet seat down. What I don’t have anywhere in my repertoire is job training.
Should my next adventure after graduate school lead to significant economic prosperity, I would aim to pay it forward, return to my alma mater, and finance the construction of a new school. It would be named the Brian Van Pelt School of Things that Actually Matter in Real Life. It would be a tech school specializing in the applied practice of all of the majors offered by the University. It would require us to get our hands dirty, and practice what our professors preach. There is no sound, logical reason why we should wait for graduate school or professional employment to begin an applied training practicum (like I said, liberal arts.) The University should teach us to be craftsmen of our fields as opposed to jacks-of-no-trades. It is only with the addition of the applied practice of specific skills to the existing knowledge-based curriculum that a liberal arts degree will be a complete package.
Rather than wait patiently for the magnetic poles of the universities’ educational model to right themselves (which would be akin to awaiting the rapture), I recommend taking advantage of the optional assets, which are presently available. We don’t go to Williams or Amherst; we attend a university whose merit is constructed upon one of the top research institutions in the world. Engage yourself in undergraduate research. Do an internship over the summer. Join a club related to your major or (God forbid) get a part-time job at one of our laboratories. These opportunities may not be required as a condition for graduation, but they are far more valuable than intro to yoga and underwater basket weaving. Whatever you do, don’t think for one second that you’re going to be more entitled or prepared for the work force than a non-college graduate with technical experience. You aren’t.