clearly, this bullshit did not end in the ’80s. pity that.
recently, i was talking with another parent about college. he was pretty insistent about his child going into engineering. now, nevermind he has no idea whether his child has any interest or inclination toward engineering (and science in general): that is what said child will be pursuing in a few years. if his child is not interested in becoming some sort of engineer, then said kid can pay his way through school. this parent will not be contributing toward something stupid and useless like an english degree, for example.
(you know, the degree i happen to hold.)
when i was a college kid in the go-go 1980s, it was tough to be an english major, especially when you were child #3 following child #1 (a doctor) and child #2 (computer science dude.) and here i was, in love with language and meaning and, to be honest, writers in the earlyish part of the twentieth century. preferably, but not exclusively, women. oh, and usually american. and i often answered the barrage of questions which really boiled down into one: what will you do with that english degree?
indignantly, i did what any self-respecting women’s college editorial editor would do: i wrote what ended up being my most popular column in college. who’s afraid of liberal arts? was so popular that it was actually reprinted. (evidently, i was not the only person with this conundrum.) i was tired of people asking me when i was going to get a real major, a pre-professional major. i was tired of people asking me if i sat and made daisy chains, too. “i am sure,” i wrote, “that somewhere, someone in my family is squirreling away an English Major Fund so that when i’m big and in the real world, i will have a financial supplement.”
and, being pedantic in the way only a 21 year old lit student could be, i quoted john henry cardinal newman from the idea of a university noting that education should be for it’s own sake in order to help you grow as a person. education should be:
something intellectual, something which grasps what it perceives through the senses; something which takes a view of things; which sees more than the senses convey; which reasons upon what it sees, and while it seeks, which invests it with an idea.
i argued that it was easier to live with yourself when you were someone and not some thing. it is difficult to change gears if you make yourself narrow; but the study of liberal arts broadens you and makes you more of an intellectual utility infielder. in short, it helps you adapt.
decades later, i am glad i chose the path i did. yes, i went on to graduate school and specialized; but when i wanted more than what a career in that specialization offered, i duck and dove into something completely different: i crashed into the early days of the internet. on my interview, my boss showed me how to build something and then asked me, the english major, to build it. i froze at first (i’m an english major, remember?), then slowly attempted to make things happen as he had done.
and i messed up.
but, i took a deep breath, backed up, and tried something else. which worked. (mercifully.) and i got the job.
later, i asked my boss: why did you hire me when i messed up on the interview?
his reply? you backed up and figured it out. i need people who know how to think and who can learn. (it was a new industry at the time.) i don’t need specialists: it’s a new field and there are none. (in 1995, there really weren’t.)
so yeah. english major here. english major who has developed and built web properties. who has done research studies in education policy. who has performed regression analysis. who has put together several major events, uniting cabinet level secretaries and their entire departments in the process. who masters the world and delivers it daily to her family. (note: i am still a crappy cook. but so far, i have not killed anyone.) i’ve changed careers plenty, and now, i get to do what i always loved best: writing.
i’m not starving. i’m monitoring my world and changing with it as needed. i can write cogently (most of the time.) i can think. maybe i can’t fuse my identity to some specific career, but actually, i like being stealthy like that. and i’ll be damned if i make my kids tether themselves to a pre-professional course of studies unless it is the course they choose. sure, there are consequences in all choices, but should they be the deciders of their destinies? i think so.
so to that parent who is willing to carrot-and-stick his kid’s future with his own demands? maybe you need to be squirreling away a Therapy For My Kid fund.
oh. and while i am not using capital letters in my blog, for the record: i do give a fuck about the Oxford comma.