A new kind of education
“Well how is that going to get you a job?” This is one of the many responses I received when I added History as a second major to my degree this past November, which turned my Honours B.Sc. in Psychology to a Combined Honours B.A. in History and Psychology. This particular response came from a family friend we have known for years - let’s call him Rodger. Rodger is one of those family friends you see once a year (only once) and you wish to spend your limited time with him catching up on exciting personal events. You don’t want to spend this time being bullied into believing that your education has become worthless.
As open-minded as our society claims to be, there exists a narrow-mindedness in terms of our education. This tunnel vision is focused on one aspect of education: choose your major based on your prospects of getting a job. Many articles have recently been published comparing the “worst” and “best” majors, based on rates of employment and median salary for graduates, and which majors are most likely to get university graduates a job. Can students really benefit from these articles? Maybe, if you would like to spend four years of your life studying a subject that makes you cringe, followed by a life of boredom and regret.
While some place a lesser value on the education of students who choose to study fine arts or philosophy or drama or peace studies I applaud it. I applaud the choice they’ve made to study something they love. I applaud their authenticity. Finding a job after graduation may not be the easiest for them, but the journey that took them to graduation will have been one they genuinely enjoyed and will cherish for years. For the people who are fortunate enough to turn what they love into a career, everything else is a bonus. Having said that, almost everyone will have to suffer through a job they don’t like in order to get to where they want to be (I have spent enough time working at a golf course to know this first hand). But enduring a painful job shouldn’t be a lifestyle choice.
Some people will disagree, and say that if everyone studied what they loved then there would be no one else available to take on the positions that need to be filled. There is not one ounce of truth in that. For example, my friend could never see himself studying language for four years in order to work with children and their speech impediments. Another friend, on the other hand, cannot fathom the idea of receiving an undergraduate degree in math that would lead her to deal with abstract numbers for the rest of her life. Not everyone has a desire to be a performer or an artist - believe it or not some people really do like chemistry and engineering, and to them I give my sincerest congratulations. To each their own.
Regardless of program, undergraduates should emerge with a number of invaluable skills. Although content is specific to a major, an array of abilities are waiting to be developed and refined by each student. There is no other place like university to learn to think critically, to problem solve and to communicate through various mediums. Students practice these skills for the duration of their studies, along with learning to balance their time. This versatile set of tools should be capable of merging seamlessly from one position to the next, be it graduate school or a job, and be accessible to all undergraduates. How much more likely are we to work harder at these skills and spend more time on them when we enjoy what we’re doing as opposed to when we don’t?
So before anyone else feels the need to tell a student that what they’re taking in school will fail to get them what they want, I ask you to please consider what is most important in terms of gains from education. Is it really receiving a degree that will land you an adequate but dull job? Spending four years in lectures that are so uninteresting that they are really just scheduled naptime?
Or, should your education have the ability to turn you into a keener who sits in the front row and bounces with anticipation before lecture? Give you the opportunity to harvest skills that you can take with you to pursue what you leave? That’s where the tunnel vision should be.
To Rodger, and those who doubt our pursuits as students, consider this.