“And it’s dangerous to forget that in a democracy, college isn’t just about making better engineers but about making better citizens, ones whose eyes have been opened to the sweep of history and the spectrum of civilizations.” -Frank Bruni
This is quite possibly my favorite quote from Frank Bruni’s article. Before I go on gushing over how smart I think this guy sounds, I must explain why I think this is so. In his article, Frank discusses the value of higher education, and where this value comes from. Does it come from getting straightforward training only specific to your future career, or does it also come from a vast array of classes, that may appear to have no visible ties to your soon-to-be job?
In the article, Frank refers to government official Scott Walker’s suggestion to alter the phrase in the University of Wisconsin’s mission statement from “search for truth” and “improve the human condition” to “the state’s work force needs”. Walker’s idea was immediately off-putting. I sought to keep an unbiased stance as I read the rest of the article, but in the end I still felt my position remained on Frank Bruni’s side.
I don’t believe educational experiences are only to directly improve productivity in the work place or educate everyone in the places that a certain group of people deems the most important. Skills may be indirectly applied from classes that are thought to be unnecessary, or they may not be at all. They may simply create a well rounded student who has found the ability to appreciate material that they could otherwise have thought a waste of time (as perhaps proposed to them by someone only concerned about work force needs).
The idea of school only applying to the needs of work strikes a cord with my own philosophy of life, explaining my opposition to Walker’s statement. Life is not lived to work. Sure, you should work in some way or another, and work your ass off when you do. But there must be time for leisurely activities, for play, for learning to appreciate some of the finer things in life. One of those finer things perhaps being Shakespeare.
Having read King Lear, I can personally say I understand that Shakespeare isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. While the storyline mildly interested me and the old styled diction frustrated me, participating in class discussions allowed me to appreciate Shakespeare’s work in a manner that I would not have before taking this course. Our teacher Miriam conducted discussion sessions that led us to delve deeper into the story. We were asked to consider ideas that involve all of human kind, like love, jealousy, and power. The ability to examine these universal concepts can be connected to anyone’s life, and if that is not some tiny sliver of relevance, then I don’t know what is. Even if Shakespeare isn’t someone’s thing, there are so many other places that students might find themselves enjoying a new perspective in a classroom on campus they had never imagined stepping foot in.
Frank Bruni continued to gain my support through his article. The president’s little jab at art history majors and suggestion that college majors be rated on a scale of their potential salary settled as well with me as the gag inducing chocolate covered cherries I choked down the other day (I was desperate for chocolate and paid the price with the cherry filled innards.) Now, I’m not a big old Obama hater. He’s a fine guy. I just didn’t like this particular comment. If the rankings of the majors reflected only the pay associated with the jobs, that would be that, but I am afraid that this rating system would further cause people to believe particular majors superior to others simply because of their higher salaries. More does not equal better. More is just more. And a major that eventually may pay more is just as good as a major that eventually may pay less. As long as you do, in fact, have a heart and care about something else in this world other than money.
Frank Bruni’s quote that started off this blog post points out why it’s kind of great that students are able to pick their majors and classes in college, at least, for the most part. At the University of Iowa, all students, whether they are majoring in liberal arts areas like English, Art, and Psychology or something with its own college like Engineering, are provided with a set of general education courses to explore and choose from, for the purpose of creating well rounded individuals.
Jessica Kleiman emphasized the importance of a liberal arts education in creating well rounded, unique individuals in her article. While she is a proponent of majors such as her own english and communication degrees, she still supports those who choose to pursue careers in more technical areas like engineering. She understands the importance of pursuing something that interests you, whatever that may be, and in the process of that, picking up a few classes that make you interesting and new in a different way.
In the end, I believe these ‘unimportant’ classes are important, that the ‘unimportant’ material in them can become important. Jessica Kleiman, Frank Bruni, and my own experience reading and discussing King Lear in the college course Interpretation of Literature are true advocates of this. These ‘types’ of classes are what you make of them, and if you believe you can gain something from them you will. Different classes make us think in different ways, making us better thinkers. And if we, just for Scott Walker’s sake, circle back to his idea of seeking to meet “the state’s work force needs,” what boss doesn’t want to hire a marvelous thinker?