We’re Doomed

They say the economy is improving, yet people still find the need to belittle certain college degrees and act like they are the authority on all things.  Below is a response I wrote last year to all the people who say English, History, and other like degrees are useless and I was stupid to get one.  Feel free to comment below with your opinions; a lively discussion never goes out of style!

We are indeed doomed, as a country, as a people, when the majority of commenting readers agree that college degrees in English, Writing, History, etc, are basically useless.  No one should study these topics, they say.  Why didn’t these idiots major in something practical, like engineering, or mathematics, or perhaps skip college altogether and go straight to trade school.  Why, I could be a plumber, or a motorcycle repairwoman, and be laughing my ass all the way to the bank!  These crazy youngsters.

You know, you’re right.  Why would I want to go to college for things I’m interested in, for things I love and I’m good at?  Why didn’t I remember that money and the ability to buy whatever you want is indeed the most important thing?  Why didn’t I major in something I hate, or that I’m completely useless at, just so I could be guaranteed a good-paying job right out of college??  Man…I really missed the boat here.  Who needs the arts, or humanities, or music, anyway?  Waste of time.  Only fit for a hobby.

Oh, ignorance.  I think Oscar said it best, By giving us the opinions of the uneducated, journalism keeps us in touch with the ignorance of the community.  ‘Tis my lot in life, I suppose.  I try telling myself that these people just don’t understand, they don’t know what it’s like to love something so much that money doesn’t matter.  They don’t know what it’s like to wake up in the middle of the night, story ideas flying around in your brain, song lyrics begging to be written down.  They don’t feel the pull, the need, the loyalty to art, or at least the potential, that keeps us coming back to the blank page, again and again and again.

And what of the successful ones – the ones publishing books, working as journalists, winning the damn Pulitzer Prize?  Were their degrees useless?  Should they have majored in something that would have given them excellent salaries right off the bat?  Just because a career path doesn’t lead to instant money and success doesn’t mean it’s worthless.  Who cares if you make a lot of money, as long as you’re doing what makes you happy.  Those commenting seem to have forgotten this small fact.

All I know is that my choice was right for me.  I learned and experienced so much at college that I wouldn’t have otherwise; “useless degree” is probably the furthest thing from the truth.  It taught me to write, to express myself in an educated and informed manner; it taught me to dig down and figure out why I believe what I do and then how to say it.  It taught me to argue, to stand my ground, to read people and figure out what they really mean.  The world is in dire need of people who can formulate an opinion and present an argument – hell, we need people who can write a damn sentence without using stupid abbreviations you’d find on a teenagers texting history.

So no, crazy people – my English degree may not make me good money.  I may not get $80,000 right out of college.  But I’d rather be fucking poor and love what I’m doing than spend my life in a job I hate, just because it pays me well.

Ain’t it a blessing to do what you want to do?


6 thoughts on “We’re Doomed

  1. Girl, preach. I hate when people ask me why I didn’t major in something “more practical.” I love history, and I’m proud to have majored in it. Without the liberal arts, we wouldn’t even have been able to have any of the more “practical” arts. I love how they bitch about education being bad, but they say things like this. Maybe the tirade against knowledge is why American children are so far behind other developed countries. Oh lord, I could rant on and on. I totally agree with you.

  2. Like you and Abi and Brit, I could talk education all day…

    I don’t think the issue is that, “People who major in (fill-in-the-blank) have useless degrees.” Certainly if you are happy with your degree and the financial, professional, etc. consequences of that then no one can really fault you. Certainly if you feel like your years spent studying (fill-in-the-blank) have made you a happier person, then again no one can fault you.

    But, speaking from personal experience (especially those in the last five years dealing predominantly with college freshmen and sophomores), more and more people have the idea that the primary purpose of college is to provide you with the training and certification (in the form of an advanced degree) to allow you to get a job with a higher-demanding salary. This is regardless of what that degree technically is; i.e., people believe if you have a 2- or 4- year degree in ANYTHING, then you should be able to command a certain salary upon graduation. It is THESE people who are fools.

    Perhaps at one time having a degree in anything actually DID put you ahead of the game in terms of salary demands. But it doesn’t anymore. Because more and more people are going to college now–the market is flooded. So now it DOES become an issue of what the major actually is. A lot of people are still struggling with this paradigm shift.

    Because you’re right–the people who are the “financial” successes in the art/history/literature/etc. field are the minority. The extreme minority. You’re right–you could probably be pulling down a higher salary as a plumber. BUT, you did not go to college strictly because of (or maybe not even at all because of) hopes of a minimal starting salary. And that puts YOU in a minority.

  3. It’s incredible, right? But the kicker of it all is that Neal Boortz works in the field of journalism — I got a degree in journalism too, from a Top 3 program at an amazing school. Employment has been nearly impossible for me, too, Neal — whatchu gotta say about THAT? A “real” major doesn’t mean anything in this economy, and he got his job by pure luck, so, eff him.

  4. K, you have made some great points.
    I think the idea that a degree will automatically make you lots of money is perpetuated by society…we’re told that we graduate high school, go to college, get a degree and then transition immediately into a job. That used to be true, but the economy has permanently altered the job market as well as scholastic expectations.
    And that’s the idea that I had, when reading the Yahoo! comments – maybe one should have a more “practical” degree, but then the market would be flooded with an excess of trade school graduates and the like.
    People’s obsession with high salaries and material things is exactly why we have such a high ratio of people who end up dead-end jobs, full of hate and sadness. My goal is to never end up like these people. And that probably does put me in the minority, but I’m happy to be here.
    Thanks for your comments!

  5. It’s interesting to look at this a year later…especially as I am preparing to enter the job market now.

    I’ve noticed that people not in academia and especially people who are not in the sciences ask me within the first five minutes of conversation, “What are the applications of (insert what I study)?” They want to know how whatever it is I do all day helps them do whatever it is they do all day. Or maybe it’s just that they want to know that what I do all day helps them do what they do all day. They want to know how I could ever help them.

    [Honestly, a lot of what I study has no application to everyday life. Most of what I study is examined for its own sake. Granted, it does have that minor bit that actually is practical; what I do also has the additional benefit of legitimately solving problems which have literally been open for millennia–many of which can be described to those with little-to-no background.]

    But basically, when it comes to “practical applications” or for “applications beyond yourself”, majoring in science is much easier to justify. When you say to someone, “I’m a chemistry major,” you may actually spend all day cleaning a lab; however, chemistry is a field that most people see as beneficial to society in its impact. If you say, “I’m an accounting major”, they may not know anything about book-keeping or tax laws, but they see how you could be an asset to them. Now if you tell someone “I’m an art history major”…while there is the nobility of studying the past and of spending four years learning a subject about which you are passionate, and while a lot of people enjoy art, a lot of people are going to think “What good can that possibly mean for ME?” Same goes with music, English, and philosophy majors.

    I’m beginning to think where people get upset at BA’s (and I’m generalizing, especially as someone who has a BA and who has no issue with BA’s) relates to the following comment in your original post: “Why would I want to go to college for things I’m interested in, for things I love and I’m good at? Why didn’t I remember that money and the ability to buy whatever you want is indeed the most important thing?” There was zero mention of how what YOU study would–no-questions-asked, or even just probabilistically–improve society. Forget about money for a moment. Most people are happy with other people making less than they do; makes them feel superior. Society, however, hates people who they do not see as tangibly contributing to the society. Taking four years to study something you want to, that may or may not have an application to the betterment of society (and if it does, it may be purely subjective and/or aesthetic) is going to be hard to justify; add to that the average debt of a graduating college student, and I think this is where the anger is born.

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