My college years were tumultuous ones, at best. I began as a music major, was a music education major by my second semester, dropped out entirely, transferred schools, declared a communication major, then theatre, threw in psychology….makes my head hurt just thinking about it. Part of the issue was that I felt as though I had to fit myself into a specific category…that I felt pressured into thinking that I had to be singularly focused. Eventually I succumbed to the promptings of my family in focusing on something that could potentially earn a good income for me in the future, shying away from some of the things that I truly loved (“What are you going to do with a theatre major?”) in favor of an education that would be focused more toward a specific career. Certainly they meant well, and thankfully I have landed in a career in which I can make a difference and in which I can earn income. However, I often wonder what life would have been like had I remained on the path that I initially chose.
Today, my morning began with a post from my friend Catherine entitled “The Humanities Are Dead,” in which she discussed the trend toward adjuncts teaching at universities in higher proportions than tenured professors, and the negative ramifications this has on education. This began the turning of my mental wheels and led to an interesting conversation over on my Facebook page about the link, as three of us hypothesized what the core issue could be. I’ve come to a conclusion that is a bit of an explanation for the tumult I experienced in college (well, the academic tumult, at least), and perhaps even for a few other things as well.
In an industrialized culture such as our own, things tend to be forced into categories with labels by which they can be neatly defined and cross-referenced. Professional fields are victim to this just as is everything else. Thus, universities focus their education in these areas specifically in order to prepare someone to obtain employment in a specific field. In turn, areas of professional practice are able to set standards that force its members to obtain specific educational credentials in order to even the playing field, and (let’ s be honest) just because they can. As a result, education becomes utilitarian, focused only on a goal of earning income, and the concept of “liberal arts” becomes a loosely-utilized tag line to attract students to a school.
Combine this trend with the fact that science is deified and the humanities are treated as cultural events that are good only to have around for weekend entertainment, and we have an industrialized culture that has become enslaved to its industrialization. We major on the minors, obsessing with the physics of how a sunrise casts its light over the landscape before us, while ignoring the poetic contemplation of what it means that it does so.
Just as our culture has become marked by utility without meaning and money at the expense of substance, so has our education followed. As a result, institutions of academia are beginning to lean toward being degree factories that utilize a business model, looking to earn a profit while keeping costs low. Education, however, was never meant to be a business, and the students are losing, often without even knowing that they are losing, because they are blindly rushing into careers with prized pieces of inflexible paper in order to obtain something as fleeting as money. In doing so, they open themselves to life crises when they change careers (as most statistically will at least once), perhaps returning to school in order to begin the process over again.
Then again, that’s good for academia’s business model, isn’t it? Perhaps a coincidence, but…
To this we are leaving our future. I think we should be very concerned, don’t you?