I have a college-aged child and so have heard the favorite reprise, "I don't know why I have to take this class..it's not like I'm going to need it for my future job...." And you know, that's more than likely very true. But what has gone missing from "higher" education is the sense of education itself--college isn't simply job training, it's about becoming educated in the fullest sense of that word. However, when classes like writing and literature are no longer emphasized as important, students graduate, often with $150,000-$200,000 four-year educations, without being educated at all. Yes, they may know what they're doing in graphic design, or IT, or whatever engineering field they studied, but what about life outside of their jobs?
The fact is that in today's marketplace there's not much room for life outside of the job--and the decrease in actual education through things like literature, should be much more terrifying than it is to most unseasoned students. That lack of focus on education itself is a precursor to a student's professional life. "Don't worry about writing or literature, take more classes in your field...be more competitive...." What kind of message is that? What will the shape of our social future be if all we give our college students is job training, not a true education? I think we already know the answer because we're seeing shades of that in what is happening in the world today.
People generally don't understand basic economics, basic politics, basic cultural knowledge, basic theology, basic philosophy...it's simply missing from society, and the loss of that important education is manifesting in major ways that affect us all.
When you lack a good education, a true education, no matter how many hundreds of thousands you or your parents spent, you can't live an equitable life. What I mean by an equitable life is a life where you understand things OUTSIDE of your professional field with equal understanding. Literature does this for people. Reading the classics is a must. Whether you're an English major or not. Literature isn't just stories: It's history. It's philosophy. It's psychology. It's politics. It's law. It's economics. It's sociology. It's anthropology. It's archeology. It's geography. It's theology. It's even science.
You learn how to think when you study literature...and you don't need to be an English major to study literature, by the way. Anyone can do it. In or out of college.
Yes, I was an English major, but literature wasn't the only thing I studied. I took classes in neuroscience, philosophy, mathematics, astronomy, theology, history, anthropology--and not for my core requirements either. It was important to take advantage of my EDUCATION, not just to prepare for a professional life of teaching, writing and editing. I learned so much in my first four years of college. And I continued that education, even today. I find myself studying constantly, reading books on astrophysics, quantum mechanics, social theory, philosophy, theology, cultural literatures...and so much more. I can go into any room with any group of people--and converse about almost anything--not because I'm socially-gifted, but because I'm truly EDUCATED. As a professor, I attempted to squeeze as much true education as possible into my courses, seeing the continuing trend toward discounting a well-rounded knowledge of the world...you know, the place where students will have to live for the rest of their lives! How can our students be expected to do that without an equal understanding of ALL the important facets of this world? How can an individual hope to lead an equitable life without a TRUE EDUCATION???
Our world today is full of ignorance...and now you know why. I'll never forget the first time I recognized that a college-educated individual is not necessarily an EDUCATED individual. I was meeting a new group of people through a friend. It was around Christmas. I was raised in a multi-cultural family, so both attended Latin Mass with one grandmother, and was sent to Yeshiva by the other. I know the theology of Christianity as well as Judaism. So when a person from the group began a theological discussion with me, I was unfazed. Until I was asked how I handled knowing I was going to hell--in all seriousness, hell??? No, I'm not joking. The person who made the comment has both an undergraduate and graduate degree. At the time, I had neither. But I still knew better. I was already educated though I had yet to earn my four college degrees. I remember thinking how sad it was that this person, so much older than me, so much more experienced, and with a great deal more of formal education, was a total ignoramous.
Pathetic. How do you go through FOUR years of undergraduate study and another TWO years of graduate work for a total of SIX (!) years of "higher" education and still lack an actual education???? Because college is not really about education...not anymore. Yes, there are lots of wonderful schools with equally wonderful programs--and of course, even with less emphasis on things like literature in college classrooms, a college-education is still VERY necessary. We do live in a hyper-competitive world and students must be prepared for an equally competitive workplace. But in four years, even a "bottom line" degree should have space for the study of literature, for learning how to think and write and speak with eloquence.
The irony is, that the study of English IS a "bottom line" skill, it's just not recognized monetarily as such. But when you look at most employment ads, they specifically request "excellent written and verbal communication skills." It's valued, even for computer engineers like my brother.
So if you find your own education was somewhat lop-sided, keep engaging in literature of ALL kinds. You will find that you WILL live a more equitable life--and so will those connected to you--because of it. A true education is not in the eye of the beholder. There are certain truths we hold as self-evident. Literature is the key to all of them.
Until next time, dear readers....