Tuesday, October 11, 2011

We don't need no liberals and their arts...

Over on LGM, Erik has a post discussing the on-going campaign by the Right to gut higher ed.

Well, it's education in general, of course, but we're focusing on higher ed at the moment.

The present trope is that "We don't need any fancy-pants liberal arts education," that kids should be studying something at college they can get a job with, as if English, history, and anthroplogy did not lead to jobs: when in fact, yes, they do. (More on this in a moment.) As if the liberal arts were a giant waste of money, and only business schools and the hard sciences and tech schools paid off.

Now I have nothing against hard sciences and tech schools, which are excellent fields of study (business school is another fucking matter), but those are not the only fields worth studying, and not everyone is interested in or able to study tech or science. I speak as someone who has run up against the limits of her ability more than once -- most recently this year, when Aikido is teaching me about the different natures of intelligence.

I have excellent linguistic and abstract intelligence. Language is my business and I'm brilliant at it. I might even be a genius. I've certainly never met anyone who is better than me -- not yet, anyway, though granted the competition in Fuck Smith is limited.

What I'm not a genius at is physical skills. When it comes to getting my body to move is certain patterns, and remembering those patterns, I'm an absolute idiot. If you had to judge my intelligence by how clever I am in the dojo, you would think my IQ was about 89. I swear. I can't remember anything from one end of the lesson to the next, I can't do what I'm told two minutes after I have been told it, things that eleven year olds can do, I fail miserably at.

I'm fairly good at math -- and by fairly good, I mean I can get the math if you explain it to me slowly and I pay careful attention. If you evaluated my intelligence via my math skills, you'd think my IQ was about 110, probably. Bright, but not really promising. I would never, this is what I am saying to you, be able to make it as an engineer, or finish a chemistry degree, or -- probably -- a biology or geology degree, though I might have a better shot with those. Math degree? It is to laugh.

(I'm pretty sure I would also crash and burn in a business degree or an education degree, for other reasons.)

Whereas I sailed through the Comp Lit degree. I was the star of that program.

Because, despite what RW likes to argue, there are different kinds of intelligence.

And why does this matter? Why do we even care? Besides the whole a-mind-is-a-terrible-thing-to-waste factor? (Though that is true and we do care?)

Because we need these different sorts of intelligences -- these are all the different tools of the human experience, all the different ways of approaching the world, and they all are, in fact, important, no matter what Rick Scott seems to think. ("Why does the state need to have more anthroplogists" he demands.) When you have a problem, a hammer and a bigger hammer are not, in fact, the only tools you may need to solve that problem. You might, in fact, need an anthropologist. Or an English major.

Which is what major companies (like Wal-Mart) are finding out, as I learned from one of the presentations at the APA this weekend. Hiring business majors often turns out to be the wrong move. As it turns out, business majors aren't taught to reason, or to write, or to think for themselves. They're taught to memorize and to dress properly. It's English majors and other liberal arts majors who learn critical thinking and the other vital skills needed in the business world -- they turn out to be what the corporations need. (Though we may not be that interested in working for them, sadly.) Business schools have, according to the presentation I sat through, started trying to model their programs more on liberal arts programs, trying to mimic our success in turning out students who can think and write and be creative...Why not just let them be liberal arts majors, you wonder?

Yes, well. Different sorts of intelligence, again. If they could be anthropology majors, they wouldn't be business majors, would they?

My point! And I do have one. It's not destroy the business schools. Or the STEM programs, God knows. It's get the idiot politicians out of education.

Because seriously. What's their qualification for even meddling with this? Have they ever taught? Do they have a clue? When was the last time they were near a classroom?

Would you let someone who had never been in a medical school tell you how to run a hospital? Or someone who didn't know the first thing about the theory of flight start fucking about with your jet engine?

Go back to fucking up the country, why don't you, Rick Scott?

Or here's a better idea. I know a Sunday school looking for a pastor. Have at it.


dorki said...

Very good points made there delagar. Over my professional career I have seen the value of a broad mix of talents and backgrounds in the workspace. The research organization I was in had mostly technical (STEM) employees. A few were "lib-artsy" types. Several times in involved technical meetings they called us out in blunders of logic or reason. Other times they made contributions to the "image" that our work made so that it be more convincing to levels of management over us.

Anonymous said...

I'm 55, and taking a music theory class with 18-year-olds fresh out of church. They have that bland, beatific, white bread look about them that church people have, but music theory has shaken them to their roots. They aren't sure why yet, but it has. I see it in their faces. They are just figuring out that they were raised in a bubble, they understand that the underpinnings of music are more complex than the hymn singing they were raised on (although it's good that they did that), and they are terrified.

I hope as many as possible survive this class, because music is a "gateway drug" to an educated, mature mind. Their love for music will take them to places where people smoke, take drugs, have sex, and think about things that have nothing to do with Jesus. For some of them, just singing in Latin will do it. And then there is jazz. I want that for them. I have high hopes for them. I was them 37 years ago.

They gather around me before class, asking me to explain chords to them, and I gladly make it easier for them. I'm surprised how much I care.