Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Will there be jobs?

Last night, I was at Washington & Jefferson College speaking to a group of students about what they will do when college is over. I was a panelist for a discussion called, "What Can I Do With an English Major?" I was asked to participate because I am a W&J gad who was an English major and managed to find a job in which my education was useful.

While the other panelists talked about graduate school and internship, I scanned the faces, detecting here and there a wince or a widening of the eyes that betrayed bewilderment, even dread. It's understandable; it's a tough world out there now, where no one seems to be hiring.

These kids are under a lot of pressure to choose a course in life. Many of their parents are insisting that their college education be practical and vocational. I was there to defend liberal arts, to talk them out of switching their majors to accounting.

I told them how lucky they were to be able to learn about so many different things – languages, history, psychology, art – and that they should soak up all of this that they can. As English majors, they will go out into the working world as effective communicators, so necessary when abbreviated text messages just won't do. And as English majors they study literature, and in doing so they learn so much of the human condition. Anyone who is an effective communicator and has a good understanding of the human condition can do anything he or she chooses.

I'm not sure I got my point across; in the end, there were few questions. But if they take advantage of all the knowledge that's offered to them now, and if they are willing to start work at the bottom, they'll be just fine. Even now, when things seem so bad.

Honest, you will be OK.


Ellipses said...

There are a few arguments to fall back on regarding what you are speaking about... First of which is the sage advice from Dr. Edward Greb regarding the value of a liberal arts education. Citing a study done by AT&T, liberal arts grads advance up the corporate ladder at a slower pace, but end up on a higher rung than their vo-tech, accountant counterparts. Specialized vocational degrees allow you to shoot to the top of your department, but the Poly-sci/English double major ends up being the CEO.

Also... this idea that you go to college "to get a good job" is astoundingly narrow. I studied medieval english literature, linguistics, classical philosophy, and christian theology... and I work in advertising and marketing.

The question isn't "will I use this?"

The question is "can I learn this?" "Am I more now that I know this?"

Seriously, it's not WHAT you learn, but learning HOW to learn...

Learning how to stumble through a qualitative research database is nothing compared to reading the Ellesmere Manuscript or plodding through an untouched version of Beowulf...

Presenting a powerpoint on operations costs pales in comparison to discovering God in Physics or defining Love in the Symposium.

If you can learn how to learn in college, you will know how to learn anything anyone would ever want to pay you to do in life.

Park Burroughs said...

Well put. I've spent the last 38 years regretting what I could have learned at college but didn't.

Ellipses said...

When my powerball numbers come up, I am going to start collecting 4 year degrees... consider it a stimulus plan for art history professors.

Anonymous said...

As the product of Liberal Arts degree I would have preferred to:
1. Spend less. Overpriced for the results
2. I knew how to learn, teachers and schools DID NOT teach that. I didn't need guidance, I need results.
3. realistic guidance about the job market and the realities of the work place. I would have been perfectly suited towards a pre-law and then law and it would have fit my goals in life. My advisors in high school were more interested in football than in leading children from low income families that were bright.

One thing that many from more varied backgrounds forget is that some children are entering school from low income families without the cushion to fall back on or the guidance that is necessary to realize what they might be able to achieve.

Also, the world is becoming more and more technical driven and the need for technical skills matter. HR directors are less and less willing to "waste (their words not mine)" resources training untrained workers.

Finally, Ellispes I find it odd the results of your background after your need to along with Brant to put down the works of the ancients and middle ages. You seem to say what is needed for the moment to make a point, rather than the consistency that one would expect. Regardless I respect this post as it was on topic, not snarky and interesting. I hope to see more comments like this, even ones I disagree with, in the future.

Anonymous said...

I had great teachers in high school that really listened and took an interest in helping me to achieve my goals. The same in college.

One of my high school teachers took me aside one day and said I want to give you a quote to carry throughout your life and never forget to remember it as you find yourself faced with difficulties.

He said to me that day, "The obstacles in the pathway of the weak are stepping stones in the pathway of the strong." I would hate to say how old I am today, but his words went with me and were repeated to myself many times over the years as I worked to achieve my goals.

Today I have to wonder how many others he shared those same words with back in our high school.

One of my teachers in college gave me a plaque that I still have today, and I have kept nearby to read daily.


I believe good teachers and professor's are priceless! I have always appreciated mine over the years. But then again one will only get out of something, what one is willing to put into it in the first place.

Ellipses said...


I am not sure what you see as "putting down" the ancients (and or medievalists)...

I am entirely infatuated with the period and absolutely LOVE the literary and linguistic contributions of the time...

One of the reasons I appreciate the volume and depth of the enlightenment that came from men such as Chaucer, and Gower... and earlier, Boethius, Plato, and Plotinus... is the magnitude of cultural and social obstacles toward rational, creative, and brilliant thought. From the church right down to the ignorant unwashed masses... it is incredible that anyone was able to overcome such ignorance and produce something so awesome... it must be for the grace of God :-)

To find fundamental and blaring faults is not a knock on the overall context of a period, though... you can revere America's founding fathers while still acknowledging that Jefferson was banging his slaves and Franklin would stick his d!ck in a bear trap if it bought him a drink... That doesn't diminish their accomplishments.

As awesome and brilliant as Geoffrey Chaucer was... I am certainly glad we haven't built our society on the foundation of 14th century England... holy jeez that would suck

Anonymous said...

But our society is built on the foundations of the past, including 14th century England. Our system of law is an outgrowth of Roman law and some of its main problems are the movement AWAY from it's concepts. For example, the idea that someone cannot be guilty of a crime if they did not understand it was a crime. Federal law in particular Fish and Game laws have moved away from this concept. Pick up an Eagle feather and you are guilty, period. This has caused problems for average Americans who have been prosecuted.

Regardless, it is nice to have a well written response. Thanks.

Ellipses said...

Absolutely... our bricks set atop the bricks of the past...

But we SHOULD pick and choose which old horses we latch our wagons to... Hammurabi's code, the Magna Carta... they echo in present society for a reason... they have bits that are logically sound and as universal as abstract concepts can be.

However, there are aspects of days of yore that should be preserved in history, but quarantined within pages of books. A lot of people were burned as witches around the same time that the world was given Troilus and Criseyde, Piers Plowman, and Pearl...

It's one thing to use biblical or historical precedent to exult your fellow man... but too often it is used as a justification for suppressing them.

On a side note... regarding the cost of college... when I packed up and moved to W&J's campus, I did so from a mobile home. I had no college fund and no family wealth as a cushion. I financed my education primarily through student loans... to the point where I owe more on my education than I do on my house. It was still worth every penny.