I sometimes think the only thing that saves Florida State University System of a legislature that does not fully endorse overly sophisticated learning is the fear that too much funding could harm football. Thank goodness for college football.
The latest move to ensure that universities don’t fill the minds of their officials with a lot of crazy ideas is a Senate move (SB 86) which would base the financial assistance of the State on the fact that a course of study leads to a job. Fund this liberal arts nonsense.
Senator Dennis Baxley’s move, R-Ocala, would task the state board of governors and education council with putting together a list of programs that lead directly to paychecks. Students who persist in programs like Art, Anthropology, English, and Sociology would see their Bright Futures money cut. (Baxley, a funeral director, complained at the Tampa Bay Times about the time he wasted on sociology lessons.)
Legislation to cut school money for things that don’t interest lawmakers is a constant in Tallahassee. “Is it in the state’s vital interest to have more anthropologists? I don’t think so”, growled Senator Rick Scott. when he was governor. “I think universities need to start looking at the system and saying, ‘OK, how many psychology and philosophy majors should we be producing?’, Asked Senator Marco Rubio when he was Speaker of the House. The implied answer was three or four. Perhaps.
Unfortunately, not everyone follows a straight career path from high school to the first day on the job after college graduation. It’s the detours that make a life interesting and rounded and yes, useful.
I say this with a bias. I was a student of history – a degree program that probably wouldn’t succeed in Baxley’s Bill. But it’s a curriculum that asks you to sort fact from fiction and imagine what people with life experiences very different from yours thought about their world. It teaches you how to extract sources and documents looking for clues about events. And it asks you to write consistently about what you find out and argue for your point of view. A lot of useful skills.
You come out of this kind of study realizing that it is a complex world. That easy queues of bad guys and good guys don’t explain it. That the conventional wisdom of a society is more changeable than you might imagine. A world with more history majors would be less inclined to believe in the easy answers and Rube Goldberg machinations offered by the latest conspiracy theory making its way onto the internet.
And despite a flaky college degree, I’ve managed to stay employed for the past four decades. This happens more often than you might think.
My daughter would have been even more affected by the bill. She majored in theater and has a master’s degree in creative writing. She now works for one of those big tech companies the governor always complains about and lives in a different tax bracket than the one she grew up in. She has a job title that didn’t exist when she was a student, so she couldn’t have known what she was about to do.
Good results for both of us. They happened because history departments are not solely devoted to training professional historians. Because not all theater majors are for the stage and the screen. But you learn a lot along the way. Things that translate well into tasks that people are willing to pay you money for.
In a famous 2005 opening speech At Stanford University, Steve Jobs recounted auditing a course in calligraphy and how that seemingly unnecessary course led to the development of the first computer that generated readable letters that looked like printed letters. Like the one this piece was written on, with serifs and proportional spacing. A beautiful thing that I am looking at now. Students who enjoy their time at university are exposed to all kinds of unexpected things. You never know where one of them might lead.
But frightened by student loan debt and a more competitive market, we are pushing kids toward narrower career paths, believing we are helping them. It is increasingly becoming an educational policy. And now it can be put into law.