Sun 25 Oct 2009
For those of you who haven’t heard, there’s a group on Facebook entitled “I picked a major I like, and one day I’ll probably be living in a box.” At the time of this writing, it has more than 108,000 members. I’m one of them.
In some sense, this Facebook group represents a response to the increasing utilitarianism of the academy, the increasing drive towards getting degrees that lead directly to a specific career: like engineering, medicine, etc. By contrast, we are the minority who insist on getting “useless” degrees in such things as languages, literature, history, and the like.
Of course, I would argue that a liberal arts degree is far from useless (see my post “Whatever Happened to the Liberal Arts?”). And I think many members of the above-mentioned Facebook group would agree. The very title, which predicts each of our future plans as “living in a box”, is itself a playful joke about how we do not care that our degrees do not lead directly to high paying jobs. There are far more important things than money.
That all said, the average person in North America still sees two types of degrees: “useful” (ie, leading to a high-paying job) and “useless” (all others). And so it’s unsurprising that students who take “useless” degrees frequently meet blank stares and confusion when they explain what they are studying. I thought I’d share just a few of the more humorous interchanges members recall having after being asked the question: “What’s your major?”
Student: I’m studying French.
Questioner: So you’ll be French when you graduate?
Student: I’m in Religious Studies.
Questioner: So… you want to be a nun?
Student: I’m taking Archaeology.
Questioner: Like what they did in Jurassic Park?
Student: I’m in English.
Questioner: But… you already speak English. What else could you possibly learn?
Student: I’m in Linguistics.
Questioner: Cool. How many languages do you speak?
Student: Two and a half, but we don’t actually learn languages in the program; we learn about language in general.
Questioner: So what exactly does a linguistics major do?
Student: Mostly just explain to other people what linguistics is…
And one final exchange a little more related to the typical content of my blog.:
Student: I am going into theology!
Student: I am going into theology?
Parents: How many years of college is that?
Student: Umm, it depends on how long I go for…
Parents: [Pause] What are you going to do with that?
[Some of the above have been slightly edited for presentational purposes.]