How to get a real education at college

Posted on 04/10/2011 in misc

Why do we make B students sit through the same classes as their brainy peers? That's like trying to train your cat to do your taxes - a waste of time and money. Wouldn't it make sense to teach them something useful instead?

How to Get a Real Education at College - WSJ.com.

Although I do agree with the overall point that Scott Adams (the Dilbert guy) is making with this article, I think he is missing the forest for the trees, or the trees for the forest. However that saying goes.

He is reducing the college population into two groups, the brainiacs who are the future professors, and everybody else. I do agree that learning to be valuable is indeed a valuable skill, but it applies to a much broader spectrum of life than Adams seems to envision. To him, if you aren't starting a business selling or servicing widgets, you aren't doing something useful. I don't think I want to live in a world where the appreciation of art, science, music, or even horses, is reduced to some measurement of shareholder value. If the leadership of Goldman Sachs had traded a few finance classes for history and ethics, maybe the housing market wouldn't be in the shape it is in today.

As an aside, as we've been researching how one makes a living with a history degree (without going to law school) we've become familiar with the "public history" track in college. Public history focuses on taking history and making it useful. The curriculum focuses on interpreting and presenting history, and how to archive and preserve it for the future. It's applied history, which is exactly what Scott Adams was talking about, although I don't think he would agree. Not coincidentally, it is also the "hot" area in the study of history. Hot being a relative term. It's still in the school of Liberal Arts.

So I generally agree that coming out of college "useful" is a laudable goal. In fact, it is sort of mandatory if you want someone to pay you based on what you have learned. But I think I have a much wider definition of useful than Scott Adams. I don't think the world is short on business majors. If we all learned something else, with a side of business, I think we'd better off. The study of business, for business' sake, has not been a good thing for this country. Great businesses grow out of a passion for something else. If we focus on helping kids find their passions, the businesses will follow if we add just enough business education to get them going.

The author of this article is not a bitter Art History major. He has a graduate degree in business.

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