The well-intentioned handwringing over what to do about the slow asphyxiation of the traditional American humanities education continues over at Salon.com, where novelist Kim Brooks laments the failure of liberal arts colleges to prepare students for professionally and financially rewarding careers. Some might argue, however, that the real failure belongs to the crafters of broken domestic economic policy, not professors, artists and intellectuals.
“Why do even the best colleges fail so often at preparing kids for the world?” Brooks asks. That the “real” world is currently managed by men and women who have no visible concern for the welfare of the academy or the life of the mind and are principally and disastrously motivated by profit does not seem to factor large in her search for an answer. —ARK
Kim Brooks at Salon:
The answer, at least according to a recent article in the New York Times, is rather bleak. Employment rates for college graduates have declined steeply in the last two years, and perhaps even more disheartening, those who find jobs are more likely to be steaming lattes or walking dogs than doing anything even peripherally related to their college curriculum. While the scale and severity of this post-graduation letdown may be an unavoidable consequence of an awful recession, I do wonder if all those lofty institutions of higher learning, with their noble-sounding mission statements and soft-focused brochure photos of campus greens, may be glossing over the serious, at-times-crippling obstacles a B.A. holder must overcome to achieve professional and financial stability. I’m not asking if a college education has inherent value, if it makes students more thoughtful, more informed, more enlightened and critical-minded human beings. These are all interesting questions that don’t pay the rent. What I’m asking is far more banal and far more pressing. What I’m asking is: Why do even the best colleges fail so often at preparing kids for the world?
When I earned my diploma from the University of Virginia in the spring of 2000, it never occurred to me before my senior year to worry too seriously about my post-graduation prospects. Indeed, most of my professors, advisors and mentors reinforced this complacency. I was smart, they told me. I’d spent four years at a rigorous institution honing my writing, research and critical-thinking skills. I’d written an impressive senior thesis, gathered recommendations from professors, completed summer internships in various journalistic endeavors. They had no doubt at all that I would land on my feet. And I did (kind of), about a decade after graduating.
... Of course, there are certainly plenty of B.A. holders out there who, wielding the magic combination of competency, credentials and luck, are able to land themselves a respectable, entry-level job that requires neither name tag nor apron. But for every person I know who parlayed a degree in English or anthropology into a career-track gig, I know two others who weren’t so lucky, who, in that awful, post-college year or two or three or four, unemployed and uninsured and uncommitted to any particular field, racked up credit card debt or got married to the wrong person or went to law school for no particular reason or made one of a dozen other time- and money-wasting mistakes.
The Venus de Milo, sculpted between 130 and 100 B.C., stands armless in the Louvre.