Yesterday I came across an article in Yahoo that really bothered me. It was called ‘Don’t Let Your Kids Study These Majors’, and as you can probably tell it tells parents to despair if their children dare to dream of becoming something as despicable as an architect, an artist, a philosopher, an archaeologist, an anthropologist or a film-maker… scratch that, it tells parents to despair if their children dare to dream, period.
So what wonderful alternative majors does this article have in mind as being a far more sensible choice for these misinformed youths who dream of pursuing knowledge for the sake of knowledge, or who love beauty. Well, there is accounting, elementary education, finance, business and healthcare administration.
Now, these are all fine majors if you are passionate about those fields, but while it is true that you have to choose a major with an eye on you professional future, there is more to life that dollars and cents, and pushing kids into fields they hate because it is more ‘sensible’ seems like a terrible idea to me.
Let’s face it, a budding philosopher who despises math would probably make a terrible accountant anyway.
Yes, the article makes a good point when it says that there are some fields that are saturated, and that there are some skills the marketplace doesn’t really value, but the thing it misses is that it’s not all about the marketplace, and the fact that there are some majors the marketplace doesn’t particularly value doesn’t mean that those majors have no value… and unfortunately this dismissive attitude towards most humanistic fields is not limited to this very mercantilistic article. We also see it in speech after speech by politicians, though those seem to be pushing mostly the STEM curriculum (science, technology, engineering and math). Again, nothing wrong with encouraging kids to take an interest in these fields, but there is a difference from encouraging them to take an interest in something and discouraging them from taking an interest in something else… not to mention that a world full of engineers and accountants, but devoid of musicians, artists, writers and film-makers is one in which I wouldn’t want to live.
Of course, the good news is that that’s not likely to happen because there is one thing those accountants pushing accountancy, and to a lesser extent those politicians pushing the hard sciences, don’t seem to understand: some things are about passion, they cannot be reduced to a cost/benefit analysis. I can tell you from personal experience that writers write not so much because they want to but because they have to, and the same seems to be true of visual artists, musicians and film-makers. That’s why we are willing to put up with the dismal financial prospects, the mocking, the dismissive attitudes and the questions about our ‘real jobs’. Yes, we dream about making it big, that’s human nature, but in the end our dreams feed us in a way a more traditional job would not.
We may be perpetually broke (and I understand that that’s something no parent ever wants to see), we know there are sacrifices we are going to have to make, but we love what we do… and while I can understand someone being as passionate about science and even math as I am about words, I have a far more difficult time trying to imagine someone being that passionate about accounting.
As for the other choices touted by that article, there was one I found to be downright terrifying: elementary education. Let me be clear about it, I have nothing but respect for a passionate teacher, and I know what a difference such a teacher can make in a child’s life, but at the same time I realize that the passion must come from within… and the truth is that those choosing elementary education as a field because of its potential benefits are unlikely to have it. Just as a good teacher can be a wonderful influence on a child’s life, a bad one can prove devastating.
There are plenty of paths to happiness, and many more paths to unhappiness. Yes, there are some things that can be described as necessities, but those are fewer than most people seem to think, and you’d be surprised by how happy you can be with less as long as you are true to yourself and you love what you are doing, so don’t be afraid to dream.