Friday, July 29, 2011

Thoughts on Acadamia and The Life of the Mind

My higher educational experience was directed at the goal of obtaining my law degree, with the goal of having a career as a lawyer. To a degree, I regretted that my path did not allow me to explore the many other areas of knowledge that interested me. What had I missed?

 I have considered going back and taking some college classes, but found that I would have to take too many lower level classes to be "qualified" to take the ones that really interest me. For example, I would love to explore literature, but the classes that appear interesting are final year or graduate level classes. I have no interest in suffering through second year English - and others - just to get in the class I wanted.
I was reminded of this by a recent article in on Humanities Grad School.

The article highlights the problems inherent in higher education these days, particularly in the humanities. There are a limited number of decent jobs one can get with such a degree, and these are primarily, if not exclusively, within academia itself. (There are other good points in the article regarding the use of student teachers, etc.) Considering the cost and the time commitment required, is it even worth pursuing studies in the humanities? As the article rightly concludes, only those with independent resources who will not be needing jobs to support themselves later can really count on a good return.

This ties in with my self-education project, of course. On the one hand, education in the humanities is overpriced for its monetary value. On the other, the system itself makes it difficult for those who wish to study for personal enrichment to do so while earning a degree in a more practical field.

Fortunately, it is possible to gain knowledge outside of the classroom, although it requires additional effort to plan one's own education. For practical reasons, the future of study and knowledge in the humanities lies primarily outside of academia. As things are now, few can truly afford to devote themselves to a degree in these areas, and few outside of these programs have more than a passing knowledge. If we as a society are to have hope of retaining a shared knowledge and love of history, literature, philosophy, languages, and the arts; we are going to have to acquire this knowledge for ourselves.

The closing line of the article states it best:

As more and more people are learning, universities do not have a monopoly on the "life of the mind."


  1. Well said. I haven't tried them yet but have heard good comments on The Great Courses series and know that libraries carry them. Maybe this could help play into self education? I think it is ridiculous how much college costs considering how dumbed down higher education has become. Too many young people are saddled with tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt, or more, and no job prospects outside of retail.

  2. Jeremy likes the Great Courses - particularly the ones on history. It would be a good option for commuting, particularly. I'm looking forward to hearing about your reading as well, Amy.