Monday, December 11, 2006

Maybe She Wrote on Shame Because She Has None?

I heard about this choice piece in Newsweek from a few weeks ago. It came on the heels of another short piece by a Philosopher describing, in the most brutal of terms, what studying Philosophy is like. After reading this piece, thanks to my colleague, I am convinced that Newsweek not only has an anti-Philosophy agenda, but an anti-Liberal Arts College one as well. I just hope the readers aren't as dumb as the editors think they are.

The essay is written by a recent Philosophy graduate from some elite college:

Having taken seminars on government, I could hold forth on the relationship between taxation and the federal deficit but was clueless about filling out a basic tax form. I'd graduated with a B.A. in philosophy in May, and had decided against going straight to graduate school. But while countless newspapers claimed that the job market for graduates was the best it had been in years, I had no idea how to take advantage of it. I couldn't imagine myself in an entry-level administrative position staring at a spreadsheet for eight hours a day—partly because it sounded dull, but also because in college I had never learned how to use spreadsheet programs. Cocktail waitressing seemed like a good way to make ends meet.

But, she protests, the degree and the college did nothing to help her live in the "real world." She can't fill out a W-4, she can't balance her budget, she doesn't know what a Roth IRA is, and she has no idea how to get a job. Her personal deficits, she argues, are the fault of her elite, pricey education:

My friends and I are incredibly lucky to have gotten the educations we have. But there's a discrepancy between what we learn in school and what we need to know for work, and there must be some way for universities to bridge this gap. They might, for example, offer classes in personal finance as part of the economics department. How about a class on renting an apartment? Granted, it might be hard to lure students to such mundane offerings, but the students who don't go will wish they had.

I have to imagine that this puff piece is a wet dream to all of the disgruntled "practical" minded accountants (I am not talking to you "Just Me.") out there who don't get why someone would study Literature, Philosophy or, hell, even Women's Studies in college. But anyone who reads this piece and blames Barnard or Yale for this woman's deficits is a sucker. The "life skills" that Caitlin sorely lacks are her own responsibility.

After all, when we admit students to college, we presuppose a base of knowledge: they do basic math, they can read directions carefully, they can seek out libraries or reference materials to better understand directions, and, finally, they have critical thinking skills, e.g. they can separate what is important from what is not.

If Caitlin doesn't have the following skills, then I am puzzled how she did so well in a tough major at a good school? In fact, I am damn embarrassed for Caitlin. I hope that years from now, she will re-read this piece with shame, yes, the very topic of her senior thesis. What she has demonstrated to the reader is nothing more than the product of an overprivileged, and thereby entitled sense of self. While the rest of us learn how to complete these basic tasks the hard way: trial and error, reading relevant materials, seeking out those with good advice, etc., she thinks that someone should have pulled her aside and warned her she needed these skills and force feed them to her.

The problem is decidely not her education.