It makes me really angry to see anyone degrading any type of degree. As a BA graduate, my degree has been the butt of many jokes. I’ve heard a BA called “not a real degree” (even though arts subjects were considered foundational when universities were first formed). I’ve heard a political science degree called “socialist brainwashing”. My degree is probably considered by many to be only one step above philosophy and gender studies in terms of its so-called usefulness (neither of those are useless degrees, by the way). Hell, I’ve seen so many people with a BA or who are in a BA program call their own degrees useless. The truth is, no degree is useless, and all involve a lot of hard work. In the push for social mobility and the pressure to get a job, we’ve lost sight of what a university degree really is and what it really does for people.
Universities were never meant to be pathways to a job (with the exception of professional programs), that’s what polytechnics and career colleges are for. A university is meant to be a place for intellectual exploration and discovery. It’s meant to train the next generation of scholars and thinkers, to pass down knowledge and ideas while teaching us to form our own. Society has come to see university as a means to an end, and as such has come to value various degrees based on their perceived employability. We’ve come to consider getting a well paying job as the purpose of education when the true value of education is something much greater.
If you’re working towards a BA or something similar, I want to challenge you to think about what you wouldn’t be able to do if you hadn’t gone through that program. Would you be able to effectively research complex societal issues? Would you be able to communicate the results of that research to an audience in spoken word or in writing? Would you be able to think critically about the implications of the things you see and hear everyday? More and more employers are recognizing the value of skills learned in an arts degree. Arts graduates think differently than science graduates or business graduates. We need a good mixture of different ways of thinking in society and in the workplace to be successful. We need engineers to design bridges, but we need sociologists to tell us how that bridge will affect the surrounding communities and we need accountants to make sure that bridge is cost-effective. We all have a role to play because we have a different set of skills.
Many people not in arts programs such as political science or gender studies assume that programs like this are useless because the topics studied are discussed on a daily basis, so everyone knows about that stuff. However, day to day conversations about political and social issues only scratch the surface of their complexities. I find myself perpetually frustrated in conversations about gender politics because there’s so much more under the surface that the average person who doesn’t spend time studying and researching this stuff just won’t understand. People dedicate their lives to these fields for a reason. Because society is complex, we need to take a good hard look at ourselves and we need this research to tell us how we can improve. To stop studying things like sociology, classics, and gender studies, means accepting the status quo and deciding that there is no room for improvement.
Finally, on the topic of difficulty, every degree is hard. Upper year arts majors have to write multiple 3000 to 4000 word research papers in a matter of months while trying to stay on top of weekly readings. Science majors have to do a lot of long labs and write extensive reports on them. Education majors have to wrangle classrooms of children or teenagers (I’m not sure which is worse). You get the idea. We are all working very hard to do something we enjoy, so let’s stop trying to one up each other.
Image courtesy of: