Monday, October 24, 2011

Citizens, Jobs and the Liberal Arts

I don’t have a Liberal Arts degree myself, but at least I have a degree, a degree in my chosen profession… There is a lot of regret in the phrase “at least.”

Looking across the USA, I wonder if historians will one day refer to these years as The Troubles, this polarized distressful time when civilized discourse has been replaced by personal attacks. Is even academia embedded in The Troubles? I wonder, as across the land I see the respectful search for truth being discarded by those who are full of passionate certainty, devoid of humble spirit, and devoid, as well, of any respect for other searchers.

I have great respect for the Liberal Arts, the arts of perspective and respectful discourse.

I have mentioned Scott Berkun’s essay-blog before. Recently, in the comments to an October 17 2011 blog-post exploring the value of philosophy degrees, I found this one by a guy I will call Joe. The bitterness of Joe’s last line perfectly represents The Troubles.
Peter Drucker indicates management is a Liberal Arts profession. (Others) suggests college is not the place to really learn. I have found as much useful professional information in (some) books as I did in my entire graduate program. Costs less and I don’t have to schedule my life around class times.

Challenge yourself to grow and invest in that growth. Let the folks who really need to waste money do so. Encourage the reductions in grants for college since you are paying for someone else to waste their time.
Such a bitter line. It baffles me that Joe has gone in for extra learning, as in first a post-secondary degree and then a post-graduate degree, and still, somehow, Joe values neither learning nor his fellow students. Did he go through his youthful campus years as a hard atom, bereft of community? Joe reminds me of that fellow in the 19th century comic novel Three Men in a Boat who “never looked at the stars and wept, he knew not why.” My hypothesis? Joe went through his degree years hoping for a job, not an education; he missed out on the stars because he wanted data for his “professional information.” He was, in short, a mercenary.

History note: The Roman legions were volunteers who fought for free, with the army supplying the rations, catapults and so forth. As free men from a poor city they outfought the mercenary (for pay) soldiers of wealthy Carthage… Perhaps it’s a symptom of The Troubles that today’s kids don’t know that in the republic of Rome men fought as citizens, not as conscripts. (Draftees)

In my day campus vandalism, such as writing on toilet stalls, was only by undergraduates. Such vandalism was because some of them, while having gone in with barely above average IQs, felt burdened, felt like conscripts, felt they “hafta be there” in order to “get a good job.” The graduate students lived vandal-free because they had freely volunteered for their extra learning. I wonder, after reading Joe’s comment, if this has changed. I wonder, too, if those who have missed the stars, missed out on the awesome spectacle of humankind’s slow hard climb out of the muck, are the same ones who are part of The Troubles.

History note II: In Drucker’s day there were faculties of economics and sociology, but not of business.  Drucker, to the surprise of academia, insisted on writing educational (not training) works in the field of business. Then Drucker invented “management” as something that could be taught. His first work was The End of Economic Man, where he explained that money isn’t everything.

In replying to Joe’s comment, I referred to Drucker, but I don’t know if Joe “got it.” I wrote that Drucker was expected by his parents to go straight from high school to college. Instead, at the age of 17, an age when a year is forever, Drucker went off to apprentice for one year with a merchant trading company in Hamburg. Surely he did this to learn about the world, not to get a job as a merchant. After his year he went to college and earned a law degree. Again, his purpose was to learn, for he never made the slightest attempt to practice law. To me college is not where “you hafta lose years” out of your life, rather, college is a bittersweet part of your life, valuable for its own sake.

Joe is probably correct in thinking the tricks and techniques and vocabulary of business can be learned outside of school, such as on the job or weekends at the library. This was what people did in my father's day, before Drucker came along. Not so for the liberal arts, not on your own.

For example, successful novelist and college teacher John Gardener wrote that reading Shakespeare on your own was no substitute for being led through the work by a professor. Yes indeed.

A library teaching machine can give the facts, but it is being on campus, having contact with others, that gives you feelings about the facts. There is no substitute for blithely saying something that is commonly believed in your clan, only to see, in response, a look of revulsion on the face of your professor. (I’m remembering a blond South African who said something anti-Negro. By graduation the student had changed) It is from the liberal arts, as the War on Terror rumbles on in the background, that a clan member, and Member of Parliament, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, extracts her concepts, concepts for putting the War into perspective for herself and her constituents. As I documented in an earlier essay, (Backfire, Sept 2010) no terrorist of the “global reach” or “cross-border” jihad sort has a degree in the liberal arts. (In contrast, conventional terrorism, of the within-the-state civil war sort, attracts all types: Philosopher Jean Paul Sartre claimed to have been part of the resistance in Vichy France)

I suppose the ideal, for someone of college (above average) IQ, would be to get a three or four year degree and then get a one or two year “after degree” for job/professional training. (My own campus has added a fourth year to the degree, adding it at the bottom as a "high school make up year," according to the vice president) I know you can do this already for journalism in Ontario, and for social work in Victoria. The latter stipulates, in the university course catalogue, that it has to be a real degree, and not in, say, engineering.

I greatly respect engineers. In the faculty of engineering, of course, the sheer course load means there is a limit as to what non-engineering courses can be taken. Still, the faculty offers an honest university degree: It is not a conservatory of engineering. With a quasi-rounded education the students will think and ask questions. Upon graduation the engineers will be given a plain steel ring to symbolize some needed thinking. By the way, if “nerdy” engineering students are “wild,” it’s not solely from sheer stress. (Accidental pun) After graduation, they will require the strict respectability of a banker or undertaker or married person. It’s no surprise if the student years are something of a stag party.

In contrast, the future builders enrolled at technical school—and let me say that three of my siblings have tech diplomas—are not there to learn the questions but the answers. They work quickly right up until bedtime, deriving the answers to things like fluid flow rates, or interstate highway gradients. Meanwhile, back (time) at university (space) I was supposed to have more free time than they did: My research papers had a far off due date, on purpose, in order to give me the emotional space-and-time to sit under the old apple tree and create new questions and original insights. Apples fall, and maybe… maybe planets orbit not from gravity but from following space-time curvature. (Probably true)

Tech students have a different role than I did: Working on today's answers during every available minute, they are not given time to study history and ask questions. For example: During the post-war years, if they are learning to build the “military and interstate highway system, “the interstate” for short, (Historical Note: “military” is to get around the US constitution forbidding autobahns) then they won’t ask whether neighborhoods should be torn asunder to reduce interstate driving time by almost ten minutes. Nor are techys "trained" to ask, "Why is it always the Black neighborhoods?" Nevertheless, if someone with classes in the liberal arts asks a question, just once in his lifetime, and then helps save an ethnic neighborhood from being blasted into history, then, surely, his college grant has just paid for itself.

It’s tech school that gives you a job, not college. I never hear, as a term of praise, of a “successful plumber.” Because the risk is low, so is the praise. I think university should be for volunteers who accept the risk of not being guaranteed a job, just as Roman citizens, subsidized by the city-state, risked volunteering for the legions. How glorious. I think my siblings, as taxpayers, subsidized me at university, as I in turn have subsidized the upcoming generations, in order for these students in our fine democracy to ask vital questions. Not to mention having "truth, beauty and a life," and being leaders. We all have our parts to play. After high school some will go to tech, others straight to work; some will marry and have children, others will adopt. I’m not too sure about Joe. Like many during The Troubles, he sounds too bitter. Unlike him, I don’t begrudge “college grants” and subsidies. To paraphrase a post-war proverb, “It takes money from all the village to raise a child.”

God save the Queen.

Sean Crawford
Calgary, Alberta
October 2011

Here's a link to a good editorial in the local university student newspaper.

~Peter Drucker is one of an honored handful of Americans who supported Japan in their post-war economic miracle. They didn’t believe him, at first, when he told them how fast they could rebuild. Another such American is Deming. Much of the so-called “Japanese management,” such as in the Michael Keaton movie Gung Ho, is actually Deeming’s invention.

Even before The Troubles, US citizens had a listening problem: In the US auto industry, only the junior leaders, until well after the oil crises, would go to hear Deming, just as how the US army, in contrast to all the Commonwealth countries, sent only junior officers, during the Vietnam years, to the British Jungle Warfare School. In Japan, in stark contrast, the most senior executives would go to hear Deming and Drucker. (For further reading: My essay of June 2011 contrasts the British commitment against jungle communist guerrillas with that of the US army; my essay quoting Vietnam correspondant David Halberstam, of September 2012, shows how Detroit would have faced The Reckoning even if the oil crises had not hurried things along) 

~Speaking of engineers needing a stag party, in Japan secondary school is hard, and later being a “salaryman” is hard, and that probably explains why college is so easy. Like having time for racecars in the manga Oh My Goddess! They deserve that break.

~I have written essays on this site about “anime.” Today there is a popular Japanese animated weekly TV show, based on a best selling novel, Moshidora, known as Management from Drucker (Not sure of the future English title, I don’t think it’s been translated yet) A high school girl has to replace her sick friend as manager for a baseball team. She goes to the bookstore to learn to be a better sports managER and by mistake picks up Drucker’s book on manageMENT. Then she applies the knowledge to the team during the baseball season. Like I said, Drucker is honored in Japan.

~I am teaching another leadership course at work, starting in November. Yes, I will tell them about Drucker!

No comments:

Post a Comment