Finding the foundation
When I first began applying for colleges, I knew that I wanted to major in History. I always had a certain passion for the subject, and I wanted to spend the next four years of my life studying it in detail. Of course, as soon as I told any friends and family members what my plans were, their immediate response was “What are you going to do with that?”
For many people in our society today, any time spent in higher education must be done so with the intent of learning practical skills that directly tie into a job you will get right after graduation. There is simply no time or money to waste on “useless” majors like philosophy, history, theology, or political science. Why waste time reading the ideas old dead Greek people when you could learn practical skills about marketing, statistical analysis, or other technical skills?
I think the best way to answer this question is to tell a personal anecdote from an internship I had over the summer at a news station. I was talking to one of the political reporters and asking him about what I should do to prepare for becoming a journalist. I was nervous because many of the other interns had majored in communications. Because of this, they already had learned the technical skills they needed (like video editing and web programming) to keep up with the tasks asked of them, while I needed to learn the skills right on the job. I asked this political reporter if I should have majored in communications instead of political science.
“Absolutely not,” he told me. “I actually discourage aspiring journalists to major in communications. You should major in the topic that you actually want to write about so you have firm background knowledge about that subject before you begin covering it. No one writes journalism about journalism. Why spend four years learning about techniques that you could easily learn on the job?”
After hearing this, I was relieved, and I realized that what he said made perfect sense. I have the rest of my life to learn about web programming, video editing, journalistic writing techniques, and so on. What I do not have the rest of my life to do is to intensely study some of the best works of political philosophy ever written (be it Hamilton, Aristophanes, or Solzhenitsyn) with experts and fellow students who are able to give me new insights into these texts that I never would have discovered on my own. Doing this has given me the intellectual tools to think more clearly about politics and what it means to be a thoughtful citizen.
The political science department at Assumption often gets criticized for focusing so heavily on political philosophy and not on how polling works, the technical ins and outs of certain policies, or more sociological aspects of studying political science. We often think today that the Left-Right divide in this country, the often polarizing debates over healthcare, gun control, and immigration are merely tribal and arbitrary. But this could not be further from the truth. There are animating philosophies that are at the foundations of conservatism, liberalism, socialism, and so on. Understanding how these various political worldviews think, the tensions and limitations to each of them, and where your own thinking fits into these various traditions, is a journey that takes a lifetime, but one that cannot properly begin without a solid foundation in a liberal education. That liberal education for me included not only political science, but theology, philosophy, history and even art and music.
In short, what society today calls “useless majors” are actually far from useless. They form a foundation for not only having a successful career, but a successful and enriching life.
Shant Egan, a senior, studies history and political science. He is a staff writer for Le Provocateur.