Sunday, November 18, 2007

In Humanities

Reading about early 19th century French and Algerian Jews and how Jews were thought to have an innate usuriousness about them makes me wonder by what strange circumstances I ended up with the inclinations, interests, and (on a good day) abilities that led me to French grad school, rather than, say, investment banking. If Jews no matter what the circumstances know how to get a good deal, shouldn't I be at the very least a conniving peddler? All I have behind me is one unsuccessful attempt at selling old clothes to vintage shop Beacon's Closet. Am I the exception that proves the rule, or was one of my ancestors just raped and pillaged by an especially humanities-oriented Cossack?

The above is a segue not into a(nother) discussion about French Jews, but rather one about law school and the humanities major. Paul Gowder, a lawyer-turned-doctoral student, has a post on a blog called Law and Letters (via Amber Taylor) advising Medieval-poetry majors not to sign up for those LSAT courses as a way out. One of the themes running through the comments to that post is that prospective humanities majors ought to consider something a bit more lucrative for their undergrad degrees. But since talents in the humanities paired with ineptitude in the sciences tend to push students in the 'fluffy' direction, it often seems worth sticking with an area where one feels comfortable, for the sake of a decent undergrad experience, not to mention GPA.

Gowder makes a strong case against law school, but his concluding thought is a bit of a cop-out: "What to do instead? Something you love. Something that makes you happy. Something that you value for more than money or status or perceived glamour." Such as? Many fields a humanities grad might seek out instead of going to law school--PR, journalism, fashion--involve hard work, are appealing because of status or perceived glamour, and do not even have high pay as a reward.

Arguments like Gowder's are made quite often about grad school of all kinds. PhD programs are supposed to require a calling. MA programs can mean tuition or loans with no promise of higher-paid work at the end, and as such do not always have the best name. If school is to be discouraged, what should be encouraged?

The missing piece in all of this is what a tough spot humanities graduates without a particular grad program in mind end up with after college. Most of the alternatives to school are variants of the classic 'find yourself,' leading to either a dip into a trust fund or a reconsideration of law school, after all. Assuming a good number of humanities majors are indeed talented and not just incapable of finding the derivative, how about a reinstated patronage system? Cultivating an elegant appearance and marrying the very wealthy? Otherwise, no ideas.


Halevi said...

I see your profile occupation is "usurer" . . . Vous êtes agréablement drôle, mademoiselle, comment vous plaisantez!

George DeMarse said...

I had the same problem and I have a resolution (yessiree Senator). I was a philosophy major, which was not as easy as it sounds. You have to get through propositional logic, and I took symbolic logic as well.
Shockingly, corporations would not hire me--something about "the sciences" and "engineering" and all that nonsense. So I went to business school and majored in HR. Guess what, I got a job! In fact, I progressed through the ranks for over 26 years.

The answer to the employment problems of humanities graduates lies in political action. Demand from the lawmakers legal action against employers for not hiring humanities graduates. Employers are narrow and pompous asses, and they know that humanities graduates are well equipped to handle their measly entry level crap--and they can learn on the job to advance. All the engineering "crap" employers pretend to demand is really masking the marketing and selling they really need. It's "sell the product" stupid and they know it.
So vocational-structured socialism enforced by central government planning is your answer and the answer to society's woes.

There you go.

George DeMarse