letters to my son

" The commentators excoriating today’s students for studying the wrong subjects are pursuing certainty where none exists. Like the health fanatics convinced that every case of cancer must be caused by smoking or a bad diet, they want to believe that good people, people like them, will always have good jobs and that today’s unemployed college grads are suffering because they were self-indulgent or stupid. But plenty of organic chemists can testify that the mere fact that you pursued a technical career that was practical two or three decades ago doesn’t mean you have job security today.
I was lucky to graduate from high school in the late 1970s, when the best research said that going to college was an economically losing proposition. You would be better off just getting a job out of high school — or so it appeared at the time. Such studies are always backward-looking.
I thus entered college to pursue learning for its own sake. As an English major determined not to be a lawyer, I also made sure I graduated with not one but two practical trades —neither learned in the college classroom. At the depths of the previous worst recession since the Great Depression, I had no problem getting a job as a rookie journalist and, as an emergency backup, I knew I could always fall back on my excellent typing skills. Three decades later, nobody needs typists, and journalists are almost as obsolete.
The skills that still matter are the habits of mind I honed in the classroom: how to analyze texts carefully, how to craft and evaluate arguments, and how to apply microeconomic reasoning, along with basic literacy in accounting and statistics. My biggest regret isn’t that I didn’t learn Fortran, but that I didn’t study Dante.

The most valuable skill anyone can learn in college is how to learn efficiently — how to figure out what you don’t know and build on what you do know to adapt to new situations and new problems."

~ Virginia Postrel
via Reflejos



Adullamite said...

I learned nothing - but look where I am today!


Gary's third pottery blog said...

of course, college also makes you a different person, hopefully a more curious and enlightened one, who can look at the world as a whole, and keep an open mind :) It also gives you a social group that you may have your whole life, more important than family.

bulletholes said...

My son, the Rip, who has struggled so hard to just stay alive and clean is now enrolled in college. He is taking Philosophy, Psychology, speech , Government and How to go to College. Very aggressive and I'm glad to say he is really diggin it. He's turned into a sponge and I will send him this...

goatman said...

Fortran is overrated. When I took a course in it we had to punch holes in cards to feed into a machine that read the code. I kinda like Pascal for programming but even that is passe' and most machines will not process the code anymore... thanks Mr. Gates. And computers are so dumbed down now who needs to program anymore -- unless for the personal pleasure of it.
If college can delete the passive learning and boredom that most high schools impart now and replace it with an inquiring mind willing to seek truth and independence, than it doesn't matter what the major.
I had to learn or relearn what I did in HS.

soubriquet said...

I've had some good teachers, one was a college tutor. He always had a bottle of sherry in a desk drawer, and we'd sit, sipping sherry, and discussing T.S.Eliot, or the weather, or the implications of time-travel...

I remember him saying to me "You're not here to learn literature, you're here to learn how to use your brain, to learn how to think for yourself".

It was he gave me for the first time, the idea that I could stand up and disagree with experts. That just because a learned person said something was so, did not make it so, that I could and should challenge, stand my ground, learn to argue.

And my old pottery tutor too. "Don't just believe it because I tell you so, prove me wrong!"
Well, I'm naturally argumentative, born arguing, so they said.

But yes, I agree, the important stuff isn't the subject, but the learning to learn.

Come out of the experience feeling that you can learn anything you set your mind to.

red dirt girl said...

Wow, these are such thoughtful comments, guys (and one comedian - Adullamite!).

I'm going to copy it all and email it to my son. Which probably means I will have to TEXT him to tell him to check his EMAIL as I do not FB - which is probably where I could contact him the easiest....

Sigh. When did communication become so complicated ??

thank you!!!