Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Hobby Major

Lunched with a student the other day who had a checkered past, in the sense that he'd bounced around the world and around the job market for several years before he needed to settle down and get an education. I asked him what he majored in and he said something about "hobby major," which in his case meant history. I said I thought I recognized the feeling: I was a history major myself, thanks, and I remember it as a form of high entertainment.

But here's the thing: hobby major? I can hear lib arts profs all over the profession sobbing into their chardonnay at an attitude that might seem so dismissive of their beloved core curriculum. And I feel their pain. Yes, I know all about the need to preserve and transmit the culture, and how the unexamined life is not worth living. Hey, look at me: I'm still in college because I never left. Hobby major? Boy, you sure know how to hurt a guy.

But you know the part that really hurts? What hurts is that this is not remotely the kind of guy who can be dismissed as a baboon. He's not one of those hunchbacked knuckle-dusters who drag themselves through Phil 1 with arrogant insults and vile body noises. He's smart, he's inquisitive, he's well traveled, he's involved in some public policy issues about which he cares very much and on which, I must say, he is far more knowledgeable than I.

And I think that in some sense he is even well-educated. He certainly seems to have enjoyed his hobby major. Yet the way I hear it, he thinks it cost him (time and money) and he counts it more as a large self-indulgence than an indispensable part of his life (my phrasing, I admit I may have misread him).

Hobby major? Ouch.

1 comment:

Hebisner said...

I'm a middle aged currently working a 40+ middle manager job for a corporate healthcare provider and on the brink of receiving a bachelors degree in the history "hobby" major. I have the discussion about the value of such a major in a business enviroment. IMHO, your friend is dead wrong in his assessment. While the content specifics are not normally applicable, the skill set you learn is. Thinking and writing critically, grappling with difficult questions about social, econmoic and political changes etc all are invaluable in a business enviroment. My business major colleagues have some advatnages in certain areas, but I cannot overstate how my history degree has given me offsetting advantages in writing and thinking about difficult questions in a coherent manner. If his history department does not teach those skills well, then maybe I can understand his view. But all the other history majors I know with bachelor and advanced degrees excel at critical thinkin and writing and are spread across a wide range of professions. The icing on the cake of course is that I have immensely enjoyed my history education, while many of my business major friends despised their major. Not all, but many of them.