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Ars liberalis

Again, quiet on my end. Still reading and still looking for other job opportunities. This takes up a lot of my time.

I came across this article just now.

This is a summary of the article:

1. The liberal arts are in trouble.

2. The US government, and particularly Obama, has been focusing too much on science education.

3. The current attitude is that liberal arts is a “waste of time.” And, so much so, that the governor of Florida proposed increasing tuition on such subjects.because they’re less likely to lead to jobs.

Now, my thoughts:

Having been a liberal arts major (philosophy) myself, and going as far as getting a master’s in the subject before I sunk into a mini-depression at the thought ot being unemployable and then changing course in my life, I have mixed opinions on the subject. On the one hand, had I not had the liberal arts background, I might not have been as motivated as I was to “learn how to learn,” and to hone my research skills to find information quickly and readily, especially when the Net came into being. Since many of my undergrad professors were either incompetent, farily competent but too busy, or a bit too comfortable in their positions where they couldn’t point me in the right direction regarding research, I had to start using the library more than what I had been doing at the age of 17, when I started my freshman year in college. I needed to read, not sit in a classroom with subject matter geared toward the average learner. Learning how to learn set me up for the graduate program and in learning how to work in the real world insofar as I had to learn how to do research on companies and the jobs that they were offered. This was a skill that took time, and wasn’t a skill that I learned well in high school because most everything was spoonfed to me.

I found the liberal arts interesting, by and large. Being intellectually inclined, this matched well with my personality. I was also one of those kids who withdrew into himself because he wasn’t successful in the world of sports, drinking, girls, etc. I was serious about my education, and it was a source of pride for many years. I don’t have the same pride as I did back in my 20s because I’ve lived more and have experienced more as an older man. You can’t avoid this in life. Where I still have pride is that, looking at life with the glasses of a ‘spherian, being a bit of an egghead kept me out of trouble with marriage and date rape accusations, marriage and divorce, having kids with mentally unstable women, and fostering an anti-motivation to immediately go for those soul-sucking corporate jobs the sheeple feel they have to get before they turn 25. Sure, if would have been nice to have been gainfully employed early on, but without those bouts of unemployment, I wouldn’t have had the time to read, relax, and figure things out for myself. As the metaphor goes with the Matrix, you, the still-jacked-in, have to first sense that something is amiss. Only then can you go down the rabbit hole and see where it takes you.

Now, with (1) above, I have mixed feelings. The liberal arts might be in trouble in a formalized academic setting, but the subject matter seems to be doing fine. As I said above, there were more than a few professors that I considered incompetent in philosophy. (One that comes to mind was a trumpeter in a big band. His professorship was more of a side gig to him.) Okay, so no matter. Just read more and ask more intelligent quesitons when the opportunities present themselves. Really, speaking from the perspective of a 40-something guy, this is how you have to do it anymore. Time is of the essence. If you want to learn about Kant, read a summary on Wikipedia and then try to read Kant yourself. There are many commentaries out there, starting all the way back to the 19th century. Get the critical take on him, too, from different sources. Nietzsche was highly critical of Kant, yet Schopenhauer couldn’t have existed without Kant. Then, you follow the rabbit hole from here. But, always read critically with something in mind.

With (2), this isn’t anything new. I’ve known people who were in college in the 40s and 50s saying that science had its place and science education was good. There was math, chemistry, physics, biology, botany, and some of the softer sciences like sociology. All part of the standard curriculum, which was based on the liberal arts curriculum to make one more well-rounded as an educated human being. In the 60s, science education really took off, but wasn’t motivated by making more well-rounded human beings. Instead, as an 80-something guy once told me some years ago, the motivation was to compete with the USSR. Sputnik scared the shit out of us, so then the money flowed. All well and good. At least the money flowed. Now, it just trickles if we’re lucky. Of course, we know where the money goes, really.

Where the problem truly lies with (2) is with standardized testing. I still both laugh and shake my head whenever I hear about this. As James Howard Kunstler has said about suburbia, the suburban project was the biggest mis-allocation of resources the US has ever known. The same sentiment can be applied to standardized testing. Over ten years after No Child Left Behind, some test scores have risen, and the schools can keep their doors open. Fail to get test scores up? Bye-bye school, and then the students get fucked in the end. But, they already are being fucked with focusing on the test. So, one wonders about all this focus on “science.” Seems justified to have some hand-wringing about the lack of, and eventual loss of, liberal arts education.

On the other hand, if the liberal arts includes feminist indoctrination, then I emphatically call for a swift and ignoble death. Looking back, I’m so very grateful that I never had to take wimminz studies courses as an undergraduate, or as a graduate student. The closet I ever came to that were two female professors. The one was in an introductory computer science course, and clearly hated her male students, and the other was a 30-something woman who specialized in philosophy of mathematics and science and got her Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh. No slouch. But, her last name was a hybrid name she created with her husband. Ugh . . . gimme a break.

Finally, with (3), with my ‘spherian glasses and Cappy’s book in the background, yes, going for the liberal arts is a waste of time, truly. Don’t go into debt for these subjects. If you have to go for training, then get training and keep it up. Learn a trade. If you feel you must go to college, then do it quickly and keep the debt under $10,000 if you possibly can. You, dear ‘spherian reader, have heard this before. Start with Cappy. I have nothing more to add except that you can learn the liberal arts subject on your own.

Oh, and the article mentioned how Obama and Mitt Romney were liberal arts majors. Puh-leeze. Do I really need to spend time on someone like Romney? Here it is in summary: rich and politically connected father, attended college in the 60s, Mormon, has worked in finance most of his life. Fini.



I’ve spoken before about autodidactism, something that I’ve done more or less instinctively since around age 20, when, in order for me to feel that I had prepared myself in philosophy, I had to hit the books in the library and skip some classes that were of no value to me (e.g., Jacques Maritain). It took me four more years to leave that field and do something else, but at least I had started that habit.

Now, it looks like someone has taken it mainstream.

Honestly, it comes at a good time. If I were 20 again and living in today’s age, I sure as hell would be utilizing the Net for all its worth, especially YouTube. Yours Truly doesn’t own a TV and spends a lot of his time on the Net both at work and at home. (Too much of a homebody — gotta work on that.) Not only do I watch operas and other classical music performances, but the TED talks, ForaTV, lectures, tutorials for certifications, etc. are a gold mine. Hacking my education is something I surely would be doing now. The means to do it exist, unlike in the early 90s, when I was still stuck in the mindset that one had to go to college and get a degree to join the “real world.” Old habits died hard for me. But, around 30, things cleared up.

I like Stephens’s mention of a gap year in San Francisco. It’s a formalized approach to something that Brits, Aussies, Kiwis, and many other Europeans have been doing for many years, as a matter of course. Shame that we’ve never done it here in the US. But, then again, we’re also the land of the workaholics who take little time off and enjoy numbing ourselves with TV, etc. I did my own gap year equivalent in Asia teaching English. I learned so much about myself during that time and would do it again if I were the same age. But, it was a little late in coming.

He also mentions Ivan Illich in his list of recommended reading. Illich is always a good read, more so nowadays with the plethora of institutions we have.

You begin the path to being who you can truly be when you un-school and un-college. Refer to my original mantra:

“You spend the first 20 years of your life living to someone else’s script. You spend the next 20 years deconstructing, until you reach 40 and then ‘life begins.”

Henry Dampier

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