Appreciating the Crooked Path.

The other night my friends and I were hanging out at my pal’s apartment. We were sitting on her floor drinking slurpees, eating five cent candies, and discussing how today’s stigma drives undergraduate program enrollment.

A lovely juxtaposition.

In between bites of deliciousness, we delved beyond the merits of an undergraduate degree to discuss whether one program was better than the other.

Our conversation quickly came to a halt when we realized we hadn’t defined ‘better’.

What makes an undergraduate degree ‘the best’?

Is it the reassurance that you will be employed when you graduate? Is it multiplying and expanding perspectives? Is it perhaps best when it fosters self-awareness and creativity?

Of course, this answer varies from person to person, but we agreed that there seems to be a growing national consensus: Focus less on gaining knowledge, and more on acquiring skills.

Within our get together, there were five self-assured, ambitious young women. Each of us studying Human Rights, Politics, International Development, and/or Conflict Resolution.

When a person inquires about our program, we often say, “Oh, I’m majoring in arts and crafts,” as a cheeky explanation for Conflict Resolution. When someone asks us what International Development is, my friend likes to respond, “Let’s just say I’m studying wishful thinking”.

We instinctively play down our chosen field of study. Why is this?

Clearly we see the merit in these programs. They expand our perspectives, engage us in global social issues, and help us to think critically.

But in today’s day and age, there is a national stigma against degrees without a defined path.

What can one do with a 4-year degree in Human Rights? There are no “Human Rights Manager” positions at firms. No job posting ever says, “looking for graduates of Human Rights”.

So we, those of us who have decided that the ‘best degree’ is not defined by security, are constantly defending ourselves. Or in some cases, lessening ourselves.

We are either trying to persuade others to understand the benefits of a liberal arts education, or we pretend to accept the perceived shortcomings of our program.

And more often than not, we end up perpetuating the stigma against uninhibited learning.

I recognize that there are countless cultural and financial factors that often propel a student pick a program that provides them with security. I also understand that many people simply prefer a well manicured path.

My point is simply this: don’t discriminate against the road less travelled. Don’t put down the ridiculously obscure path that your aunt’s friend’s daughter’s boyfriend has taken.

Who says a seventeen-year-old boy can’t major in Women and Gender Studies and then go on to rule the world? What is so wrong with doing a double major in Art History and Biochemistry?

Yes, a circuitous path does not get you to your destination as quickly as possible, but who said it was a race?

The brightest minds do not major in that which will land them an office job fastest. The most influential people never have cut and dry success stories.

Canada, I am twenty years old and I have a three year degree in International Development.

I have no idea where I will be in five years and I’m ok with that.

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2 comments

  1. Paula, I miss your tri-weekly dose of wisdom from City Politics. You shed light on an extremely important prejudice towards Arts degrees. I look forward seeing to challenge the world, one blog post at a time!

  2. Mark Halsall · · Reply

    Paula – Ang told me you’d started a blog and I had to check it out. As one who’s often taken the road less travelled in my work, I can relate to your topic. Love your writing style, wit and passionate voice. Keep it up.

    Mark

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