“As the new year begins and humanities and social science undergraduates across Canada return to campus, they will face the usual robust combination of academic pressure, parental anxiety over their future employability, nervousness over mounting debts and the inevitable recitation of that tired and toxic mantra: “How many sociologists do we need, anyway?”
They will have been steeled to face the scrutiny of their professors and the apprehension of their parents. However, the incomprehension and parochialism of the commentators, policy wonks and self-labelled enlightened pragmatists who call into question the validity of their studies is both dispiriting and frustrating.
Unpersuaded by the compelling philosophical and social arguments that undergird the continuing relevance of a liberal arts education, and determined to place utility and rationalization of services as the premier determinants of higher education, the critics can easily assail the productivity value of a traditional liberal arts education. They simply point to economic data that shore up theirs as the only common-sense position in a time of global upheaval.
In other words, reading Schopenhauer, exploring the relationship between Freud and Jung, studying patterns of exile in the new breed of Canadian novelist or probing the sublime beauty of a late Beethoven piano quartet are nice, but indulgent – a waste of taxpayers’ money and a dereliction of responsibility at a time when the economic engine requires nothing higher than entrepreneurial spirit.
But here’s an idea: a social sciences and humanities education as a corrective to political tyranny.
So, when next a young sociology undergraduate is critiqued in the manner of Peter Shaffer’s Austrian emperor in Amadeus, who observes to a puzzled Mozart that his just-debuted work has “too many notes,” the student might respond that there are as many sociologists as it takes to keep us free.”
If only… We are nowhere near as radical as people think. But at a time where education is too often reduced to job training (increase your employability / human capital / lifetime earning!!), I certainly appreciate the sentiment (of course, it’s in a Canadian newspaper).