This one is a wall of text, guys. Apologies in advance, unless (like me) you like words. In which case, you’re welcome.
I was a third year medical student pretending to be a first year Literature major, sitting beside a final year Philosophy major from Germany.
It was the best day of my life.
Some of my classmates are using the four weeks’ holiday we’ve been granted to rest and reflect. Some have been using to to prepare for the annual third year production, Smoker. Some have been using it to prepare for their upcoming clinical rotation.
Today, I used it to sit in on lectures in the Faculty of Humanities and Education. And it was amazing. My ardent admiration for Literature, notwithstanding (Austen fans, see what I did there?), today I discovered the dearth of possibilities that lay open to most other university students (with the possible exception of students from the Faculty of Law): the almost limitless variety of classes and courses that can wind up creating a one-of-a-kind bespoke first degree, and not just the one-size-fits-all paper that most students leave university toting.
I am absolutely green with envy at the students in Humanities and the Social Sciences who are restricted in the course decisions only by credit allowances. UWI is an all-you-can-eat buffet, and medical students are on a water-and-lettuce-leaf diet. Everyone else is given a plate and told to fill it as much as possible. So many of them waste so much of their plates, just leaving the space empty, when they could have topped it up with the study of languages, culture, psychology, gender, literature. Or is the lettuce leaf just greener on that side of life?
I want to rail against the university for the vacuum they’ve given us to study in, for how limited our options for real enlightenment are. These foundation courses that are meant to give students the benefit of a multi-faculty education are compulsory, true. But they have a pass mark of 40%. They only require 4/10 of the effort. They only need you to know 4/10 of the concepts and information that are being rigorously dissected by some other student doing some other major in some other faculty.
I am upset that we are allowed, encouraged even, to study one subject exclusively. Is a liberal education the opposite of this? Where can I get one of those?
I think the well-rounded university graduate is a myth. Called into being by some employer who wants a business grad with a working knowledge of computers and human behaviour.
The issue at heart is the cycle of invalidity: the undergrad freshman wants to make money when he/she graduates, the university needs marketable graduates to maintain its credibility, and of course society stigmatizes the liberal arts graduate as un-properly-educated and unqualified.
When will we recognize the relevance of every subject? When will we stop subjugating one discipline for the veneration of some other? (Philosophy-for-Science, I’m looking at you). In short, when will universities, as social institutions, create an environment that is suitable for developing the cornucopia of human minds it professes to cater to, instead of trying to jam every peg – square and otherwise – into one round hole?
Perhaps when philosophers stop teaching philosophy and start leading governments. Perhaps when doctors stop treating bodies and start healing psyches. Perhaps when students stop being simple mind-jugs waiting to be filled and start being critical leaders of social change.
Most likely I’m asking for too much, and much too soon.