Neko Bijin’s Serious Blog

June 6, 2009

You Want Fries with That?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: — Kojak @ 2:53 pm


Guesting over at the Daily Dish a few weeks back, Lane Wallace recounted how a crappy job taught him the value of a liberal arts education:

In a flash, I grasped the true value of a college degree. It didn’t matter what I majored in. It didn’t even matter all that much what my grades were. What mattered was that I got that rectangular piece of paper that said, “Lane Wallace never has to work in a corrugated cardboard factory again.” A piece of paper that was proof to any potential future employer that I could stick with a project and complete it successfully, even if parts of it weren’t all that much fun. A piece of paper that said I had learned how to process an overload of information, prioritize, sort through it intelligently, and distill all that into a coherent end product … all while coping with stress and deadlines without imploding.

To be sure, a college degree of some sort is a good investment if you want to end up doing interesting, remunerative work, but if you’re primarily concerned about making bank, you’re probably better off sticking with business or sciences, even if you’re more passionate about semiotics. So I think Wallace actually gets it backwards here: The great value of a liberal arts education is that it prepares you to be relatively happy even if you find yourself working in a corrugated cardboard factory. Partly because books are cheap, and cultivating the ability to take great pleasure in a well-crafted novel lowers you hedonic costs down the road. But more broadly because the liberal arts might be described as a technology for extracting and constructing meaning from the world. If you know your Hamlet, you know that’s all the difference between a prisoner and a king of infinite space.

[As a side note, Lane’s description of the skills college is intended to imbue is precisely why I never finished college; I simply don’t have the temperament necessary to see projects of that nature through to their conclusion.]

edit: attribution added.  -nb


  1. I’m with you, Kojak, and I’ll go further. I have no patience for folks who think it’s shameful for Americans to do physical work. Apparently we’re all supposed to swap financial instruments while foreigners make the cardboard. And how credible is that certificate, anyhow? Mortgage securities aren’t the only things suffering from grade inflation nowadays.

    Comment by nekobijin — June 7, 2009 @ 2:48 pm

  2. I worked with the forest preserve for three summers before being placed in a position of authority and being fired after a mutiny, and while it’s safe to say I did not _enjoy_ the back-breaking physical labor (we built a foot bridge without any power tools; the only thing missing was the River Kwai), I think it was a pretty important and worthwhile experience for me.

    Also, my liberal arts degree has never stopped me from being miserable at any shitty job I’ve ever had, because I’m even more cognizant of how much more there is to life.

    Comment by eddoctorwho — June 8, 2009 @ 12:43 pm

  3. All that any college degree should prepare one for is the ability to replicate in some form exactly what the person in charge desires. For all the LA classes I was required to take as an undergrad, every single one boiled down to the rote repetition on paper of what the teacher put forth as the “correct” interpretation in his/her class lectures. It’s not like solving a problem in a math or science class. It’s simply memorization and regurgitation. Great training for working in corporate America, yes indeed.

    “Don’t tell me the facts unless they’re the ones I expected!” While no one is honest enough to express that to me in such plain terms, more than once, it’s been the truth of what I’ve been told in my current position.

    Comment by 97jedi — June 8, 2009 @ 6:43 pm

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