You Are Really Dumb, Fo’ Real
When I was applying to college, my parents, escapees from the evil Communist Empire, informed me of the brilliant Capitalist scam that is the Liberal Arts Education. Like a leech for your adolescence, this horrible experience would rob you of four years of your life where you could otherwise be seeking the most powerful natural resource ever discovered: money. All the while, mentored and made malleable by anarchist, liberal professors who would sing hymns about how though he was misunderstood, Marx really did have a good point to the tune of "Age of Aquarius". I would likely come back tattooed and pierced (note: I have already done the latter, so I suppose they were not entirely incorrect), and voting for the likes of Obama, rachmana litzlan, may the All-Merciful One save us. Like a pick-pocketer, this evil force of education would take more than forty grand square out of your pocket each year; forty grand that would have been better spent on a fully loaded BMW if only I would consider living at home and going to a state school. Despite the lures of automobiles and the comforts of my Southern California abode, I pleaded: "Papa don't preach, I'll be in debt if need. But I've made up my mind, I'm keeping my education." And that is how I ended up here, in a Liberal Arts university. Or, a school that claims to be a Liberal Arts university. But as I couch myself comfortably in this Capitalist venture, costing my parents arms and legs, I can't help but wonder: is anyone else interested in the humanities aside from myself?
As a tutor in the Writing Center, I am often asked about the easiest way to get an A. Students come in wondering how they will ever reach enough content to hit that coveted five page mark, aspiring for quantity, not quality. They ask what is the easiest English class to take in order to get an A. Many beg for tests that ask you to memorize countless details, rather than question the importance of a scene in literature a work of art, or a dilemma in philosophy. Creative thinking has become nothing more than a chore. As I peruse the halls of buildings, my threshold has became particularly low for the comments such as: "No, don't take that professor, he/she is extremely hard, there is no way that you'll get an A." I sometimes wish that I had the guts to be the superhero that would protect the sanctity of education, pull on my cape, and scream: "No fools! You have to take them! You might actually learn something." Of course, I stand silently in the back of the elevator, pretending to be texting while I scroll through my contacts, bemoaning the depreciation of learning.
Perhaps it is my Russian upbringing that has led me, nay, forced me, to give the humanities the time of day. As a little girl of eleven, with a Backstreet Boys poster situated above my bed, my father came into my room on a lovely Sunday morning, pronounced me illiterate, and commanded me to read Anna Karenina and all of Chekov by the end of the month. While I am not certain that women throwing themselves under trains is the most suitable reading for a tween, my typical, Russian, engineer parents paved the path for a love of the arts with weekly piano lessons and frequent museum visits. Perhaps they knew that once I got to Calculus my "math genes" could not save me from the red "X"s that would overtake my homework assignments. I eventually began find other lettersthan "X" to express myself, when I began to veer towards poetry., I feel like those around me look at me with a shade of curiosity and bewilderment when I proclaim that I want to study English Literature and be a professor. Perhaps I should just start saying I am going into OT, PT, ST, or even KT to avoid the stares.
Please don't misunderstand me, I see immeasurable value in the sciences. I mean, my favorite guilty-pleasure television show is Grey's Anatomy, and I am fascinated by gestation and birth. However, my problem is not with those who have a passion for the sciences, but rather, with those who believe in the sciences as their personal savior by eschewing any other disciplines like many men in the beit midrash eschew tanach - as something less significant, less challenging, and less fundamental to society. While complaining about the necessity to memorize details for an Art History course, I recently got into a conversation with a young woman about the necessity of the humanities. "Is knowing who painted a particular work of art in a particular year going to save someone's life?" Slightly wired and fired up, I immediately stepped on my soapbox and began a rant about the necessity of something like Art History. While I will spare you the fate with which she was met, the bottom line was this: Yes, you will save people by cutting them open and fixing them. But is a pulse what makes a person a human? Animals also have organs that need tending, wounds that need attention, and ailments that need curing. What makes a man human is how he expresses himself, how he connects to others, and how he impacts society with his ideas and passions; this, my dear pre-Med friend, is what we study in the humanities.
Perhaps I should just drop my act and say "gezunterhait." One day I might have a kidney stone and I will be thrilled that you couldn't care less about the origins of the Renaissance movement. But what of those who don't care for the humanities, or the sciences, but only for the holy grail of the Yeshiva University student: the GPA. I am not a advocate of bad grades. I, too, will one day have to face graduate school applications where I will be reduced to a number. Nonetheless, is it really beneficial for you to take Sephardic Lifecycles, when you are so Yekke that you will arrive to class ten minutes early? Is your only criteria for a class one that fits your schedule and will not lower your GPA with high expectations? And here we get back to my question: why pay over forty thousand dollars a year for a University experience that you are not taking advantage of?
When presenting the premise of this article at a Shabbat meal, I was informed that I was being judgmental. I could not expect everyone to be passionate about education. Not everyone attends Yeshiva University for the educational experience, but rather, for the comfortable Jewish environment that it provides. I stopped for a moment, considering whether I was simply being elitist and snobby, and then later concluded: I believe it is a crime not to expand your mind, your experiences, and your interests during a time where you are free of responsibilities. Following a chosen career path is fine, but not taking advantage of the other bits and pieces of information that speak to the human experience is merely a waste of hard earned money. Perhaps we should all consider the words of American industrialist and philanthropist, J. Irwin Miller: "The calling of the humanities is to make us truly human in the best sense of the word." So maybe you should take a class that sounds interesting, even if the A is not guaranteed. I promise, knowledge won't bite.