Thursday, December 07, 2006


We have some really, really good news around here. Several days ago our eldest son (yes, even with twins, one is older then the other) received a much desired job offer. For a real job. The kind where you get up every day and go to work doing some kind of adult thing with computers and you get paid and have benefits and a Future with the Company. The kind that required two interviews and, prior to those, the purchase of a suit and overcoat and dress shoes.

I keep thinking about the little blond boy who used to spend entire afternoons on construction projects in the backyard sandbox, running into the kitchen ocasionally to advise me on his progress or ask about the finer details of engineering.

He didn't reveal nearly as much about his job search. It's such a grueling process, especially for someone whose natural inclination is to shy away from self-promotion and group interaction. Occasionally he would ask us questions, revealing that naivete about the work of work that we all experience as we leave school, and reminding me how many mistakes I made in what now seems like another lifetime. Luckily for him, he is already a far more deliberate and thoughtful person than I could ever be.

One of the most delightful aspects of the whole situation for me is to see our faith in the value of a liberal arts education vindicated. Several people have asked whether our son has majored in business or computer science. We live in a world in which people increasingly seem to see college as a trade school, with certain majors as a necessary foundation for specific areas of employment, but in this household we tend to embrace the luxurious vision of learning for its own sake, with the confidence that having learned to learn is the most important product of an academic education.

Of course, there are some specifics one should learn. One should, for instance, learn where to look. In a University of Chicago newspaper I picked up over Thanksgiving, a professor noted that it might have been of benefit to us all had the current President been familiar with
Thucydides' Melian debate before he embroiled us in war in Iraq. At Chicago, discussion of Thucydides is considered an essential of the first-year core experience, and my ninth grade world history students receive at least the most minute of introductions to his work. Yes, we are elitists around here. It would be better for the world if Mr. Bush shared a touch of that tendency in the form of curiosity and rigor of learning.

When we were visiting colleges, this son gave serious consideration to Davidson in North Carolina. Our tour guide mentioned that one of the major banks in the South was particularly enamoured of Davidson art history graduates, with one of its executives having concluded that they could teach anything at all about banking to a young person who had survived the Davidson art history curriculum.

My husband, who has spent thirty years in computer architecture and commercial management, takes a similar approach. These days, almost every technological skill is obsolete as soon as you have mastered it. The critical skill is to be able to master a new one.

For the record, the newly-employed-almost-graduate has taken plenty of higher math along with his endless sequences of courses in philosophy and civilizations. He does know how to learn across a wide spectrum of fields, despite his major in the History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Science and Medicine. So it's a pleasure to see that the company for which he will go to work lists among the majors of its new hires fields like Greek, Dance, English. . . and pretty much everything else. I hope that list means that he has found a good niche.

As for his mother, she is still working on learning how to pick up the books that represent that insistence upon the luxury of learning. They are EVERYWHERE.


Quotidian Grace said...

Congratulations on the job to all! We're enjoying our first few months with Portia off the payroll.

I couldn't agree with you more about the value of a liberal arts education. Portia was a classical civilization major ( yes, she read Thucydides and others) and Babs majored in English history. Learning how to learn is really the best preparation for the future.

Cynthia said...

Congratulations to your son! As a liberal arts graduate who has been roundly criticized for not being more practical and who has endured some very tangible effects of not pursuing a more trade oriented education, I love reading the importance of learning from others and of how serious businesses view the vanishing skill of learning and thinking.

Judith said...

Congratulations to the newly-employed-almost-graduate son and those who supported him along the way. You did a fantastic job, Gannet Girl.

Carol said...

Woo hoo! Congratulations on his pending graduation and employment.

Kathryn said...

That's such great news on all fronts!

Russell Smith said...

Congratulations -- you did a great service in fostering a love of broad learning in your children. There was an investing book that came out about 6 or 7 years ago -- it was called Latticework and it made the case that to be a wise investor, one needed a broad understanding of the various disciplines. Good stuff!

YourFireAnt said...

I have so enjoyed reading your blog the past few days since I discovered you on my friend Jo(e)'s blog. I like the writing, the values, and the stories. I'm glad you exist.