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February 01, 1983 - Image 4

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1983-02-01

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OPINION

Page 4 Tuesday, February 1, 1983 The Michigan Daily

Liberal arts: A

real career education

4

By Edwin J. Delattre
"When a resolute fellow steps up
to that great bully, the world, and
takes him boldly by the beard, he is
often surprised to find that the beard
comes off in his hand, that it was
only tied on to scare off timid ad-
venturers. "-Oliver Wendell
Holmes, Sr.
American higher education generally
behaves too much like a timid adven-
turer and not enough like a resolute
fellow. This is nowhere more evident
than in its acquiescence in the
preposterous disparagement of
education as divorced from the so-
called real world. Such acquiescence
amounts in practice to a tacit ad-
mission that what happens in
classrooms is naive, impractical, indif-
ferent to the facts of life, and not so
useful as "worldly" experience.
No one who subscribes to such a view
deserves to be entrusted with the
awesome responsibilities of classroom
teaching. Because classrooms have to
do with the formation-of rigorous and
able minds-the most real and useful of
all possible movers of human-affairs.
UNFORTUNATELY, this same
timidity has led education to par-
ticipate in the simplistic and uniformed
notion of careers that is now being
visited on students on a broad scale.
They are actually being taught that a
career is nothing more than a suc-
cession of jobs, success in which is
determined by rate of promotion and
rate of income. Even liberal arts
colleges, which ought to know better,
are not steadfastly challenging that
notion. Their failure of nerve and

leadership promotes the misconception
that liberal arts education is less.
adequate preparation for a career than
are specific forms of job training.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
' The truth is that study in the liberal
arts is virtually the only possible
preparation for a career. It does not
make much difference where the study
is done-at home or in a secondary
school, two-year college, university,
corporation or union education
program, or library; the fact remains
that it is through liberal arts that a per-
son gains the chance to learn what a
career is and thus, in large measure,
gains the chance to conduct one.
In my travels nationwide to visit
schools, colleges, and corporate and
government training programs, I do not
meet, on'average, two students in a
hundred who know what a career is,
who know the difference between a
career and a succession of jobs, bet-
ween free time and leisure, between
having a career and having an income,
or between a professional and a non-
professional person. The result is that
even if their backgrounds have
produced in them skills that make them
employable in the present job market,
students do not, most of them, have the
remotest idea how to prepare for, con-
duct, or assess a career, or how to judge
its success and effectiveness.
THE MAIN REASON for their
limitations is that they have never been
introduced to the kinds of studies in
which one learns the methods for
making such distinctions and reliably
asking and answering such questions.
All too many students are foreigners to
their own language, or at least to its
subtlety; their store of ideas about
building and living a career is therefore
impoverished, and they are rendered
by their impoverishment especially

t~al M

.

I

distinguished from an amateur by pay
(at least by definition, if not always by
fact), but they do not learn that
professional-a doctor, a lawyer, a
member of the clergy, or a teacher, for
example-is a person whose respon-
sibility is to act in behalf of another as
the other would act in his own behalf
and he or she the expertise. Many are
not learning that it is being the agent of
another that generates very special
relations of confidentiality and privacy
and, so, very special obligations. That
kind of ignorance does little to en-
courage clear thinking about careers.
Perhaps worse, in contemporary
parlance the idea of leisure has been
collapsed into the idea of free time, with
the result that the young have very lit-
tle knowledge of the classical and
traditional concept of leisure. Without
that concept, they are at a frightful
disadvantage in thinking about work in
particular and about life in general. Of
course, traditionally, leisure meant
time devoted to self-improvement, time
invested in oneself. Students from
whose consciousness that idea is
missing cannot ask fundamental
questions about specific jobs-they
cannot ask whether a job has leisure in.
it in the sense that the nature of the
work-and one's campanions in doing
it-is likely to lead to one's own im-
provement, to one's becoming a better
person.
MOST STUDENTS, moreover, are
not learning the difference between a
vocation and an , occupation, between
having a calling and having a job. Odd,
isn't it, that educational institutions
themselves now call training that may,
at best, lead to a job "vocational
training," as though anything so
limited as training, as opposed to
education, could prepare a person for a
vocation properly understood?

For all those reasons, the popular
idea that students nowadays are
thinking more than ever before about
careers, rather than about political
reform, for example, is not true. To be
sure many students are preoccupied
with job opportunities and the means of
securing an adequate income or finan-
cial independence. Many of them
believe that when they address them-
selves to such matters they are thinking
about careers. Unhappily, they are
mistaken, because they have not lear-
ned what a career is; many, I fear,
never will. The situation is not likely;to
improve until the liberal arts are taken
seriously in all kinds of in-
stitutions-educational, journalistic,
familial, religious, financial-and
even then only if they are soundly
taught and studied.
The liberal arts thus are real career
education-the ony real career
education, in the sense that they include
the disciplines in which careful and ac-
curate use of language is learned and
concepts-including '"career,''
"leisure," "vocation," "profession,"
"work,'' "employment,'' "oc-
cupation," and "success"-and
methods of inquiry are conveyed. No4
student can prepare for a career in any
systematic way without a grasp of
those concepts and their implications.
There is no good reason that any secon-
day school or college student should
face adulthood in ignorance of them.
Given access to those important con-
cepts, our students may be more
disposed to go out for themselves and
grab the bully by the beard.
Delattre is president of St. John's
College at Annapolis, Md., and
Santa Fe., N.M. He wrote this ar-
ticle for the Chronicle of Higher
Education.

susceptible to silly claims made by
people inside and outside education
about careers and career education.
What, in particular, are they not
learning? They are not learning that a
career is the work one chooses to invest
one's life in. They are not learning that
it is the course of working life and con-
sists in doing work for the sake of the
specific ends the work is intended to
advance. A career is work, but not
necessarily employment or wage-
earning. Failure to appreciate that
distinction yields the unfortunate and
misleading impression that career men
and women are simply employed men
and women, people with jobs.
Students are being taught, however,
that having a job is tantamount to
having a career. This a shameful thing
to teach, both because it is falseand
because it , inhibits aspiration. It

discourages thought about what one
considers to be worthy of the invest-
ment of one's life, and it demeans by
implication such careers as those of
volunteers, parents, and philan-
thropists.
SUCH STUDENTS are likely to
learn how to determine the degree of
success in the most irrelevant ter-
ms-job advancement and monetary
compensation-rather than in terms of
the most relevant criteria; specifically
the extent to which the goals of the work
are achieved and the controllable ob-
stacles to their achievement are over-
come.
Students are being exposed as well, in
schools and colleges and by most con-
temporary communications media, to
shockingly cavalier omissionsrand
misuses of language about careers.
They learn that a professional is

Edited and managed by students at The University of Michigan

Sinclair

DNC 9Yr

Vol. XCIII, No. 100

420 Maynard St.
Ann Arbor, MI 48109

-.

"" ... ,...,, * rr. ....

- ...

Editorials represent a majority opinion of the Daily's Editorial Board
Retooling the unemployed

/1 CiAS ANDUNI~
I,'.,
TPU(
6'
A

AIR

I

LTA UARy " (

MICHIGAN'S ECONOMY has
been on the defensive for a long
time. The state's unemployment rate
is the highest in the nation and
lawmakers in Lansing have had to deal
with one financial crisis after another.
So far, the state has fought a losing
battle, but there are some signs that
things may change.
At least one of the state's three big
economic players has begun a vigorous
revitalization plan- that aims to help
save its own sagging productivity and
the state's economy. In Michigan
alone, General Motors will be spending
$8 to $10 billion over the next few years
to put itself back on the offensive. The
plans include building a core of
production plants - including part
supply facilities - within a one hun-
dred mile radius of each other. The
retooling plan aims to cut down on in-
ventory and transportation costs,
modernize production facilities, and
increase the quality of GM's cars.
GM's new plan, modelled on Japan's
Toyota City, will undoubtedly serve as
a nucleus attracting part suppliers and
other industries that will eventually
generate more revenue for the state's
rapidly eroding tax base. By itself
however, the plan is not enough to

return Michigan's economy to sound
footing.
A major problem with GM's plan, is
that it provides little for the thousands
thrown out of work by the slumping
auto industry. Eventually such an in-
vestment may generate jobs, but the
automation it is introducing will leave
many workers out.
This points up the need for job
retraining programs designed to
provide people with the skills to work
in a rapidly changing job market.
Already, Democrats in Comgress are
pushing for a $5 to $7 billion jobs
programs to relieve chronic unem-
ployment now running at around 16
percent in the state and 10 percent
nationally. If such a program is to be
of any use at all, it must have the
financial backing of both industry and
the federal government and be geared
longterm retraining of workers.
It's great to see that General Motors
is willing to say "yes" to Michigan by
pumping so much money into the
state's economy. GM officials say it is
because they have a commitment to
Michigan. But a large part of that
commitment is to the people of the
state. If Michigan and GM expect to
recover from the recession, then they
can't ignore the grim situationsiof the
employees they are leaving behind.

4

LETTERS TO THE DAILY:

SCRAP wasting time, energy

To the Daily:
A new student group has
assembled on campus, calling it-
self the Student Committee for
Reform and Progress. This
group has launched a petition
drive to stop PIRGIM from
collecting contributions in the
CRISP line.

On the surface it appears a fine
idea. Why should PIRGIM have
the advantage of having their
forms attached to Student
Verification Forms (SVFs)? On
closer examination, however, the
activity of SCRAP is
questionable. It constitutes a
mockery -- if not outright abuse --

End PIR GIM's privilege

Stay
the
course !

To the Daily:
Oh boy, they're back!
Yes, folks, the
refusable/refundable PIRGIM
welfare system idea is back and
better than ever.
Unable to get enough money
with its already unique privileges
at CRISP, PIRGIM has a new
plan. Yes, students, you would be
presumed to be aPIRGIM sup-
porter under the PIRGIM
welfare system. You would have
to make a special effort to not

same answers to student
questions. That remarkable con-
sistency reinforces the belief that
PIRGIM is an unthinking collec-
tion of well-trained robots.
For instance, the legitimate
question "why should the burden
be placed upon the non-donator?"
is always answered, "A non-
donator is attempting to defund
PIRGIM (i.e. PIRGIM has the
right to everyone's money) and
thus must work to get their
money back."
"Defund?" Talk about Or-

of student activism.
PIRGIM indeed has an advan-
tage. What an ingenious and ef-
fective method of garnering con-
tributions. But have other groups
even thought to ask for the
privilege PIRGIM enjoys? Have
any asked for, and been denied,
this access to students? If even
one other group has been denied
that access, then PIRGIM has an
unfair advantage.
If other groups, on the other
hand, have been denied such ac-
cess, then there is no valid reason
for denying PIGIM that
privilege.
But the crux of the matter is not
whether PIRGIM should or
should not have access to studen-
ts through the registration
process.The issue goesdeeper
than that. Instead we must
question: Why is the SCRAP in-
vesting its valuable time and ef-
fort in the protest of such a trivial
and technical matter?.

should hear about it, and perhaps
change the rules. But, to date no
rights have been violated. No
wrongs have been committed.
The "problem" SCRAP ii
fighting is truly a pseudo-
problem -- a situation contrived
by SCRAP as a sinkhole for ex-
cess time and energy.
Any of us could more construc-
tively spend our extra time and
energy supporting groups that
solve real problems. Join the
March of Dimes, and help
rehabilitate a handicapped child.
Work with PIRGIM in its fight t
protect Michigan residents fro
toxic waste poisoning. And if you
have no extra time or energy,
"send your dollars to Care" and
help feed a malnourished Third
World kid.
But please do not mock student
activism by supporting the
Student Committee for Reform
and Progress, a well-intentioned
group that wastes its time and
energv on a trivial and unnrndu -

I

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