“Is This What College is About?


SC Staff Writer 

The impending retrenchment at ESU will force President Walsh to make some uncomfortable, difficult decisions in the weeks to come.

One of those decisions proposes the cutting of philosophy as a major, owing to the inability of it to attract a plethora of students.  The number of students enrolling as philosophy majors reflects the changing academic and economic landscape of modern times.

Science, math and technology are in high demand, and humanity studies like philosophy are fading into the background as more and more students consider the discipline unworthy of dedicating time and money into studying it.

If making money is important (and let’s face it—it is), choosing the right college major is crucial for incoming students.

Certain majors hold an undeniable advantage.

Studies like mathematics and engineering feed directly into the hungry technological boom, and successful graduates are blasted into employment more reliably than, say, graduates of philosophy.

On the surface, it makes sense.  After all, what use does an abstract, antiquated study like philosophy have in a math-based, scientific future anyway?

As a student, I often find myself frustrated with the indifference of my peers.  I believe in higher education, but not as a means to employment.  A college education offers a unique opportunity to achieve significant, lasting personal and intellectual growth.

To my disappointment, most students I meet focus only on obtaining the minimal grades required to pass a course, and they disregard or ignore the chance for their thoughts and attitudes to evolve in exchange for just a little meaningful participation or effort.

In certain classes, I encounter greater numbers of indifferent students, and, not surprisingly, certain majors seem to attract more than others.  Understandably, someone who comes to college just to earn any degree wouldn’t likely choose physics or engineering.

Most people perceive these studies as difficult, and other degrees with less rigorous coursework can be pursued instead.

Like a lot of students, I avoided studying philosophy almost my entire college career because I repeatedly read about how useless the discipline is and how difficult it would be to find a job after graduation if I chose to study philosophy.  No practical skills can come from studying philosophy, I thought.  Taking philosophy won’t improve my life in any measurable way.

I cringe at my foolishness now for thinking so.

When a general education requirement forced me into a philosophy class, I braced myself for a wretched classroom experience. I didn’t understand what philosophy is, I certainly didn’t value it, and I cringed when I imagined how indifferent I would find the students foolishly choosing to study philosophy in college, a discipline with no practical use, as I assumed.

The actual classroom experience of philosophy could not possibly be more antonymous with my prejudiced assumptions against the discipline.

While other classes focus on learning concepts and theories, philosophy contemplates things like ethics, aesthetics, morality and logic.

Philosophy students (and students fortunate enough to be in the same classes) benefit from deep classroom discussions between themselves and their professors, and the discipline offers immediate, real-world applications that can be both observed and manipulated, should someone have the inclination to apply the learning.

Being both an English and Psychology student, I am used to classroom discussions where students offer individual interpretations of texts or relevant, personal anecdotes to exemplify theoretical concepts, but philosophy classes go further.  Philosophy classes promote conversational intellectualism, as students expand their thoughts and refuse to settle for mediocre understanding—a characteristic unique to philosophy students, thus far in my experience.

The philosophy majors offer insightful, rational, logical opinions, and they demand from both their peers and their professors that ideas be challenged.

Merits are weighed and discussed before decisions are made, and self-biases, prejudices, and blindness find themselves challenged from all angles in the classroom.  In philosophy, students learn important skills like meaningful reflection and informed decision-making, and they internalize a more tolerant, comprehensive world-view.

When I sit in philosophy class, I learn from listening to the philosophy majors.  I am constantly compelled to reevaluate my own thinking, exposing my own biases or blindnesses.  I grow not as a student, but as a holistic person, taking a giant leap forward toward humanistic understanding as I am forced to contemplate not just myself but other people and my place in relation to them.

I get excited about going to class, and I find myself meeting my classmates to continue our discussions long after we’ve left the classroom.

When I read that the philosophy department faces potential retrenchment, I mourned over the prospective transformation of my ESU.  In capitalism, demand determines the supply, but in education, academic integrity and dedication to continually fostering the intellectual and personal growth of students should take precedence over all else.

The focus should not be on the number of degrees issued each year, but on the contribution the department makes to ESU’s academic community.  Yes, the decision will not be easy, but if President Walsh chooses to cut back on education, on academics like philosophy, what she truly chooses is to stifle opportunity in lieu of monetary gain.

Philosophy enriches the lives of the students who major in it.  Others, spectator students or those filling general education requirements, have the privilege of benefitting from exposure to the expansive, original thinking that philosophy nurtures in its majors.

Though on its own the major may have little monetary value, surely as a second major the discipline offers something exceedingly more valuable: an opportunity for personal growth and a chance to form and express original thoughts.

Isn’t that what college is supposed to be all about?

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