For anyone embarking on their studies in the Humanities such as Literature, History or Philosophy, they more than likely are faced with the question: What are you going to do with that? Followed by Teach?
My fellow Philosophy Majors from undergraduate and graduate school have gone on to different careers from writing, law, music, corporate positions, and yes, to academia. But I do not plan on making the case for studying the Humanities. Rather I’d like to address the implications of the aforementioned question.
While I was in undergraduate I would respond to the question with “law school,” but once I received my acceptance letter (I only applied to the University of San Diego) a stark realization hit me. I answered “law school” in order to appease my interrogators and not because that was what I wanted to do. Looking back, I think I responded this way because it seemed, well, useful. Law school is absolutely an admirable pursuit; however, it was not the avenue for me. Uncertain and nervous, I continued my studies in Philosophy because I loved it, plain and simple. Sometimes people ask me why I chose Philosophy and I answer “I didn’t decide to love it, I just did. In the same way I didn’t decide to love chocolate, I just tasted it and enjoyed it.” Now I research, write, and teach the subject and, dare I invoke Aristotlian theory, I’ve found Happiness.
But the question: What are you going to do with that? Teach? underscores something I find problematic in the attitude towards the profession of teaching. It is as though teaching were the last and only option. Or, more dramatically, the bottom of the career possibility totem poll. I am not endorsing this view but merely pointing it out. Indeed, sometimes the term “teach” comes out with disdain, as if it were useless or not important. If someone were studying Biology, for example, would the same attitude accompany: What are you going to do? Be a physician?
With the wave of discussion regarding education hitting the headlines I would like for us to consider the way in which we view the profession of teaching. How can we as a nation argue for better schools yet keep this sort of common question as a reaction to a student’s declaration of a major in the Humanities? It is not the only possible career path, but for someone who does want to be a teacher they should not be subjected to the idea that “teaching” and “doing” are different things. Or, that “teaching” is the equivalent of not being able to find something else. If we want our students, our children, to get the best education, then respect for teaching as a valuable professional choice needs to be on par with that.