The New Romantics

imgres-1David Brooks wrote an editorial in the NyTimes titled the New Romantics that has stuck with me.  He wrote about the practicality of an education that most parents want to see for their kids vs majoring in Shakespeare.  Parents drop their kids off at college with the hopes that they will learn the tools there that will help them get a job upon graduation in something that will give them security.  The thought process is probably that a college education is not cheap so you should have a solid ROI on that investment.

I think back to when I was in college.  I believe that my generation went off to college, called their parents once a week and figured it out.  This generations connection with their family is very different.  You can text, you can skype, you can be connected daily.  I have very mixed feelings on that.

College is a time to grow, find yourself, make new friends, take random classes that might be of interest and a time to become an adult.  Kids are 18 when they go to college.  In the eyes of the law that is an adult.

Brooks argues that as we move into a more automated society (computers, robots) that the need for creative thinkers will become more important down the line.  I agree.  College is a place to find your passions, expand your mind and gather knowledge.  Is resume building as important as taking a random opera class where you end up having a love of opera for the rest of your life.

You learn a lot when you start a job.  The reality of the world and work is very different than the classes you take in college on marketing.  I doubled majored in retail and business for a multitude of reasons and the number one reason is the fear of not getting a job to support my life right out of college.  If I had to do it all over again I’d take what I needed to get those majors but all of the extra would have been around arts, literature and maybe history.  The few classes I took on those subjects are the ones that actually stayed with me.  I still remember reading Tess of the D’urbervilles and discussing it at length in class.  I am pretty sure I remember nothing about my marketing 101 class except that I had to take it to get my degree.

Comments (Archived):

  1. Anne Libby

    One of my frequent conversations at work involves people’s surprise that young college grads don’t know “how to have a job.” “But they went to (brand-name college)! They should know (not to send a typo-ridden email, etc.)”I don’t know that most college majors really teach job skills. Even in business courses, it’s case studies vs. how things really work in practice. In vivo vs. in vitro.College/bschool, business classes teach analysis. Job skills come from actually having jobs.

    1. Gotham Gal

      job skills definitely come from having jobs..

    2. Cam MacRae

      One of the litany of problems with the “everyone needs a degree” philosophy is that vocational training has been pushed back on to universities — the institutions least capable of providing it.Of course that is merely idiotic. What is actually criminal is saddling the vast majority of kids who should have been engaged in an apprenticeship or traineeship with an unmovable mountain of debt to pay for their completely ineffectual pseudo-vocational training.

      1. Gotham Gal

        the debt is insane!!

        1. Cam MacRae

          Absolutely. And it generally cannot be discharged through bankruptcy.

        2. Anne Libby

          We all know about law school now. As a proud bschool graduate, when someone asks me about bschool today, I feel pretty conflicted. My default response these days is to ask them if they will have to incur significant debt to pay for it. Even bschool isn’t worth it for many who graduate with huge payments. To @jonathanc’s point, this leaves many people out of the picture.I am also challenged when thinking about how to advise my HS mentee (in a formal program for NYS public HS students), or when a 9 year old relative growing up in an affluent suburb asks me how much college will cost…

      2. Anne Libby

        I agree with you more than you agree with yourself (to coin a phrase, lol).And the other side of is that even those prepared for college still won’t learn “job skills” in college: some of the “workplace behavior” I’ve seen at the universities in my orbit is a cultural 180 degrees from any going concern I’ve worked in or with.

        1. Cam MacRae

          An awful lot of academics haven’t had a “real” job which can lead to an odd workplace culture. Plus the ivory tower is constantly under siege by an ever growing army of administrators, so adopting a siege mentality is practically mandatory.Assuming you avoid all that, you then have the ongoing casualization of the teaching staff. Distinguished Professor So&So might have her name on the course outline, but the bulk of the teaching is done by her research students and post docs. Your kid isn’t going to learn “job skills” from a 23 year old graduate student who has never left the lab.Don’t get me wrong: I love universities and have spent 9 years accruing degrees, so I’m not at all down on the idea. However, I do think you need to know what you are getting from the outset. Vocational training and/or job skills ain’t it!

          1. Gotham Gal

            great point. academics are teaching many of these courses.

          2. Anne Libby

            Yup. And I feel the same way about my own engagement with the schools I attended. I’ve received many advantages, and I learned a boatload.And yet. Beyond the academics are staffers (who are sometimes gatekeepers, or decision-makers) working with incentives that don’t exist in the “real world.”One example, at least one of my universities offers paid tuition to staff kids, if the children can gain admission. (And if they can’t, the kids get some kind of reciprocal deal with other universities. At least this is what it looked like the last time I had a chat with an administrator on the topic.)What might people willing to endure at work, or to do, for that incentive? What kind of decisions might one make?

          3. Cam MacRae

            Perverse, innit?

  2. Erin

    There’s this lecture on Big Think on the importance of reading the Classics-…. Society needs people who study the liberal arts so we don’t end up progressing backwards, to keep alive the vision of what humanity can achieve, to help solve intractable problems, etc. It just takes a little longer to figure out your relevancy to the marketplace. Thank god for online business classes like coursera to fill in the gaps, though.

    1. Gotham Gal

      the importance of reading period.

      1. Erin

        Right, the importance of reading Classics- that was specific to what the video in the link was about. On reading in general, I agree. I came across an interesting article on a famous longitudinal study on Alzheimer’s the other day that totally emphasizes reading (and writing) as super important to our long-term mental health. The women who, upon entrance to the convent in their early 20’s, wrote autobiographical essays that were “verbally-dense”, that is, who had more content per word usage than their sisters who took more words to convey the same ideas, had much lower rates of Alzheimers than the other camp. The article gives a bit of explanation on the differences between the sentences. It totally brought home the point that reading leads to better writing, while also keeping the mind active and could totally affect how we live out our final years. Now that’s a great investment.

  3. Sofia Papastamelos

    I also feel like it should be less about the class content and more about mentoring students on how to apply their skills, network off campus, and get some early experience in areas in which they are interested. Of course there always certain careers where you need to have a certification, but for others the degree and grades themselves are not going to get you the job. Study what you love, be creative, and then prove your skills through activities and internships while in school. I’ve seen it in action 😉

  4. jonathanc

    When I graduated college (1980) and moved to New York, myentry-level job paying $18,000 was enough for me to rent my own studio apartmentin Manhattan and have adequate money left over to eat, clothe, and entertainmyself. To do that today the number is north of $125,000. But entry-level jobs forliberal arts majors these days don’t pay anything like that. College students and theirparents see this coming and push for more specialized jobs that will pay thefreight. Often this is at the cost of discarding the crazy courses that justseemed interesting and fun. That is really sad. The sociology, anthropology,and art history classes I took did a lot more to shape me than my economicsmajor did.But these days I fear only the kids from well heeled families canafford to find themselves in college without any job-driven game plan. How toallow people without deep pockets to do the same is the great education challenge.Though not immune to criticism, one of the advantages of a core requirementlike Columbia’s is it forces students to be exposed to areas that they may nothave otherwise enrolled in. While it might be painful for the STEM kid to takemusic history or the English lit major to enroll in statistics, it does serve avaluable purpose by exposing students to courses (hopefully) outside of their comfort zone.

    1. Gotham Gal

      having a broad education serves such a valuable purpose for life long lessons. totally agree.

      1. Lisa Mogull

        I totally agree. I went to film school and now regularly talk kids out of it. I believe if someone has something to say they will figure out how to say it. A broad education gives you a basis to have something to say and a more fulfilling life.

  5. Cindy

    Thanks for highlighting the David Brooks article, I like reading his work. I’ll check it out. This is such an interesting topic. I graduated in 1995 with a degree in architecture, which I use every day in private practice and I love it. There was never a question for me “what will I be when I grow up?”. I always seemed to know and I have never taken it for granted. I always wondered how other people figured it out when their career or aim in life didn’t come with such a tidy label as the one I chose. My parents raised 3 kids, who all knew what they wanted to be, my siblings are both teachers – and we all gravitated in these directions from young ages… (middle school). I think it’s true, the debt can and often is insane! I’m looking forward to reading David’s article, thanks again for the post. Cindy – long time reader of your blog. 🙂

  6. pointsnfigures

    Today I had lunch with the new Dean of Business at Illinois. We were talking about how to create a culture of entrepreneurship at the school-which they have started on. One thing I said was to make it easy for kids from other majors to take basic business classes (Accy 101 etc) and also not to penalize business school kids for taking an art class. Unfortunately silos at colleges make this difficult. The new Dean is actively trying to break those silos down, but it’s hard. Turf wars ensue.

    1. Gotham Gal


      1. pointsnfigures

        Yes, one thing we talked about is if a person majors in engineering, and only is a “geeK’; they often discount things like marketing and traditional business functions. If they build a better mousetrap….. On the other hand if you are only a marketer, it’s pretty hard to relate to customers and understand what is valuable feedback-and the way to translate that feedback so the engineers can figure out how to implement it. Without learning critical thinking that you learn in humanities, it might all be moot anyway!