Meet the Parents: History Edition

There is now a considerable — and disturbing — amount of parental pressure against the liberal arts

“I do not meet these parents very often, but I do hear their thoughts about liberal arts education through what their kids tell me.  Just yesterday, for example, I talked to a first-year student who was torn between his love of history and his parents’ desire that he pursue a professional major.”

 

I am sure many of you have seen the 2000 Ben Stiller and Robert De Niro comedy Meet the Parents.  The plot is pretty straightforward.  Gaylord “Greg” Focker (Stiller) is a nurse who tries to win the approval of his fiance’s father Jack Byrnes (De Niro), an overprotective retired CIA intelligence officer.

In one of the story lines, Greg is mocked by Jack and his friends for pursuing a career in nursing instead of a career in medicine.  Greg, however, likes nursing.  It is a career that allows him to be more involved in patient care than the average doctor.  Greg followed his passion and his love of service into nursing instead of pursuing a medical career that would probably have made him more money.

The analogy is by no means perfect, but I thought about Jack’s response to Greg’s decision to pursue nursing when I read Steven Perlstein‘s article in yesterday Washington Post.  The article is titled “Meet the Parents Who Won’t Let Their Children Study Literature.”  The subtitle is also revealing: “Forcing college kids to ignore the liberal arts won’t help them in a competitive economy.”  It is one of the best popular pieces I have read on the value of the liberal arts and the parents who will not let their kids study them.  I do not meet these parents very often, but I do hear their thoughts about liberal arts education through what their kids tell me.  Just yesterday, for example, I talked to a first-year student who was torn between his love of history and his parents’ desire that he pursue a professional major.

This article adds to what I have been trying to do for years here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home and in my book Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past.  Pearlstein, a Post business writer and public affairs professor at George Mason University, shatters the myth that liberal arts and humanities majors cannot succeed on the job market.

Here is a taste:

When I assigned an 800-page biography of Andrew Carnegie for a new undergraduate course on wealth and poverty at George Mason University a few years ago, I wasn’t sure the students would actually read it. Not only did most of them make it to the end, however, but many thanked me for giving them the chance to read a popular work of history. Curious, I inquired how many were history majors. Of the 24 honors students in the seminar, there were none. English? Philosophy? Fine arts? Only one. How was this possible? I asked. Almost in unison, half a dozen replied: “Our parents wouldn’t let us.”

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