Why studying for the sake of studying is a worthwhile pursuit

There are many things to be angry about lately. None have compelled me to turn keyboard warrior like the Morrison government’s plans to double the cost of humanities courses at university.

As an arts graduate, some-time-farmer-cum-hospitality-professional-turned-student-teacher-who-(currently)-dreams-of-being-a-sommelier, I feel well placed to offer comment on the government’s disheartening and downright dangerous proposal.

Australia has a long-held contempt for intellectual pursuit and proudly defines itself as a nation that is not interested in discussing politics or complicated matters. Any attempt to discuss ‘issues’ with mates at the pub or over dinner is routinely shut down or shrugged off in the interests of keeping things light. No worries mate and that kind of thing.

Long-term readers of mine would know what while I enjoy the light, I also quite relish the dark side of life. Perhaps that explains why I was drawn to studying history and political science as part of my undergraduate degree. Other reasons I will also accept are:

  1. a general disdain for conventional career pathways
  2. overwhelm at the thought of knowing what kind of life I wanted to build
  3. needing something to do alongside experiencing suburban Brisbane share living and saving for Europe in my late teens

At the time, it is fair to say I did not grasp the value of my time spent exploring, for example, some of the greatest intellectual trends of the Western canon or the many ways Australian society has systematically disadvantaged the original inhabitants of this land.

During my humanities degree, I learnt how to make a case convincingly, to read between the lines and how to call bullshit when necessary. I learnt the value of interrogating my own beliefs while respecting the beliefs of others.

Through studying history and political science I understood the danger inherent in accepting information at face value, without accounting for context and motive.

As the world around us becomes more complicated the ability to skillfully interpret it becomes more essential. Without strategies to see structure we are helpless in the face of infinite information. What is good, bad and/or true becomes impossible to distinguish.

Furthermore, it is a grave mistake to value knowledge only in terms of its relevance to gainful employment. Creative, critical and questioning thinking is absolutely necessary for a rich and functional society, employed or otherwise.

My humanities degree debt still exists but there is no price for the smug sense of superiority an arts grad feels drawing on a wealth of obscure theory to win an argument, make myself understood or set out a well-structured case.

And while my job requires me to deliver your food to your table in a restaurant with pleasure, you may rest assured that I and my colleagues have capacity and pursuits beyond our service to you.

My humanities degree taught me that people are not always as they appear. It taught me that a seemingly simple veneer may lead to complexity that defies expectations. It taught me to respectfully question things until they become clear.

We will always need nurses and teachers and IT people and engineers. But don’t be fooled, we need humanities now more than ever.

As Cal said to me just this morning, Babe, Aussies don’t care about these sort of things!

To which I replied, that’s because they haven’t done an arts degree.

Not an expert

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