I tell a person who I've just met that my son is a senior in college. The acquaintance asks where he goes, which I answer and the person assures me that he's attending a good school.
After about $200,000 in tuition costs, I certainly hope so. But here comes the big question: "What is your son majoring in? Oh, boy, I really don't want to answer this. I want to change the subject; I would rather show him my check book, my miniscule 401K or discuss my political views.
Better yet, I don't want to have to apologize that he's majoring in history with a minor in philosophy. When I reveal his major, the person typically screws up his face as if I just stepped on his foot and I'm grinding my heel into it for extra measure.
Then he repeats it to ensure that he understood me: "He's majoring in history and philosophy?" I nod reassurance that he heard me right.
The person shuffles his feet as he attempts to process this. I already know what's coming next because I've been through it a hundred times: "Soooo, what's he going to do, teach history and philosophy?"
I want to tell him that I left my crystal ball in the car, otherwise I could give him a more definitive answer. I really don't know what he's going to do, and I'm not worried about it. I wouldn't dare share that he's talking to a former philosophy and literature major. But that's a dark secret that I don't just share with anyone.
So I shrug and toss off a cliche, such as he'll figure out and hope we can move onto another subject. But nooo...he proceeds to tell me that his son is majoring in international finance with a minor in macroeconomics.
Wow, that sure sounds darn impressive and very serious, and, of course, practical. Back in the day when stegosauruses roamed the earth and I was in college, it was more accepted to attend college to learn to be a critical and well-rounded thinker. At that time, college had not yet morphed into a vocational training center.
Call me a dreamer who has passed on that damaged gene to his son, but I happen to see great value in thinking about little things, such as: Why the heck are we walking around on this earth? Is there meaning to life? And why should I bother to have morals?
Pondering those inconsequential questions probably won't land you the big job on Wall Street, but it might lead you to be more conscious and lead a quality life. And I've yet to see a want ad for a philosopher. If you have, please contact me at the email address below.
I get it, parents are spending a fortune on their kids' education and they want them to step into good-paying and meaningful professions. But at what price do our kids and everyone for that matter pay, when we push those artsy, philosophical questions aside.
While in college, you have the perfect storm of conditions to contemplate -- you're young and idealistic, a play or a poem can actually move you, and you are drinking in experiences as you gulp down a few beers, and you have the time.
Frankly, I don't care what my son majors in as long as he thinks and learns. I'm going on faith that somehow he will survive if he doesn't study a hard-boiled, practical curriculum of courses.
I have met businessmen, professionals, police and firemen who have majored in the arts and managed to earn a good living. I have a friend who became an orthopedic surgeon after majoring in English.
It was a tougher road for him, cramming pre-requisite science courses to apply to medical school after he graduated. After that, he attended medical school in France and didn't make it because he didn't know French. He then transferred to Mexico and got into medical school and learned Spanish at the same time. He was never afraid of learning.
He eventually earned his medical degree and has had a very successful career. He says he's glad he took the road less traveled first. It's made him a better doctor with great empathy for his patients. He doesn't see them as symptoms but people.
My friend the doctor often gives them encouragement by reciting a line of poetry or citing a dose of philosophy. His patients love him for it.
Perhaps I'm crazy and have wasted money on my son's education, but I doubt it. When we discuss current affairs, the economy, philosophical questions or even sports, I'm proud that he's a critical thinker who sees the bigger picture.
He doesn't think in cliches but ponders and searches for answers, which makes me proud. I've invested wisely in him regardless of what career he chooses.
Frank Szivos is a free-lance writer still in search for a job as a professional philosopher. He can be reached at email@example.com.