Take Useless Classes: Advice From a Sage Hen

Ignore the haters: your parents, the Career Development Office, that Forbes article that suggests that you check for space in nearby homeless shelters before majoring in anthropology. Most of all, ignore that anxious, risk-terrorized version of yourself who signed up for AP Everything in hopes of getting here but who now threatens your chance at a fulfilling education.

Take useless classes. These are the ones which seem to have no practical purpose, but they will transform your worldview and reveal the strange complexity of your existence. I’m not talking here about Playground Games and Intro to Science for Crybabies—technically, these are useless, but with a lowercase ‘u.’ I’m talking instead about art, religion, philosophy, and gender studies. I’m talking, broadly, about the humanities. They’ve been certified 100 percent Useless by the forces of neoliberal oppression, but, like any good social movement should, we’re here to reclaim the label.

You might have caught on to the joke here, which is that I don’t really think the humanities are Useless. Rather, they are, more than anything else, what your parents are paying tuition for, not because they are profitable but because they incite the deep intellectual engagement seldom found in that abyss called Life After Pomona College. They are fundamentally concerned with ideas over efficiency and process over outcomes. In a rapidly changing world, the skills that will lead you to success in any field, not just a narrow one that might someday cease to exist, are these: the ability to identify logical errors, to communicate fluidly in written and spoken word, and to reconcile competing ideas. The most valuable skills for your career are precisely those that the humanities compel you to develop. 

Do I wish I had learned more ‘practical skills’ while at Pomona? Not particularly. I mean, it would’ve been nice if someone had trained me to feed and clothe myself, but beyond that, my biggest regrets about college are more along the lines of having taken Econometrics instead of Afro-Futurisms. In the Real World it’s much easier to teach yourself to use Stata than to stumble across a seminar filled with brilliant minds waiting to challenge you.

What you must remember is that those ‘sensible’ classes—you know what they are—may help you get a job, but only a certain kind of job: sensible, boring ones. If your passion in life is to be an artist, an activist, or simply a person who will leave a mark on the world, you might not find fulfillment as a management consultant. My humble suggestion is that you use your precious remaining time as students truly learning rather than merely attempting to appease the scary capitalist overlords.

Be earnest. Be honest. Be deliberate, and be vulnerable. This is my advice to those of you lucky enough to still have access to the considerable resources of the Claremont Colleges. It may be a struggle, but recognize that a privilege of attending these elite institutions is that the normally ruthless rules of our economic age do not necessarily apply to you. Do not allow the corporate usurpers driving the rebranding process to convince you that your education is a commodity to be monetized. Revel, instead, in the impracticality and unimagined possibility of deep thinking.

I promise you won’t regret it.

Ryan Wheeler PO ’13 double majored in Economics and Politics and is now at a law firm in Santa Clara. 

Facebook Comments

Leave a Reply