I was alarmed to read about Rush Limbaugh’s opinion of the classical studies major and its alleged disadvantages in the job market when I came across the relevant Under the Button post on Thursday.
The reason for this is pretty clear when you consider the fact that not only am I a double major in classical studies and linguistics here at Penn, but I’m also a senior and beginning to think about life after graduation. Limbaugh spent a good deal of time Tuesday, in a portion of his radio program, rattling off the reasons why he thinks a degree in classical studies is “worthless.” Having read the entire transcript of that portion of the program, I found myself scathing at the notion that my liberal arts degree would be worthless in today’s job market.
In his radio program, he asked why no one told us college students that getting a degree in classical studies would not lead to employment. Furthermore, he asked how many of us believe that just getting a degree equals a high-paying job? My answer to his second question is simple: none. I believe Limbaugh underestimates the average classical studies major, or any liberal arts major, for that matter. Perhaps his conclusions are based on the account, mentioned in his program, of the woman involved with the Occupy Wall Street movement, but I will gladly go on record to say that my efforts as a classical studies major have not been conducted in vain.
While I’m only two months into my senior year and just barely beginning the job hunt, I’m confident about my potential in a post-grad world because of the knowledge I have gained thus far as a student of classics at Penn. I have five semesters of Latin and four of ancient Greek under my belt, and I consider these credits to be among the most valuable parts of my college transcript. What you stand to gain as a classics major, or any major, is exactly what you put into it. While you may scoff at my ability to read two dead languages, I would argue that learning these languages has improved my writing and communication in English even beyond the scope of what I had imagined possible. I would go further to say that more than a handful of people have emphasized to me the importance of communication and writing skills in not only obtaining a job but finding success in one.
Personally, I think the woman Limbaugh refers to as “Miss Brain-dead freshly out of college with her classical studies degree” has lost sight of her own value. Her job prospects have been zero not since she declared a major in classical studies, as Limbaugh suggests, but rather since she closed her mind to the wealth of knowledge which lies under the surface of any liberal arts major. Though Limbaugh asserts this woman must know nothing more than how to “go down to Occupy Wall Street and complain and write a note for the cameras,” I believe that is all she must expect from herself because there are more than a handful successful classics majors out there. Look it up, you’ll find some familiar names.
While you may argue that a major in finance or biology provides more concrete knowledge to be applied directly in a job, you’d be hard-pressed to get me to admit that my degree is worth less than yours. Isn’t the point of a college education to challenge ourselves? Should liberal arts majors be penalized for studying something in which we are truly interested despite the major’s apparent value to the job market? I firmly believe that a major like classical studies can prepare you for the real world just as much as any other major if only you’d let it. There are hidden benefits to studying the works of ancient authors or learning to read ancient languages.
While no one is likely to ask me to describe circumstances surrounding the Catalinarian conspiracy at my first full-time job, I know I will be putting my acquired knowledge from the classics to good use in other ways. Beyond my newfound skills in writing and communication, I have learned a great deal about reading texts closely, both ancient and modern, and I have learned a lot about how people behave in both modern and ancient contexts. Though times have certainly changed since the worlds of the ancient Greeks or Romans, you’d be surprised at how little has changed in terms of people, culture and how people react to cultures both familiar and foreign.
I think Limbaugh has really sold the decision-making abilities of classical studies majors short. My advice for underclassmen is to find something you’re truly interested in studying and challenge yourself to learn as much as you can from it because you will find yourself gaining knowledge you would have never expected. Develop your skills and learn about yourself in the process because, as Steve Jobs mentioned several times throughout his life, where you find passion, you will find success.
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