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Saturday, September 03, 2016

Meet the parents who won’t let their children study literature | Washington Post

Photo: Steven Pearlstein
Steven Pearlstein, Post business and economics writer, and also Robinson Professor of Public Affairs at George Mason University notes, "Forcing college kids to ignore the liberal arts won’t help them in a competitive economy."
 
Photo: Daniel Fishel for The Washington Post

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.” 

The results were similar when I surveyed freshmen in another honors seminar this spring. This time, I asked how many would have been humanities majors if the only criteria were what they were interested in and what they were good at. Ten of the 24 raised their hands.

I was aware, of course, of the drift toward pre-professionalism on college campuses, of widespread concern over student debt, of stories about college-educated baristas living in basements, of governors threatening to cut off state funding for French literature and anthropology. Even so, I found it shocking that some of the brightest students in Virginia had been misled — by parents, the media, politicians and, alas, each other — into thinking that choosing English or history as a major would doom them to lives as impecunious schoolteachers. 

And it’s not just at state schools like Mason. Harvard University professor Jill Lepore recalled hosting an information session at her home for undergraduates interested in a program she directs on history and literature. One student who attended, Lepore told the New York Times, kept getting text messages from her parents ordering her to leave the meeting immediately. 

“I have heard from many different colleges that there is now a considerable — and disturbing — amount of parental pressure against the liberal arts,” reports Debra Humphreys, a senior vice president at the Association of American Colleges and Universities. One reason for the “explosion” of double majors — as high as 40 percent of students at some elite schools — is that students want one major to satisfy Mom and Dad and another to satisfy their own interests, she says. 

Parents are becoming more deeply engaged in nearly every aspect of their children’s lives, and it’s carrying over even to their choice of major. “A lot of our students feel parental pressure to go into business, economics, medicine,” says Christy Buchanan, who heads the office of academic advising at North Carolina’s Wake Forest University, a traditional liberal arts college that recently announced new programs in biomedical sciences and engineering.  
Photo: Christy Buchanan
Buchanan, a psychology professor who studies the role of families in adolescent development, says this is what “helicopter parenting” has come to.
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Source: Washington Post


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