North Carolina governor Pat McCrory took a lot of heat for suggesting that education isn’t about “butts in seats but how many of those butts can get jobs.” Some conservatives rushed to defend his comments — which were, in fact, merely the logical extension of the “college grads make more money” justification given by liberals to further subsidize college loans — but Gene Edward Veith, professor of literature and provost at Patrick Henry College, asks us to step back a moment and look at students’ choices through the lense of vocation:
[Vocation] has become a synonym for “job,” so that colleges debate the extent to which higher education should be primarily vocational training or whether it should have higher goals, such as cultivating the intellect. But vocation is simply the Latinate word for “calling.” It is one of those theological words—like inspiration, revelation, mission, and vision—that has been taken over by the corporate world and drained of its meaning. The idea is that what you do for a living can be a calling.
Some conservatives like Nathan welcome the rise of MOOCs as a solution to the problems that plague higher education. Veith offers a (heavily) qualified defense of how higher ed is currently structured:
Part of the genius of higher education is that its structure usually allows you to try things. Most people come to college with little sense of what fields even exist and have only a slim idea what they are good at. Here the much-maligned liberal arts requirements can be enormously helpful. . . . Studying history and your cultural heritage can help you in your vocation of citizenship. Learning to read, write, and think deeply can make you better at whatever profession you are eventually called to. And taking courses with so many different methodologies — hard science and social science, literary analysis and quantitative research — can give you a sense of what intellectual activities you find most rewarding, which can help direct you toward a major, perhaps one you never even knew existed.
Read the rest at the Intercollegiate Review.