In a lecture on the worth of a BA education by Jeffrey Sehume earlier this year, a student asked if society could “manufacture passion” for careers in the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics – industries where jobs were readily available for those equipped to do them.
What struck me was the simplicity of the question and its vast consequences. As we grow up we see certain professions around us and, considering our own interests and passions, we pick a career path we think will make us happiest.
Now before you accuse me of being idealistic, many people do find happiness in earning money.
While I have yet to meet an overly exciting chartered accountant, I have also not met a poor one.
We all find things exciting and interesting. If we’re lucky, we find a subject that challenges the way we perceive the world and engages us every step of the way.
Add this to the fact that, in our modern society, many of us are told that if something makes us happy, we should pursue it full-throttle and the money will follow. We were told we are all unique little snowflakes and that the world would help us on our journey to happiness.
Now cross to the stuffy, crowded room where excited, engaged BA students asked Sehume inquisitively: “Well we’ve already done/about to finish our BAs, what should we do?”
To their horror, Sehume replied: “Go to a FET college, get trained in something practical. Artisans can always earn money and then you can live your life and feed your family.”
The energy in the room went from 100 to negative-10 in a split-second. We were basically told to drop our intellectual pursuits and become plumbers.
Yes, there is no honour in being the world’s leading expert on a single Nietzsche poem if you are living under a bridge. Yes, the government is trying to change the image of the FET colleges and make them more accessible. But I would never tell someone not to do a BA.
My mind was expanded across countries, even universes, because of the opportunities a BA degree offered me.
In German, I learnt the frustration people around me must feel when they try to communicate a nuanced and difficult idea in English, when it isn’t their first language. I learnt that, in every language, you have a slightly different personality. I felt the fury and emotion of the Sturm und Drang poets as they cried, “Feelings are everything!”
In Politics I realised the reason I live in a democracy is that I have given some of my personal freedom to another group because I chose them to represent me. I marched with my fellow classmates into the dingy, murky waters of racial identity. We ripped open the not-yet-healed scar of racial divisions and, delicately, in our little class, tried to go deep and actually talk to each other about what we really felt.
And while failing to find a job is not romantic or funny in any way, if you want to stretch your soul, your mind, and your heart before you decide where you want to go in this world, I would recommend doing a BA degree.