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What Rick Scott Can Learn from Anthropology

| January 8, 2012

It might help if they get acquainted. (© FlaglerLive and cobalt 123)

By Cary McMullen

Question: What do novelist Kurt Vonnegut, Animal Planet host Jeff Corwin and evangelist Billy Graham have in common? Answer: They studied anthropology in college.

This is more than a curiosity because some in Florida’s political leadership believe that degrees in the social sciences are worthless. The degrees that lead to jobs, we are told, are the ones in science, technology, engineering and math – the so-called STEM disciplines. Degrees in the liberal arts and social sciences, not so much.

Cary McMullen

florida voices columnists flaglerlive

Gov. Rick Scott drew attention to anthropology’s supposed uselessness in two separate interviews in October. “It’s a great degree if people want to get it. But we don’t need them here,” he said. We don’t need Billy Graham here in Florida? Really?

Scott wants to redirect state higher education funds to privilege the STEM degree programs, convinced that technology-related degrees are our economic salvation. There is scant evidence for this, but even if there were, why would a governor from a party that supposedly wants to keep its nose out of citizens’ private lives compel them to study a particular field? And why is someone who would trust the free market with everything from prisons to pharmaceuticals unwilling to let the market guide students’ decisions?

Scott’s office recently pointed to a database compiled by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce that correlates degree majors with unemployment rates. It’s true that liberal arts (7.4 percent) and general social science (8.2 percent) majors have relatively high unemployment rates. But consider some of these unemployment numbers for a sampling of other majors: math, 5.0 percent; music, 5.2 percent; economics, 6.3 percent; counseling psychology, 5.2 percent; computer engineering, 7.0 percent; art history, 6.9 percent.

The numbers show you’d be better off studying psychology or music than economics and about the same studying art history as computer engineering

Vonnegut, Corwin and Graham are good illustrations of a key feature of human nature: Our destiny is not fixed by the college degree we earn. They applied their degrees or changed their vocations in ways that suited their interests, something people have been figuring out how to do for centuries without the oversight of the state.

An undergraduate degree is often little more than a launching pad that enables us to pursue our interests as they mature. Imagination and flexibility are the keys to finding a vocation, which writer Frederick Buechner has described as “the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

In my own case, I got a degree in computing science, went to work in the IT department of an oil company and hated it. Eventually, I found my way into journalism.

And consider the degrees of some of the state’s political leaders who are so keen in redirecting students into STEM fields: Presumptive Senate President Don Gaetz got a degree in religion and political science; Speaker of the House Dean Cannon got his degree in journalism; and Scott got a degree in business administration.

A job is different from meaningful work. How many people have had the miserable experience of being forced to study a discipline for which they were neither suited nor interested because of a parent’s threat: I’m paying for this education, and you’ll study what I say.

It doesn’t work any better for a daddy governor to tell people what to study. Scott comes from a party that constantly complains about the nanny state, and the role doesn’t become him.

The state should lay off the behavior modification and let people study everything from art to zoology. Don’t worry. We’ll figure out what we want to be when we grow up.

Cary McMullen is a journalist and editor who lives in Lakeland. He can be reached by email here.

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6 Responses for “What Rick Scott Can Learn from Anthropology”

  1. The Truth says:

    Can someone please teach this man not to look like a complete freak in every picture that’s taken of him? All his pictures really freak me out.

  2. Liana G says:

    If the person pursuing the degree is willing to foot the bill, then by all means, go for it! Parents want the best for their children. We are not evil monsters with malicious and vengeful intentions out to destroy their lives by setting them up for failure. Their failures are our failures because we will blame ourselves, no matter what. Likewise, expecting taxpayers to pay for a person’s degree free of charge should come with some expectations and security.

    Sara Kay, a spoken-word poet, graced Ted Talks with “How many lives can you live?” She relayed that when she was little she wanted to do everything she wanted to do and be everything she wanted be and was stunned to find she couldn’t be a princess, ballerina and astronaut all in one lifetime. Beautiful and inspiring.

    Here is the link to hear her or maybe FlaglerLive can upload the video.

  3. Outsider says:

    And therein lies the crux of the problem; in most cases, the taxpayer is footing the bill, through Pell grants, student loan program, and ultimately, default on those loans. The cost of an education has become so inflated as the schools grab every dime of government money they can while their endowments continue to grow. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to believe a bachelor’s degree can be had for ten thousand dollars. Sure, a lot of fluff and niceties would have to be eliminated, and focus aimed solely at academics, but it’s possible. I spoke with a pulmonologist with his own practice at a university in North Carina. He got his medical degree in a Pacific island nation; for 30 grand. He didn’t have a football team, alcohol counselor and psychologists to help him through every life event, but what be did get was apparently good enough to practice at an American university hospital.

  4. Doug Chozianin says:

    Teach only those subjects that will provide students with a job.

    If students want to learn some esoteric or non-marketable subjet, let them pay for it on their own dime.

  5. Geezer Butler says:

    The Medicare/Medicaid crook now dictates what subjects to take.
    How about a course on skimming from the system?

    Here’s some college courses dear to Rick Scott:

    – Advanced Fraud, Levels l, and ll.
    – Robbing Poor People Effectively (elective)
    – Prevarication – Your Keys to Success
    – It’s Mexico’s Fault
    – Your Career at Walmart and Dollar General
    – Brainwashing For The Layman
    – Cashing In on Lobbyists

  6. Nancy N says:

    Someone needs to explain to Mr Scott that all those genius scientists that he is so bent on creating to save our economy need to have someone to market their products: PR people, advertising executives, writers and graphic artists. And musicians to write and perform the music in those ads, and actors to perform in them, and TV shows and magazines and web platforms to put them into….

    Not to mention teachers to educate the children who are the next generation of genius scientists.

    And I could go on and on…

    Maybe every single person in the state with a liberal arts degree should all try not showing up for work on the same day and see what Rick feels about our economic impact then.

    Rick Scott is such a short-sighted idiot.

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