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Gov. Scott's school daze

My late father was an architect and engineer who designed large industrial heating and air conditioning systems. For fun, he enjoyed working out calculus problems — with a slide rule.

This apple couldn't have fallen farther from the tree.

To this day math eludes me. I simply cannot fathom algebra. How is it possible to add, subtract, multiply and divide letters of the alphabet? Don't even bother to try to explain it me.

So it would have been a waste of time to major in engineering, or any of the sciences, when I went off to college. I chose the major for the numbers/periodic table-challenged — political science.

If Gov. Rick Scott has his way, Florida university students like myself, who have all the aptitude of Sasquatch when it comes to arithmetic-related disciplines, would be reduced to second-class academic citizens.

Over the past few days, the Mister Chips of the pocket protector set has disparaged liberal arts degrees, especially calling out anthropology as having less economic value than the University of Miami's basket-weaving department for the football team.

The governor argues that students who prefer to major in science, technology, engineering and math, otherwise known as STEM disciplines, should receive larger state education subsidies than those who might want to explore history, psychology or perhaps the use of ironic imagery in the works of Shakespeare as English literature scholars.

Higher education, aside from the importance of chasing women, shooting pool and drinking beer, is also about learning how to think. It is the respite period between adolescence and adulthood where young people figure out what they want to do with their lives.

Bribing students into pursuing a field of study they neither have an interest in nor an aptitude for is a recipe for churning out generations of unfulfilled and unsatisfied people who will be forced into careers they may not want merely because the state financially induced them into say, engineering. Sorta sounds like … uh, socialism, doesn't it?

And even if the Our Miss Brooks of biology does succeed in creating his scholastic double standard, there is no guarantee a freshman physics major will graduate as a physics major.

At the start of my freshman year I would guess 30 percent of my classmates were engineering/science majors, with another 30 percent focusing on an accounting/business curriculum. By the spring semester most of them were sociology majors.

If Tallahassee's Professor Kingsfield of chemical engineering truly wanted to improve the quality of higher education in Florida, he would move to redesign the classroom experience for students.

For some inexplicable reason, being admitted to the University of Florida is considered about the closest thing to achieving a royal title in the state. Family legacies probably have something to do with it. So too does the school's vaunted football program, and, yes, there are some lovely saloons in Gainesville. All very nice.

But like all large state universities, many students are required to attend courses in large auditoriums and take classes online with precious little interaction with classmates or their professors. To be sure, Florida is a fine school. But is the quality of its core education significantly better than most other universities in the state without the cachet of Gator Nation? Probably not.

Instead of treating history majors as if they were preparing themselves for a career as a street mime, the Dumbledore of computer science would be performing a far greater service to higher education by embracing the notion that a university experience should be one of exploration, intellectual curiosity, trial and error along with the occasional keg or two.

Do we need more engineers, scientists, math whizzes and tech geeks? You betcha. But we also need dedicated historians and political scientists and anthropologists and sociologists and English majors pondering the Bronte sisters.

A university is a place where a student should be able to find his or her passion. It is where a young person learns to ask the essential question in scholarship: Why?

When Zeus the Younger arrived for orientation at Miami University (the real one, in Ohio), students were invited to file out by the order of their major. Non-declared major students like him were asked to stay put in the auditorium.

After all the others had left, a school official told the remaining students they were smart ones since just about everyone changes their mind about what they want to be over the course of four years on campus.

After graduation, Plato the Younger returned to Florida from Oxford, Ohio, to begin a job at a real estate-related company.

Contrary to the governor's ridicule of liberal arts studies as career suicide, the degree in history was not a hindrance to finding gainful employment.

Gov. Scott's school daze 10/13/11 [Last modified: Thursday, October 13, 2011 4:23pm]
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