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Decline and Fall
How To Ruin Your Life, Part II

In what must be an attempt to add insult to injury for its debt-laden, unemployed alums, Rutgers University has decided to offer a course called “Politicizing Beyoncé.” We hope the university doesn’t actually think the course furthers its supposed mission of educating young people, enriching their minds or preparing them for life.

Unfortunately, “Politicizing Beyoncé” seems all too earnest, as the NY Daily News reports:

Kevin Allred, a doctoral student and lecturer in the college’s Department of Women and Gender Studies, told college paper Rutgers Today that the class will explore race, gender and sexuality in America via Beyonce’s music.

“She certainly pushes boundaries,” Allred says. “While other artists are simply releasing music, she’s creating a grand narrative around her life, her career, and her persona.”

If you were to ask today’s employers what new college graduates are lacking, the skills to create a “grand narrative” around one’s own life and persona wouldn’t make the list. And a hefty dose of Beyoncé-inspired narcissism won’t exactly help with that pesky “sense of entitlement” problem employers keep complaining about.

Lest you dismiss it as an outlier, the article also points to Georgetown’s course “The Sociology of Hip-Hop: The Theodicy of Jay-Z.” Add that to “Is Harry Potter Real?” and “How To Watch Television” on the growing list of courses it should probably be a felony for colleges to offer in exchange for student loan money.

In the meantime, young people, here’s some more advice on how to ruin your life: Enroll in a college you can’t afford. Take really easy, fun courses. Don’t worry about marketable skills. Blame society for the consequences (unemployment) of your attitude problem. Then demand the government (or your parents) bail you out. We guarantee you all the misery you could ever want.

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  • Anthony

    Somewhere, somehow we have lost something (on doing and being)!

  • Anthony

    These course really do sound terrible, and via meadia is right to criticize them. That said, the interesting question is whether or not liberal arts graduates who have taken the good courses are, in fact, more attractive to employers than students who have focused on the kind of garbage mentioned above.

    • George Purcell

      I have a BS in political science. I also minored in economics–which meant heavy macro and micro–in additional to what amounted to a minor in statistics, including learning SAS.
      Those skills played a MAJOR role in grad school and employment for me.

      • Anthony

        A very good response!

      • jimb82

        Agreed. I am an economics major. But we are lumped in with the sociology and history majors, who have received little to no training on anything that is useful to an employer.

    • Anthony

      It’s not the courses per se nor gender, race, and sexuality focus (easy target for …). What you must contend with at bottom is definitions of success.

      • free_agent

        True… Almost any subject, no matter how weird, can be taught in a rigorous manner. The course mentioned above on Jay-Z and Kayne West is really a small slice of music history, and it is possible that the students will have to master a considerable body of intellectual tools to pass the course. But it’s far more common for courses studying such subjects to be intellectually vacuous, training students to enunciate their feelings and uninformed opinions in opaque, pseudo-academic prose. In any case, the *specific* information taught in a course about a couple of rappers has no market value.

        • Anthony

          In short, no sine qua non.

    • Boritz

      Can’t say about liberal arts, but I doubt there is a qualification more attractive to an employer than having played football at a major university.

      • jimb82

        Or really any intercollegiate sport, provided that the applicant actually graduates from college. There is plenty of evidence that scholar-athletes do better in careers, presumably because they have a proven work ethic and because they understand competition, which makes them superior to just about everyone else on those dimensions (which actually have some applicability to the workforce).

        • ThomasD

          Football (or basketball) from a major university might have too much baggage, but I’d agree that other sports – baseball, volleyball, etc. Ones that were never going to be a meal ticket, are very attractive to employers.

          • jimb82

            I’m pretty sure the numbers show that even football and basketball players who graduate do better than non-athlete graduates, on average. The key, of course, is that they graduate. Too many “revenue sport” athletes don’t graduate, which is shameful behavior on the part of their institutions (starting with recruiting kids who are clearly not academically qualified to go to college, and in some cases functionally illiterate).

  • free_agent

    I think the criticism can be sharpened. The problem with “Politicizing Beyoncé” isn’t that it’s organized around a pop star. After all, many items in popular culture really are the tip of the iceberg for matters worthy of significant academic study. As one of the courses on the referenced list notes, a lot of Star Trek episodes raise questions that have been important in the history of philosophy, and it’s not surprising that someone could organize an Intro to Philosophy introducing each topic with a relevant Star Trek episode.

    The problem is that the course “will explore race, gender and sexuality in America”. I suppose that there is some demand in academic circles for understanding and documenting those aspects of current American culture, but there is *no* demand for it in non-academic employment.

    The funny thing about this is that one could make a very good *business* course about Beyoncé. For the last few decades a number of pop stars have made a lot of money messing around with the boundaries of “race, gender and sexuality”. Someone who had been taught how that works in practice would be a valuable employee. The specific knowledge would be valuable in any cultural industry, and the general knowledge of how to manipulate attention-seeking would be valuable in any marketing situation. (As Madonna said, “Losing my virginity was a career move.”)

    • George Purcell

      I could easily see a marketing course looking at the careers of, say, Madonna, Katy Perry, Beyoncé, etc. But it would have little so do with their “exploration” of the academic shibboleths of “race, gender, and sexuality.”

  • Fat_Man

    Here is another one, and from a supposedly respectable flagship state university.

    Once is an accident. Twice is a coincidence. Three times is enemy action.

    http://english.missouri.edu/resources/181-courses/fall-2013/2000-level-courses/1159-english-2169-jay-z-and-kanye-west.html

    English 2169: Jay-Z and Kanye West

    Last Updated on Saturday, 09 February 2013 21:00

    Andrew Hoberek
    Section 1

    MWF 11-11:50
    This course looks at the career and work of Jay-Z and Kanye West from three perspectives:

    (1) Where do they fit within, and how do they change, the history of
    hip-hop music? (2) How is what they do similar to and different from
    what poets do?, and (3) How does their rise to both celebrity and
    corporate power alter what we understand as the American dream? In
    addition to listening to music and watching videos, we will also read
    Jay-Z’s Decoded; histories of and critical works on rap music by Jeff
    Chang, Adam Bradley, and others; and one or two good studies of how
    poetry works.

  • RedWell

    A red herring: most students are in “practical” majors like business and the hard sciences. Humanities majors, where most of these overly-specific and/or politically correct courses originate, are in steady decline.

    According to the National Center of Education Statistics, “the greatest numbers of degrees were conferred in the fields of business (358,000); social sciences and history (173,000); health professions and related programs (130,000); and education (101,000).” http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=37
    Maybe some students pursue the “how to ruin your life” strategy, but most aren’t.

    • richard40

      You list is not as comforting as it appears. Social science and history is often a very soft major, with poor job prospects. And the education major is also pretty useless, unless you want to be a school teacher, and not even really useful for that, except the teachers unions demand it.

      • free_agent

        If I understand things correctly, the state licensing regulations require public school teachers to have a bachelor’s degree, with a certain suite of education classes.

        • richard40

          In many states the teachers unions have revised that to not just require a bachelors degree, but specific education credentials anc certification, with preference given to education degrees. Education colleges and education degrees have a reputation as being one of the least rigorous majors and institutions out there, pretty much proven by the fact that almost any employer other than a public school will laugh in your face if you show them an education major.

          • ThomasD

            It is still a light year ahead of a Bachelor’s in Psychology.

    • ThomasD

      No, look closer at the details.

      Firstly, the data reports on degrees awarded, so says nothing about what people who fail to graduate studied, and that is a major limitation as a couple years of math and science might still be useful. Two years of Politicizing Beyonce, not so much.

      Even so, add up the numbers of people who received degrees in Communications, Journalism, and Communications Technologies, Psychology, and Visual and Performing Arts, and the sum exceeds that of all Business degrees.

      Psychology now exceeds Engineering and Engineering Technologies and Biological and Biomedical Sciences. Visual and Performing Arts are not far behind either.

      A critical eye shows the truth is not especially rosy.

      http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d11/figures/fig_16.asp?referrer=figures

      • RedWell

        That 5 separate majors exceeds business majors is not a sign of students throwing away their educations or drowning in Beyoncé studies courses.

        For one thing, of your list, only Visual and Performing Arts is typically housed in the humanities, which was my stated target. The others are typically treated as professional studies or sciences.

        Further, communications and journalism are typically avenues taken by students who are never going to be Business or STEM folks but want to pursue something that might be economically valuable to businesses who have to deal with other human beings and use written language to convey their services and goods.

        From personal experience, I recognize that these and related majors are not the most rigorous, but they are far from useless in the marketplace. That students might take a few gen ed courses in laughable courses doesn’t mean that they’re not challenged or forced to expand their critical thinking.

        Perhaps more to the point, the middle bulge of average students literally can’t succeed in most STEM fields because they are intentionally weeded out. Even if every student qualified, sciences and engineering would still constrain their enrollment. Besides, who’s going to do communications for the savants over in the engineering building?

        Psychology has a bum rap and is often not immediately or obviously employable, but most majors learn scientific methodologies, have to analyze and write up research and challenge their basic understandings of human behavior. It’s not pop culture.

        These kinds of arguments that lump together “useless” and “useful” majors are not helpful. There are serious problems in higher ed, but the Beyoncé studies claim is both lazy and irresponsible.

  • TommyTwo

    I am reminded of a laugh-out-loud response by WigWag to a similar post:

    “Performing Arendt”
    This interdisciplinary studio course will investigate the writings and philosophy of Hannah Arendt and use them as the basis for the creation of collaborative performance-based projects. The class meets twice a week: once in a research and study seminar; once in a creative laboratory. We will draw inspiration from Arendt’s texts, as well as commentaries on her work, historical and contextual documents, and other writings and artifacts. After a period of immersion in Arendt’s universe, students will be divided into cross-disciplinary groups and will create original performances. In the second half of the semester, classes will alternate between performance presentations and critiques. Students will be required to meet in their groups and develop ideas outside of class. Open to moderated students. Class size: 15

    This is what passes for a humanities curriculum in the 21st century.
    Can you think of anything more pathetic?
    By the way, I understand that for the Spring 2014 semester, Bard will be offering a follow-on course for the Arendt Performance Art class, The course is going to be called, “Heidegger; the Musical.”

    By the way, does anyone know what’s up with WigWag?

    • Anthony

      WWigWag, we miss him and his incisiveness. “

  • Boritz

    If you were to ask today’s employers what new college graduates are lacking, the skills to create a “grand narrative” around one’s own life and persona wouldn’t make the list. -TAI

    According to Ron Fournier commenting on the latest CBO findings vis a vis Obamacare:

    Obmacare will give workers choice. It will free millions from bureaucratic restraints and open opportunities to create small businesses, seek training for postindustrial employment, or spend more time raising their children.

    “ask today’s employers…”

    Really? The best advice at this juncture is to first sit down with your Obamacare navigator and discuss your goals. Then decide if employers’ issues are relevant to your situation.

  • El Gringo

    If I had to sit through a class on “race, gender, and sexuality” I would rather do it staring at pictures of Beyonce.

  • ThomasD

    Last week riding the ski lifts at Sugar Mountain (NC) you couldn’t help but notice the lift towers were sporting advertisements for various colleges. Some local, all geared towards attracting the attention of winter sports enthusiasts. One for Colorado Mountain College stood out, not just because it was half a continent away, but because it listed a few offered degrees, one of which was “Sustainability Studies.”

    That is a George Carlin grade oxymoron if there ever was.

    “Sustainability Studies” being sustainable only so long as the ‘free’ money pouring out of the student loan spigot keeps flowing. Because no graduate is ever going to find meaningful use for that degree other than turning right back around and becoming part of the scam.

    It and “Politicizing Beyonce” are entirely of a piece, and emblematic of the fact that the people running our centers of “higher education” simply do not care about anything other than scooping up as much of that ‘free’ student loan money while there is still time.

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