Another fall, another season of "Top Ten Most Useless Majors" lists.
We've all read them, usually from Cracked.com or Huffington Post, sarcastically rattling off the majors that seem most effective at making graduates less likely to get a job.
This is always a special time for me – as a philosophy major, I'm apparently destined to be poor, unemployed and unhappy.
These lists are entertaining and in some sense informative, but they miss the actual question: What is college for?
We all have personal answers to this question, reasons we came to college. For most of us, it offers an increased chance at a better job with better pay. Perhaps some special training to better perform at that better job.
For politicians, advisors and parents, however, college is a numbers game. They throw around phrases like "average median income" and point out that college degree-holders tend to make around 15 percent more per year throughout their lifetime than high school graduates, according to a June 2013 CNN article.
For me, I went to college because that's what young people do. We do high school, and if we happen to do well enough and are able to pay, we do college, too. Then, after that, we do a job. We continue on in the rigid tracks of life, barreling towards two-and-a-half kids and a two-car garage.
I applied and was accepted as a civil engineer, on my way to one of the top ten most "useful" degrees. I was destined for employment and money – a happy life.
Then college happened.
You see, things are "useful" when they get you from point A to point B. A car is useful when you can drive yourself somewhere else, just like a wrench is useful when it turns a loose screw into a tight one. As far as a university education goes, we know where point A is – broke, clueless college student.
But where's point B?
If you believe your parents, politicians and those Cracked.com articles, you know exactly where point B is: middle class paradise. A nice house, with two weeks paid vacation and dental insurance. Who cares where you work, or what you do or how much you hate waking up in the morning? You made it! You're at point B!
College, when done correctly, fundamentally challenges this mindset. We all want to live a good life, and a fancy education can help us get there. But more importantly, it can help us think about what a good life is.
The belief that the only point of college is to get us further along the path towards middle class paradise is far more dangerous than just individual lives. It destines us all to live identical existences of steady income and subjugation. It infects public attitudes against whole disciplines, writing off critical thinking and social science as useless.
Take the Texas GOP. Their 2012 platform read as follows: "We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills [and] critical thinking skills... which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student's fixed beliefs and parental authority."
That's a direct quote.
Then there's Eric Cantor, the House majority leader, who called for a complete end to federal funding for social science research. Paul Krugman, columnist for the New York Times and Nobel Prize winner in economics, responded with sarcasm – "Because it's surely a waste of money seeking to understand the society we're trying to change."
A lot of us are stuck in a rut. We graduated high school, and now we're in college, and all we can think about is moving forward, trying to get a job. We get mad when we're forced to stop for a second to take general education classes like "Western Civilization" and "Professional Responsibility."
But that's the point of those classes – to stop you from just plowing forward in that rut and instead force you to stop and look around. Those annoying classes are meant to challenge you, to make you think about where you want to go, not just to help you get there faster.
This is what education is – learning to think. This can happen in classes and out of them, on purpose or by chance. It can be scary, and it may "challenge the student's fixed beliefs." But it helps you figure out where point B is.
In my opinion, that's pretty useful. It may even break the top ten.
Evan Ford is a junior in philosophy. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.