The Major of Universal Study

The Major of Universal Study

As I have recently reached my twentieth year of life and have read most texts of the English literary canon – I just finished War and Peace last week – It is at this point that I feel qualified to speak frankly about the American higher-education system. And this system is fantastic.  There is not a flaw that I can find in it.  Save one.

There are thousands of different majors – for my foreign readers these are concentrations of study which students follow for their time at University – too many to count, and this is not even including the plethora of other degrees that a student can receive.  Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Science, Nursing, the Humanities, it all becomes quite confusing.  And in my opinion, though this should not just be taken as an opinion, for just last week I debated with a famous poet (I cannot say whom) about the element of absurdity in Camus’s work, these options are far too specific.  They do not leave the students within said programs enough choice about their path of study.

Take my good friend Dylan, who is studying Automotive Technology at a trade school in Boston – which is located in Massachusetts for my foreign readers.  Just last week we were together, and the subject of Kantianism versus Utilitarianism happened to come up.  After discussing this topic for a while, it became clear that Dylan’s rhetoric about the merits of Utilitarianism was quite weak, and we came to the conclusion that he had not spent enough time with such topics in his study of Automotive Technology.  He actually had not had training in many of the classic subjects at all.  There had been no introduction to philosophy for Dylan, no basic training on American psychology’s history.  He had read no Latin nor learned the fundamental principles upon which Chemistry is built, no Stoichiometry and no John Dalton’s Atomic Model.  Dylan had neither learned the basic principles of supply and demand nor been taught how to create a simple sociological survey.  The only thing that Dylan knew was cars, and though he knew them through and through, this was quite limited indeed.  The most tragic part of this story is that Dylan is not an outlier; he is far closer to the mode.

There have been too many people like Dylan, those who studied, and studied hard, only to find themselves with expert knowledge in one topic and a lack of expertise in the rest.  Just last week I was holed up at a mathematics conference where the main topic of conversation was the basics of Differential Calculus.  I met a man there who had just graduated from a prestigious university – which I cannot reveal in order to keep his privacy, but I must make the point that my university is generally regarded as more prestigious – with a degree in Mathematics.  And this was all well and good.  But as he and I got to talking he began to voice a concern to me, the same concern that I had heard from Dylan and so many others before him.  He said to me, and I am quoting him directly here, “I can do the most complex maths – for my American readers, this is the British word for math, though it is fundamentally the same thing – in the world.  I can solve problems that stumped the brightest minds a hundred years ago.  But what is the point if I cannot for the life of me read a lick of French?”  After he said this, he slumped down in his chair and was in quite the mood for some time, until I was able to revive him with the few words of French which I knew.  This happens far too often, and because it appears that the American higher-education system has not addressed this problem, I have taken it upon myself to write this plea to the world in the hopes that something will be done.

I propose this: The major of Universal Study.  It is important to note at this point that a major of similar name exists at many American Colleges – for my foreign readers, this is the equivalent of your University.  That major is the major of General Studies.  While on the surface the two may seem similar, they could not be further from each other.  The major of General Studies is for students who do not know what they want to do in life, lost, off-track individuals; the major of Universal Study is for go-getters who know exactly what they want to do: learn for their whole lives.  The program outline for the major of Universal Study is quite simple: If a College or University has an eight-semester program, wherein a student takes four courses a semester, that totals up to thirty-two courses taken in total (I always write out my numbers even when conventions indicate otherwise; I abhor the look of real numbers on a page).  Therefore, the major of Universal Study calls for a course schedule of thirty-two different introductory courses – for my foreign readers, this is a first-level course which is taken to ascertain a greater understanding of what the field of study is about without broaching too many tough topics.  The purpose of this is simple: Students will learn as much as possible, as broadly as possible, for as long as they possibly can at school.  From their first day of college to their last, they will be learning, and if that is not the definition of a scholar than I do not know what it is, though I believe it is highly probable that I do know that definition, given that just last week I sat down for coffee with a relatively famous author (He has only been published twice, but I believe his real success will come from his third publication), and had a very productive chat.  We discussed many things, but at the forefront of our conversation were the likes of Commodus and Cicero, and their contribution to current knowledge of Roman history in general.  These men were true scholars, we agreed, and then I pitched my idea of the Universal Study major to him.  He loved it, of course, and then looped it back around to the Roman scholars we had been previously discussing.  He said to me, and I write his words directly here, “Much like those Roman scholars of yore, who trained in many of the arts and other wonderful things, your major of Universal Study will bring the return of young scholars to this country!”  I cannot say for sure, but I swear there was a tear in one of his eyes when he said this.

So that is it, the proposal on the table.  Thirty-two courses, thirty-two different topics of study.  It will create students who are masters of none, but proficient in all, and in this crazy, hectic world we live in, isn’t that a much more important thing to be?  Will Chemistry exist in twenty years?  Will a degree in History hold the same weight then as it does now?  I do not know the answer to these questions, but what I do know is that at least some of the introductory courses taken will remain relevant in the future, and it will be up to the students of the major of Universal Study to identify those skills and retain them.

Plato once said, “There are three classes of men; lovers of wisdom, lovers of honor, and lovers of gain.”  With the major of Universal Study I hope to form many men, and women, to be lovers of all three.


Carter Naish Kuhl

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