“You can just tell when someone is from the Arts faculty,” a science student commented.
“What do you mean by that?”
“I don’t know. errrrr. I guess you guys are just very opinionated and think very differently?”
Contemporary Singapore society, albeit gradual shifts in perspective, still value a Science/Math education over the Arts– entrenched by State emphasis on the sciences early on its in education reform. This could perhaps account for the number of perplexed faces I’ve witnessed as a result of my telling them that I’m pursuing a degree in arts. “Oh cool. So you can draw very well?” they would respond. Sure… let’s just go with that.
But for those who actually do realise that I am generally referring to the Humanities and Social Sciences, usually respond with a curious amalgam of incredulity and scepticism. They can’t seem to rationalise the purpose of an Arts education vis-à-vis an actual career trajectory. Follow up questions, along the lines of “What are you planning to do after that?” usually ensue. The general implied consensus is that my degree is of little value– and by extension; my intellect.
Ironically, the Arts faculty is by far the largest in NUS, with an intake of around 1200 undergrads per year. Critics reconcile this paradox by subscribing to the perception that the faculty is a ‘dumping-ground’ for those who could not secure places in science-related faculties (subsuming a considerable population of undergrads, like me, who willingly chose the Arts). Alas, this perpetuates the notion that the Arts kids are just not ‘smart’ enough.
Now that I have established the context within which my education is being perceived by others –although I admit that these are my sole interpretation of general sentiments and are, thus, open to my bias/overstatements– I shall present a non-exhaustive list of reasons as to why my education is ‘ruining’ me.
1. I am becoming more annoying
Yes, you’re right. But let me explain why I am right as well. In fact, I’m going to obnoxiously go on to prove that I am more right than you. This is the fundamental premise of all my assignments, tutorial discussions and examinations.
I am now wired to think in terms of arguments for everything. Yes, I’m probably going to go full blown ethos-pathos-logos on you. Most people find this off-putting. They’d probably comment, “What’s his problem?” Or if they happen to see 2 or more Arts students engaged in an overtly expressive debate; “What’s wrong with these people?”
I am sorry, okay? I just tend to get carried away when I’m interested in the issue at hand. Besides, I swear I mean no harm by it. The more persuasive I try to be, the more worthy I consider you as a partner in an intellectual discourse. One can never get enough of alternative perspectives to render a more complete picture of any issue.
2. I am beginning to question everything
Critical perspective. Critical objectivity. Critical analysis. Critical evaluation. In my argument, I’m expected to take an issue, define it, think about it in the abstract, deconstruct it and then try to reach a conclusion– all of which are subjected to my interpretations; my response; my opinions.
This has considerably shaped my perspective. What I used to accept as taken for granted truths, are now being questioned and deconstructed by yours truly –which also means that I seem to have an opinion about everything. What seems to be a trivial issue can be deconstructed and discussed in terms of its various facets and implications. And frankly, people don’t want to hear about it; they seem to prefer breadth rather than depth. My friend eloquently described my line of thought as ‘fluffy’. Clearly he doesn’t have an appreciation for the abstract.
3. I am becoming boring
I used to kill hours with friends talking about random remote crap that had no bearing on our lives whatsoever. Oh man, those were the fun times; when nothing really mattered.
Everything matters now. Remote issues are made personal, to the extent that they have implications on my society and in turn, me. I am society and society is me (see Mill’s Sociological Imagination). Alas, my friends now listen to me ramble on passionately about shit they are not interested in. Gosh, when did I become the boring one?
4. I am starting to feel helpless
Interestingly, the perspectives and knowledge I’ve acquired, thus far, have culminated into one resonating notion– social betterment. As much as my education can help me see what is all wrong in the world, it does so little to empower me to change it. I am all about human agency, but it can be rather disillusioning for anyone to think they can effect significant changes to the status quo.
5. I am starting to obsess over grades
I used to be the dude that consistently failed Maths in Junior College with a grin on his face. A friend once commented that grades have no bearing on me. Perhaps this was true of my education for the first 18 years of my life. Education to me, then, was nothing more but a ticket to the next course of study. I was never really invested in it and ascribed a rather utilitarian meaning to the education system. So I rationalise my bad grades with my lack of interest.
It’s entirely different now that I am avidly invested in my education. It’s so much more than just a degree to me– it’s about my passion, my self-concept and personal development. Besides, all the modules I read are chosen by me and are a reflection of my interests. This is why it’s extremely demoralising to fare poorly in something that means so much to me; and I reproach myself for any grade below a B+.
6. I some times feel directionless
“So what are you planning to do after you graduate?”
If I knew what I was going to do in the future, then I probably wouldn’t be in FASS. Do you actually think we Arts kids have our shit together? My only concern right now is what I’m planning to major in, and if I’m actually going to stick to it.
Much of my future is undecided. Don’t get me wrong, I do not hold any delusions about landing myself in the express train to material wealth– to which, my friend reminded me, “not that you can with your degree anyways.” It was never about the money to begin with. All I ask for is a comfortable job in a field that I would enjoy working in. The good thing about my degree is that it’s very general, to the extent that it offers a plethora of opportunities in diverse fields.
7. I am loving it
As much as I think my education is ruining me, I am loving every moment of it in an almost masochistic fashion. I would never trade it for the world.