Withering Glance: How sweet the liberal arts

  • Article by: RICK NELSON and CLAUDE PECK , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 16, 2012 - 5:57 PM

Rick Nelson and Claude Peck dispense unasked-for advice about clothing, etiquette, culture, relationships, grooming and more.

CP: As is so often the case here, we turn to Ralph Waldo Emerson for instruction.

RN: I can't wait for this one.

CP: "We are shut up in schools and college recitation rooms for 10 or 15 years," he said, "and come out at last with a belly-full of words and do not know a thing."

RN: Well, I don't know about "a thing." I'll always have my multiplication tables, my semi-encyclopedic knowledge of the work of Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and my ability to tap a keg.

CP: See? You're one of the "well-rounded" ones, as opposed to a straight-up vocational trainee. Looking back, from your rather advanced age, was it worth it? If you had children, would you force them to slave over a hot SAT practice book and attend a four-year college or university?

RN: I don't know the answer to that one. I would hate to see my liberal arts education turn into a cautionary tale. I mean, I majored in history, and look how I turned out. Yikes.

CP: Hey, I, too, was a history major. After which I soon found a rewarding job at a local history company.

RN: Consider yourself fortunate. After a brief but decidedly un-lucrative career in substitute teaching, my bachelor's degree steered me straight into graduate school. I consider my undergraduate years as my own post-secondary version of a starter marriage.

CP: Though abandoned by all but a few schools, I like the idea of a mandatory, all-campus Great Books semester. If it's good enough for Oprah, it's good enough for the Big 10.

RN: Me, too. Had it not been for Prof. Stavrou and his "The Soviet Union Through Western Eyes" course, I would have never known about John Reed's "Ten Days That Shook the World," and I'm a better person for having read it. Or are you talking Cather, or Hemingway, or Margaret Atwood's "The Handmaid's Tale"?

CP: All that. You're halfway to a syllabus already. Toss in "Walden," "Black Elk Speaks" and "The Reivers," and issue the final exam. The ideal of a shared experience is giving way to a focus on pre-professional prep work.

RN: Speaking of shared experiences, one of the great benefits of college, at least for me, was the seemingly endless meet-and-greet possibilities. Now I wonder if everyone just sits in their dorm suites and socializes on Facebook. I hope not.

CP: You can't very well pass the bong on the Facebook. Nor can you all listen to the same album -- say, Pink Floyd's "Meddle" -- at the same time. So much is being lost, Rick.

RN: I truly feel for the class of 2016. For their sake, let's hope that they're still hooking up. Can you imagine, years later, looking back on a college career bereft of even one walk of shame? It's positively un-American, Claude.

CP: "No game, no shame."

RN: You and your R. Waldo E.

Email: witheringglance@startribune.com Twitter: @claudepeck and @RickNelsonStrib

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