Leave it to this guy to finally uncork a mea culpa on the very least of his sins as president, in a matter where he actually had half a point. Remember a few weeks ago when he was talking up the value of vocational training and mentioned art history as an example of a college major that might render you unemployable by comparison? No, of course you don’t. It was a throwaway remark, barely worth mentioning, in service to a point everyone agrees on — college is egregiously expensive so make sure what you’re studying is likely to pay off after graduation. If you don’t want to take on fifty grand or more in debt, skip it and learn a trade instead.
Simple, and sound advice for kids who aren’t as academically inclined as others. But no offense must go untaken, so he had to pay for singling out art history as the ultimate post-graduation crapshoot. A professor at the University of Texas sent the White House an e-mail complaining (“I’m pretty sure that my email was not so much one of outrage at his statement, but rather a ‘look at what we do well’ statement”) and The One dutifully responded with a personal apology. He won’t apologize for reducing America’s health-insurance industry to chaos but show him that he’s affronted academia and he’s on the case.
Let me apologize for my off-the-cuff remarks. I was making a point about the jobs market, not the value of art history. As it so happens, art history was one of my favorite subjects in high school, and it has helped me take in a great deal of joy in my life that I might otherwise have missed.
So please pass on my apology for the glib remark to the entire department, and understand that I was trying to encourage young people who may not be predisposed to a four year college experience to be open to technical training that can lead them to an honorable career.
The reason I say he had only half a point about art history is because — here, just read Virginia Postrel, who’s written about this more than once. There’s no denying that some people would be better off skipping college but (a) most kids do major in “practical” disciplines like business and the sciences, with art history drawing only a tiny percentage of each class, and (b) if you’re dead set on the humanities, art history is arguably as effective as any other in teaching you critical thinking. (If you’re considering law or business school after graduation, your choice of major may not matter.) If anything, the most offensive thing O said in all this was implying that some significant chunk of college kids might still be clueless enough about the state of the economy after five years of Hopenchange that they’d pick a major without an eye to their employment prospects. Their age demographic has taken the economic equivalent of a two-by-four to the face since the financial crisis. Only the very dumbest (or richest) are picking their majors without weighing the job market afterward. The argument against college is just that — an argument against college, not against art history specifically.