Here we are talking about my undergraduate degree in agricultural economics from the University of Wyoming in 1953. My undergraduate degree was basically a science degree and, indeed, at least one of my classmates used his undergraduate ag degree to apply directly to medical school and was admitted. The majority of the classes were science--zoo, botany, chemistry, a dozen or more agriculture classes in agronomy, animal husbandry, feeds and feeding, etc. Since my interests were broader than ag science, I crowded in four classes in American History, a class in sociology (which I loathed), two required classes in poli sci (which I loathed, but mostly because of a tyrant prof who criticized me in front of the class for the fact that the window blind pull cord broke when he asked me to fix the blind), several courses in journalism (I loved writing and journalism, but could never have graduated in four years had I changed my major), and all of the required courses in education so I could become a high school vocational agriculture teacher. I thought the education classes were ridiculously easy and lacked substance.
I was lucky to graduate in four years, since I had worked 30-40 hours a week all through school to earn enough money for Van Camp's pork and beans and other culinary delights, buy my books, and take my girlfriend to the movies now and then. After we married my senior year, my grades sharply improved and I made all A's spring term, except for one B. Fortunately for that, since grad school reviewers looked at those courses and the grades, overlooking pitiful performance some quarters when I basically just gave up and plodded on in a stupor.
But, over my life, I have regretted not being able to expand my course work to pick up the following subjects:
- Classical literature. I know nothing about the classics. I am trying to learn a bit in my old age, but my knowledge of the classics is pathetic.
- Literature in general. My only literature consisted of a few measly, anemic, required readings in freshman English. I learned about literature at the Blue Front in Ann Arbor while working on my Ph.D. at Michigan. The Blue Front was a disorganized paperback and newspaper store where I went to pick up the Washington Post and the New York Times. The paperback books were partly in racks, but many were in boxes randomly scattered on the floor. One day, I began sorting through the boxes on the floor and found a copy of Thomas Wolfe's "You Can't Go Home Again." and I was hooked forever. Literature became my tranquilizer for studying economics and trying to pass exams and orals. Thank you Thomas Wolfe for opening the pores of my brain forever, regardless of what the critics keep saying about your book.
- Math. My math education was pathetic. Economics, at the graduate level, is based on mathematical competence. I had high school algebra, high school geometry (which I goofed off in and didn't learn anything), and another course in college algebra. My math education wouldn't measure up to my grandkids' eighth grade math competence. And here I was competing with my close friend and fellow Ph.D. classmate who had an honors undergrad degree in math from Swarthmore. All my college and teaching and research career, I suffered from math inadequacy.
- Art and art history.
- Though I crammed in four courses in American History, which I loved, and partly because the professor, Gale McGee (who went on to become U.S. Senator and Ambassador to the Organization of American States), was as masterful a lecturer as I ever had anywhere in college, I knew nothing about ancient or European history or world history in general.
- Logic and philosophy. Profoundly ignorant on these topics.
So, college kids, don't begrudge your general ed requirements and don't goof off when you take classes in art history, world and ancient history, classics, math, literature, logic and philosophy, and other social sciences. You may want to become an architect or an engineer or a physician or a farmer, but too many people have never learned how to think critically, how to evaluate evidence, how to discover reliable knowledge and information, and how to avoid living their lives from a fountain of fantasy and ideology. But, remember this: You have a lifetime to learn, and you can make up deficits in your knowledge by launching forth at an early age on a lifetime quest for expanding your horizons, opening new windows and doors, learning to think and reason objectively, and have something inspiring to accomplish besides watching TV.