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Welding and philosophy

Higher education should not try to separate the mind, heart, and hand

Welding and philosophy

(Krieg Barrie)

During the fourth GOP presidential debate, Marco Rubio roused the philosopher community with his riff on universities: “For the life of me I don’t know why we have stigmatized vocational education. Welders make more money than philosophers—we need more welders and less philosophers.”

Fact-checkers immediately piled on: It’s fewer philosophers, Marco, not less. And apparently they make 78 percent more than welders, if (big if) they manage to land a position as tenured professors. But Sen. Rubio’s larger point addresses the overselling of academe, the idea that every young person should pursue a four- or six-year degree in some discipline that there’s little demand for. Who needs more law students or communications or business majors? In the past Rubio used basket weaving as an example of a useless degree. Philosophy is a step up.

But maybe he should go back to basket weaving, because what’s happening on college campuses now is partly due to neglect of philosophy as a discipline—or rather, turning discipline into indulgence.

The blowup at the University of Missouri is only the most dramatic episode in the higher-ed saga—at least at the time of this writing. In New Haven, Conn., an administrative memo warning students against culturally insensitive Halloween costumes led to a mild dissent from a faculty adviser of Yale’s Silliman College. Overwrought protesters ambushed the adviser’s husband, who happens to be master of the college, and insisted in four-letter terms that he and his wife resign.

We are all philosophers. Everyone gropes for meaning and truth, even if they’ve convinced themselves such things don’t exist.

At Vanderbilt, professor Carol Swain is the subject of an online petition castigating her for “hateful” speech toward Islam and demanding her resignation unless she attends “diversity training.” The fact that professor Swain is black wins her no points: Her real offense is that she’s a Christian and not shy about saying so. At Cal State, Northridge, professor Robert Oscar Lopez is charged with discrimination and retaliation after four students voluntarily attended a conference he hosted on children’s rights. At least one student was so traumatized by what she heard that she filed a complaint. Lopez was already a suspicious character for expressing his regrets about being raised by lesbian parents.

As they did during the Vietnam era, students are charging the administrative barricades and administrators are buckling under. But while radicals of the ’60s demanded free speech, today’s rebels want protection from speech. They don’t merely want to talk back; they want to talk over. “It is not about creating an intellectual space. It is not!” shrieked one of the Silliman protesters. Apparently it’s about finding affirmation for what you already believe—it’s education as therapy.

Even President Obama, who caught the last train from ’60s radicalism, has taken notice. “I don’t agree that you, when you become students at colleges, have to be coddled and protected from different points of view,” he told an audience of high-school students in Des Moines, Iowa, in September.

Part of the solution is more philosophy, not less. And more welding.

For we are all philosophers. Everyone gropes for meaning and truth, even if they’ve convinced themselves such things don’t exist. It’s built into the original design—see Acts 17:27. “The unexamined life is not worth living,” said Socrates, who died for that principle. “All fortune is good fortune; for it either rewards, disciplines, amends, or punishes,” wrote the sixth-century Christian scholar Boethius (who was awaiting execution at the time). “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances,” wrote Paul from prison. To take life “philosophically” is to fear not, accept the bad with the good, find the larger purpose.

And we are all welders, tasked with fusing the scattered pieces of our lives into a unified whole. The great fault of the modern university is separating what God joined together: the human mind, heart, and hand. I would advise a drifting young person to learn a trade and learn some philosophy (John Frame’s History of Western Philosophy and Theology is a good place to start). A nation of welder-philosophers won’t have all the answers, but they may know how to ask the right questions.

Email jcheaney@wng.org

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  •  William Peck 1958's picture
    William Peck 1958
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 11:09 am

    I never really worked with my hands and am a poorer person for that. I still remember making a chair as an 8-year old, then in Junior High, a wooden salad bowl, a wooden plague with Baltimore Colts helmet, and a wrought iron stool (that I welded) that is still in use today. But that's about all I ever built with my hands. <sigh>

  • Midwest preacher
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 11:09 am

    I work with welders and every one I ever met was a philosopher.  Having to make your own way in the world and carve out a living for yourself and (hopefully)  your family makes you a philosopher.  The colleges that have gone from teaching self-reliance to teaching self-indulgence are destroying the country.  No amount of factual input can make up for the draining away of the desire to serve others.  I didn't say force others to serve others.  Work with your hands to have something to give to those who need help.  

  • Musumba
    Posted: Mon, 04/11/2016 11:09 am

    Thought-provoking as usual from this author. I confess my doubts about whether or not our culture will ever be able to reconnect head, heart and hands. Our splintered thinking, worship of pseudo-tolerance and easily-offended egos create significant roadblocks to open-mindedness, true tolerance and respect and conviction-based selflessness. Higher education in general is a rudderless ship adrift on a sea of ever-changing social causes. And anyone who dares to jump ship, faces the constant threat of a shark-like media, popular culture and legal system that is only too happy to sink their teeth into thoughtful but unsuspecting prey.