January 12, 2006

GENERALISM

i think i finally got through to my dad last week. it took over five years, but i think i might have actually done it. what was the context? well, we were having a rather heated discussion speaking broadly about Asian Parents. i don't mean parents of asian descent, but rather Asian Parents, who seemingly spend their entire parenthood trying to stifle all creativity in their children. i was explaining to him what i thought was the most demonstrative and damning example of this phenomenon: "go get your master's." i'm sure that many of you have heard this exact phrase, because i think i've heard it passingly in at least nine different asian languages by now. it should be placed on some sort of asian parent mt. rushmore of sayings, along with the patronizing pre-25 "do you have a girlfriend yet?" (meaning: you're far too young to have a girlfriend. you need to work on your schoolwork.) and the post-25 spanish inquisition "do you have a girlfriend yet? (you're not gay are you? my god, please tell me you're not gay. you need to get married.). this particular phrase drives me absolutely insane, because i always consider it to be the most direct affront to the purpose of higher education, at least in america. getting a master's degree, inherently, is meant to serve a very specific pursuit of knowledge. even in its name, a master's degree implies that you are studying for deep expertise of a particular subject. yet, when the phrase "go get your master's" is used by Asian Parents, the purpose could more lucidly be described as: "you don't know what you want to do in life? go get an advanced degree. any advanced degree. getting that degree will guarantee that you never starve and buy you time from facing the reality of figuring out what you want to do." don't get me wrong, i am not at all against advanced degrees. if you have determined that you are deeply interested in an area of study or that getting the degree will aid your chosen career, then that sounds perfect. i mean, that is what the degrees were made for after all. but to blindly "go get a master's" because you don't know what to do? that just sounds crazy to me. and that is exactly what i told my dad. his response was, very succinctly,"then why did you study computer science?" and suddenly, i realized the cultural conflict. for my dad, my choice to study computer systems engineering meant a career choice, as studying electrical engineering in taiwan was for him. it meant that i was deciding my life would be in computer software. as chris put it last week, "it's training, not learning." my dad thinks of my bachelor's degree as a vocational degree for really smart people. it is for that reason that he could never have understood a degree in history, sociology, english, or the like: because they have no direct career correlation and are therefore "useless." and therein lies the conflict between the two of us, because i have always considered my major to be a certain generalist education with a technical slant, so it's like i set false expectations for him. i explained to him that some of the smartest people that i have ever met have majored in history, economics, public policy, and sociology. they may or may not expect those curricula to directly pertain to their careers, but they certainly expect them to INDIRECTLY influence their lives. i think of my engineering degree in the same way. i think he might get it, just a little bit. i guess we'll see. tags: ,

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