Although millenials tend to get fetishized for a “tech savviness” that arises from growing up with computers, smart phones, and the capabilities therein, millennial tech savviness pales in comparison to that of the generation that succeeds us.
Baby Boomers, Gen-Xers, and blowhard millennials like me who nonetheless criticize millennials, all make sweeping generalizations about people born between the early ’80s and mid-’90s. Yet these generalizations often stem from a misconception about our generation’s average ability. Despite the so-called technological boom we’ve seen in the 21st century, the overall percentage of computer science majors in the Unites States relative to other college majors remains around or just below 3 percent, barely any higher than it was in 1981 at 2.1 percent. Most millennials were not taught how to code in elementary, middle, or high school, whereas students in an increasing number of public schools are now learning coding languages from a very young age.
This misjudgment puts millennials in a precarious position. We’re being inflated into a bubble that will burst once those born in the 2000s begin to graduate from college in a little more than half a decade. Our statuses as social media interns and specialists in Microsoft Office, as the Career Center will often recommend for your resume, will be replaced by an even larger majority of graduates who actually know how to manipulate, operate, and create the software that we merely play around with.
Of course, there are plenty of millennial coders who are gifted and become rightly coveted by a range of employers. This, however, has little to do with the structural problem our generation faces from narrowly missing the kind of early-age computer science education that is beginning to substantially proliferate across the world.
I am part of the problem. I am a College of Letters and French double major who is stuck in the insular, verbose, and inutile realm of the humanities. I firmly believe that my education in the humanities has made me a better person, and a better writer. What it has not done, however, is give me any concrete job skills other than a general sense of versatility and an ability to learn about and empathize with a wide variety of eras, places, and people.
What is concerning about the generation behind us being more technologically utile than us is that it compounds a problem many millennials already face: the exaggeration of our abilities to produce in the realm of technology, often marginalizing our creativity and interior lives in the process.
I won’t go as far to say we are being turned into machines because of an increased emphasis on STEM education that has good intentions. I am hesitant, however, to support cutting resources from the humanities and social sciences in an effort to “modernize” our education system when all it will really do is reduce our labor force into a commodity that remains subject to imminent change. Furthermore, denying people a liberal education—as scholars and authors like our very own President Michael Roth and the journalist Fareed Zakaria have pointed out—will have a negative effect on our citizenry.
As thinkers like Friedrich Schiller have argued in “On the Aesthetic Education of Man,” we ought to be educating well-rounded citizens to rule rather than focusing on those versed in only one discipline. In Schiller’s dialectic—and I’m aware of how pretentious this may sound—we only reach progress when we take the best parts of opposites, such as youth and maturity. In the same respect, we should combine computer science and the humanities in modern education rather than sacrifice one for the other.
We don’t necessarily need to incorporate literature into classes on how to code in D3, nor should we immediately teach students in a Shakespeare seminar how to digitally map out each character’s vocabulary in a way that only a select few coders such as Matt Daniels can. What we can do, however, is let students negotiate between the two ends of the spectrum and create value in their education on their own terms.
There is certainly a great value in vocational education, and institutions like community colleges should be well-funded, but to fund them solely for computer science programs and nothing else is also a disservice to the education of attending students. Anyone who tells you that the humanities are useless as a form of “straight talk,” or how we more commonly say during the rise of Donald Trump, “telling it like it is,” should also disclose that utilitarian education is always at the whim of the market and its trends.
Many in the ’90s proposed mandatory schooling in Japanese because of Japan’s ascendance in the world economy. Then stagflation happened, and everyone moved onto the next educational fad.
So the next time someone like Donald Trump says, “Mexico is the new China,” or your crotchety uncle says that technology is ruining the world anyway so you might as well be a comp-sci major, think twice before limiting yourself to the constraints of the market in 2016. Instead, consider taking that random seminar on East Asian literature or sad monks to compliment the courses on how to code in R and Python. Utility and expression are not mutually exclusive, and we should take the best of both rather than settling for one or the other.