Check-Out Chick gets into Melbourne's "Arts–New Generation"

The Age today published the tertiary offers for last year’s Year 12 students. I was in a supermarket this morning waiting to get served in the “fast lane”, while the only girl on the counter was reading the newspaper. Turns out that she was looking up to see if she got into her course.

“Did you?”, I asked.
“Yes,” she replied, as she scanned my packet of meat pies.
“Congratulations! What course?” I asked, as I handed over my cash.
“Arts-New Generation. Its the American-style course that Melbourne University is offering,” she answered as she gave me the receipt.
“Oh? I take it then there will be no philosophy, ancient history, classics, Latin etc?”, as I pocketed my change.
“Oh no, nothing earlier than 20th Century.”
“Well,” I replied, “I guess that might just qualify you to be a check-out girl.”

Was I being mean?

I have just looked up the course on the Melbourne Uni website, and perhaps it isn’t really as awful as it sounded…

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5 Responses to Check-Out Chick gets into Melbourne's "Arts–New Generation"

  1. Peregrinus says:

    “Was I being mean?”

    Well, you were being a bit snarky, but you have the excuse that she misled you about the nature of the course. She said that it would cover nothing earlier than the twentieth century, but from the linked website that’s patently not true.

    But your comment raises a second issue; the implication that the sole, or main, purpose of a university education is to qualify you for a career. That’s not correct; according to the linked website, the stated aim of the course is to equip the student with “essential foundational knowledge, skills and resources to further your studies in Arts and introduce you to our diverse range of study areas”.

    As I understand it, the “new generation” courses are characterised not by their modernity, but by their breadth. Students are required to spend a portion of their time studying in fields outside their core area – indeed, they may take subjects from other faculties, so that an arts student could study mechanics, for example, or a natural science student could study philosophy. The point is to provide a broad general education, and to equip students (who it is expected will specialize later) with an understanding of fields of endeavour or of study which are not the fields in which they eventually make a career.

    This is common in American universities (hence, “American-style”), where a BA is seen as a general education, with professional qualifications (law, medicine, business, engineering – even theology!) being taken at postgraduate level by students who have already completed a BA.

    Whether this is a good idea or not is, I suppose, debatable. But it seems unfair to criticise the course for not preparing students for a specific career when it does not have that as its objective.

  2. Schütz says:

    Yes, I think you are probably right, Perry. I may have to include this in confession when I go next.

    And I wasn’t really thinking about professional qualifications, despite the “checkout girl” quip. I have the greatest respect for Liberal Arts degrees as means of becoming an “educated person” quite apart from professional qualifications.

    However, if it were actually true that there would be “nothing earlier than the 20th Century” in the course, then such a course would not even qualify one as an “educated person”, let alone a “professional person”.

  3. Athanasius says:

    Hi David, Happy New Year!

    I think you were being a bit tough on her. My daughter also made it into Arts at Melbourne Uni, and hopes to graduate with an Arts/Theology degree. It certainly isn’t what your checkout chick suggested – maybe she was just talking about her own preferences in historical periods!

    It is possible to study the classics without being penetrated by them, just as it is possible to get an enormous amount of liberal learning from a study of the 20th century. Unfortunately, the former is a lot more common.

    I am currently studying part-time in the Faculty of Arts. Philosophy has been interesting, but ultimately unsatisfying. The final straw was last semester’s unit on Contemporary Political Philosophy, where we examined liberalism and its claim to be neutral towards different theologies and worldviews. The difficulty is that this claim can only be formulated and criticised from a theological perspective, while modern philosophy has eliminated that perspective. The result was a frustrating dance around the real issues, while never really getting to grips with them.

    The compartmentalisation of disciplines has a lot to do with this. Each discipline retreats to its own methodological territory, defining itself in procedural terms, and forgetting that there is a single reality that each is a reflection upon.

    Thus has philosophy made itself almost irrelevant to the great issues of the day. Think of it as a form of decadence. It isn’t called “late” modernity for nothing.

    Anyway, for all of these reasons my daughter has almost decided to refuse Melbourne’s offer, and go to Campion College in Sydney instead. This also has the benefit of chopping 2 years off her undergraduate study!

  4. Anonymous says:

    I have a friend, from Melbourne, whose children are in Third Year at Campion and loving it.


  5. baci says:

    I couldn’t disagree more with the previous comments. Most of the foundational units of this course are full of cultural studies pomo hogwash. For example, the ‘self and other’ unit’s description explains:

    …In particular, it considers how identities are constructed and maintained through a culturally mediated process in which the dynamic relation between self and other plays a central role. Throughout the subject a range of identity forms – from individual to gender to ethnicity to nation – is examined.” Cripes!

    It goes on to state:

    “…Second, through systematic exploration of identity and culture in a range of contexts, from pre-Enlightenment Europe to contemporary Australia, we consider various conceptions of self and other and the ways in which these conceptions are constructed and maintained. Finally, we consider how these culturally mediated conceptions of self and other are translated into material practices of inclusion, exclusion, discrimination, violence and criminalisation.”

    What in the world is the lecturer going on about? “Culturally mediated conceptions of self and other”? Talk about esoteric pomo speak. Thank God I avoided much of this cultural studies guff in my Arts degree. The course seems to be near totally enveloped by social constructivism and post-structualism. I hope their second year specialisation units are free of this esoteric tosh.


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