Major Assumptions: The Woe of an Aspiring History Student

Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against teachers. I love teachers. They are noble, dedicated professionals for whom I have nothing but respect and admiration. But please, please, for the love of god, PLEASE! When I tell you I want to major in history, stop asking me if I plan on becoming a teacher.

Okay, it’s not the question itself that bothers me. I don’t mind that people are curious about my life plans/career goals. What rubs me like a schoolyard noogie is the automatic, assumptive manner in which this question is always put to me. It’s as if the word “history” triggers a reflex-like response where people can’t help but blurt, “Oh, so you want to teach then?” As if they’re only asking me to affirm what they already know – that, “duh, what else would you do with a history degree?” That my desire to study history must translate to an aspiration to teach.

And I’m not saying I’ve ruled out the possibility of becoming a teacher. Far from it. But, as you might imagine, it gets a little frustrating when you’re relentlessly confronted with other peoples’ narrow view of your future options.

Look, I get it. There aren’t many professions where it’s important to know when the Battle of Hastings took place. But anyone who thinks bite-size tidbits of trivia are all I’ll gain by studying this subject completely misunderstands history as an academic discipline.

An astute observer will recognize a history major as someone who’s well-read and well-practiced in writing, who’s adept at detailed analysis and deep critical thinking, who knows how to do intensive research, connect obscure dots, draw informed, insightful conclusions, and can present these ideas in a cohesive and convincing manner. It’s a rigorous, intellectually demanding curriculum that should speak volumes about the aptitude of those who successfully take it on. (Also, you get to learn when the Battle of Hastings took place!)

With that said, it shouldn’t be so hard to imagine any other profession where these skills and aptitude are coveted assets. Or to realize that a history degree frequently precedes any number of perfectly viable graduate programs. (Ever hear of law school? Journalism school? Even business school?) Needless to say, peoples’ tendency to underestimate the practical value of a history degree is … irksome.

So, if not teaching, what will I do with a history degree? Well, beyond hanging it on my wall, I really haven’t decided. I’m pursuing this course of study with no specific career objective in mind. I want a to earn a college degree, and history is my favorite subject. It’s as simple as that. My lack of laser-focus might seem foolish to some, especially given today’s competitive job market and the out-of-control costs of higher learning, but I’m really not that worried about it. As I’ve explained, a history degree is a versatile credential, and if my extensive experience as a job-seeker is any indication, having one will give an opportunity-expanding boost to my future aspirations.

In the meantime, I’d rather not dwell on the professional viability of my college education. I get that it’s something I’ll have to sort out eventually, but for now, I’m just looking forward to immersing myself in a subject that has captured my imagination for as long as I can remember. I just want to learn – to to enrich my mind and become a smarter person – regardless of the financial payoff. To me, that’s what education is supposed to be about.

So, to sum up today’s lesson, I am sincerely flattered by your interest in my future plans. And you are welcome to ask me if I want to become a teacher, provided the question arises more naturally in our conversation. But again, please stop asking simply because you assume there’s nothing else a history major can do. It just annoys me, and makes me want to put your ass in the corner with a dunce cap. We both know you’re smarter than that, so kindly knock it off.

Thank you.

Class dismissed.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s