With one flawed assertion, presidential candidate Marco Rubio exemplified why we in academia need to prepare our students to repudiate arrogance. During the Republican debate in Milwaukee he said, “We need more welders and less philosophers.” He was mistaken, of course, and I’m not just talking about his poor grammar. The United States Department of Labor shows that in the coming years we will need individuals to fill vacancies in welding and who have a liberal arts education. Still Rubio’s certitude in the correctness of his opinion exemplifies a national problem of rash actors spouting myopic sound bites. Personally, I see the educated citizens America needs every time I step onto the campus of a tribal college or university (TCU). Our institutions instill students with a practical skillset, an appreciation of human diversity, and a thirst for improving the world we all share. I’m convinced that if TCU graduates utilize their education to combat ignorance in whichever form it takes, we can help elevate societal discourse to reach its true potential.
This debate isn’t just about welders and philosophers; it’s about the value of trades and liberal arts degrees. To be clear, we certainly need tradespeople, and there is a wealth of jobs available for graduates who are willing to relocate. TCUs around the country are producing skilled alumni who are helping to meet this demand. Everyone knows about the famed Mohawk ironworkers, but thanks to TCUs, more employers are appreciating the talents of Menominee, Navajo, Assiniboine, and Sioux workers too. Trades graduates produce the backbone of America’s tangible infrastructure, and we should be proud that TCUs such as College of Menominee Nation, where I teach, are helping our students join this workforce. Yet we must also recognize that a well-rounded education will equip them with the leadership capabilities everyone needs for career advancement.
While job quotas are easy to locate in the explicitly defined trades fields, liberal arts careers are harder to quantify. The reason is simple: liberal arts degrees qualify graduates with the ability to pursue a multitude of career paths. In addition to a practical skillset, liberal arts graduates enter the workforce with an ability to think critically and problem solve effectively. To paraphrase CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, earning a liberal arts degree teaches students how to write, speak their minds, and learn through a variety of mediums. He added, “When I begin to write, I realize that my ‘thoughts’ are usually a jumble of half-baked, incoherent impulses strung together with gaping logical holes between them.” By applying a liberal arts’ skillset, Zakaria says he can correct this. On the flipside, when one considers that Rubio’s rationale for choosing welding over “philosophy” wasn’t based on job openings, aptitude, or employees’ personal satisfaction but rather his incorrect assumption that “welders make more money than philosophers,” it becomes clear that the U.S. Senator from Florida needs to spend more time fact-checking his impulses for logical errors.
Essentially the debate over a trades degree or a liberal arts degree comes down to the fundamental disagreement over whether or not an education should provide specific job training or instill a variety of employable skills. Of course what graduates need to succeed in the workforce is a combination of the two, and that’s where TCUs excel. This is not to say that every graduate we produce is a philosopher-welder, but our culture-based curriculum introduces our trades graduates to the social, economic, and environmental aspects of their respective field. On the flip side, our liberal arts students often engage in internships and community outreach that familiarizes them with the application of what they learned in the classroom.
So why must we encourage our students to rebuke Rubio’s flawed assertion? We must reproach his words because ignoring him only leads to greater ignorance. It’s a classic case of the Broken Window Theory, which states that if police ignore minor crimes such as broken windows they are creating an environment that encourages an escalation of criminal behavior. Countless studies have validated this theory, and I believe it’s reflected in the consequences of allowing ignorant thinking to go unchallenged.
Whatever career paths TCU graduates pursue, their education will give them the confidence to stand up to ignorance. I’d like to think that any ethnic slur uttered in their presence will be refuted, and that they will consider the human side of disagreements and seek resolutions that are culturally and economically fruitful. Perhaps they’ll even enlighten their peers by taking the time to repair both the literal and figurative broken windows in their communities and workplaces. That includes defending the value of both trades and liberal arts degrees from anyone who tries to diminish them. One by one, they can change minds, and TCUs must continue to ensure they have the confidence to do so. After all, America needs more educated citizens to build both concrete and abstract bridges. Contrary to what we’ve heard, together “welders” and “philosophers” will move all facets of America’s tangible and social infrastructures forward.
Ryan Winn teaches English, theater, and communication at College of Menominee Nation, where he has been recognized as the American Indian College Fund’s Faculty Member of the Year.
Bump, P. (2015, November 10). Sorry, Marco Rubio. Philosophy Majors Actually Make Way More than Welders. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2015/11/10/actually-philosophy-majors-make-way-more-than-welders-marco-rubio/
King, G. (2015, November 11). Marco Rubio’s Quip about Welders Gets Torched. Retrieved from: http://www.cnn.com/2015/11/10/politics/republican-debate-marco-rubio-welders-philosophers/
Long. H. (2015, November 11). Sorry Marco Rubio, Philosophers Make More than Welders. Retrieved from: http://money.cnn.com/2015/11/11/news/economy/gop-debate-marco-rubio-welders-philosophers/
Vander Ark, T. (2015, June 2). In Defense of Liberal Arts and Employability. Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/smart-parents/in-defense-of-liberal-art_b_6988510.html
Editor’s note: The opinions expressed in the Inquisitive Academic or any other opinion columns published by the Tribal College Journal (TCJ) do not necessarily reflect the opinions of TCJ or the American Indian Higher Education Consortium.