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Abandon work and go to literature: The theory of the uselessness of liberal arts cannot save a small town from becoming a problem writer

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In the summer of 2014, I finally finished 12 years of exams, waiting for the free and wonderful university life to unfold to me. Open the Provincial X Education Examination Network, enter the ID card and password, and before I realized what the score in front of me means, my mother called and said that two universities had already called them and wanted to fight for it. I. This is a surprise to my parents and me, because we don’t know anything about universities, filling out volunteers, and choosing majors. We only know that there are so-called 985 and 211 classifications. The only source of information is the thick catalog of college admissions majors. And some schools take the initiative to come to the door, which means that they can provide suggestions for filling in the application form.

Because I felt the importance of the medical profession since I ran the hospital, I always wanted to study clinical medicine before going to university. I looked through several medical schools I had heard of at the time, including Union Medical College, Fudan University, and Jiaotong University School of Medicine, and found that the scores were not enough, and the majors offered by the medical schools that I could get into did not have an eight-year system. So, I easily gave up my ideal of being a doctor, so easily that I still find it incredible in retrospect, and then I have a bitter heart. After giving up studying medicine, I only knew that I wanted to study a science and engineering major, in order to “find a job”.

When it comes to choosing a specific major, my thoughts are not so realistic, but rather romantic and “secondary school”. I have been obsessed with romance novels since junior high school. At that time, there was a magazine called “Huahuo” that was circulated in the class. When I was reading “Xia You Qiao Mu Ya Wang Paradise”, I was deeply impressed by the hero’s ability to draw the structure of guns by hand. The author of the novel may have designed this plot to show the handsomeness of the male protagonist, but the signal left to me is: it is very handsome to be able to draw the structure diagram of a gun. Coincidentally, one of the two universities that took the initiative to offer an olive branch offers the country’s top weapons major. Moreover, in my parents’ simple understanding, “weapons” equals the military, and further equals job security. Actually not. The admissions teacher also said that they have nothing to do with the military. In this way, because of the romance novel, I did not hesitate to fill in the voluntary form for choosing an undergraduate major: weapon system and engineering. I didn’t realize at the time what those four years would do to me.

Betrayal

The elation of success in the college entrance examination did not extend to university. Wanting to make friends was a big motivation for me to go to college. I think in the eyes of others, I may be a lonely student. Although I don’t think I’m good at studying, it’s true that before the college entrance examination, I only focused on studying. It can be said that I don’t have any friends or special desires. Develop hobbies – these problems can all be put aside and go to college and you will be fine. When clubs and student unions are recruiting new students, I really want to find an organization to join, where I can do things with a group of people and become friends. I remember those two or three days I was running interviews with different student organizations. The interview site for the student union of the school is located in the cafeteria. There are many people queuing up, and the scene is even very similar to a corporate school recruitment. Regrettably, all the applications failed, and I began to feel that I was “not good enough”, and I didn’t know why I was not accepted by any group, and I couldn’t integrate into it at all. I thought: This is different from what I said. But in fact, no one “says yes” to you.

Unable to make friends, I was forced to go back to the old way of only learning. However, this time the study began to betray me. My major is affiliated to the School of Mechanical Engineering. The first two years of courses are all about laying the foundations, such as advanced mathematics, large objects, engineering drawings, material mechanics, theoretical mechanics, etc., until the end of my sophomore year. Perhaps it was the inertia left over from high school’s massive practice of brushing questions. My grades were still satisfactory to me in the first semester of my freshman year, such as the advanced mathematics class that is in line with high school mathematics knowledge. After going to college, without the teacher’s management, guidance, and assignments, the learning method I was used to could only prevent me from failing the class. When I was a freshman, I just passed college physics. The theoretical mechanics and mechanics of materials to be learned later are upgrades on this basis, and the help of brushing the questions is limited.

Moreover, the comprehensive test results at the end of the period include the test scores plus the results of participating in various student activities. Since I am an “outsider”, the points I can get in student activities are almost zero, and only some grades that everyone can add points can I get a little bit. When I was a freshman, the school began to inform me about changing majors. Students who felt that their majors had no prospects and students who were not good at learning began to consider changing majors. It’s not that I haven’t considered this option, but I just flashed it in my mind and concluded that it is unnecessary. Because in a college of science and engineering, since I have already struggled in my studies, it is estimated that the effect will be similar if I switch to other majors, and there are only a handful of liberal arts majors I can choose; besides, I have only studied for less than a year. How can I judge that this path is not suitable for me?

When the concept of “a small town becomes a problem solver” was born, comparing my own experience, I realized that some things were bound to happen. For example, I insisted on choosing engineering because I thought it was a “good job”; To provide strategies for choosing university majors, their limited ideas stay in knowing which majors are popular and which majors are easy to find a job. In addition, after entering a prestigious school by doing questions, I found it difficult for me to integrate. In the first 18 years of my life, I have a clear goal—to fight monsters all the way from elementary school, to be admitted to a good university, and my knowledge of the world comes only from books, schools, and people around me. If I behave badly, I am a failure in the eyes of those around me. After entering university, first of all, the goal is gone, and then the academic performance that I used to be able to achieve is also gone. So, what can I rely on for survival?

I had no friends to talk to, lack of communication with my parents, and in a relatively closed environment, my negative emotions surrounded me. When I was writing my thesis in my senior year, my self-doubt reached its peak: I didn’t know where to start with my graduation thesis. Now that I think about it, I actually learned it slowly by myself, just groping a little bit, but at the time I just blamed myself: I failed, I couldn’t do anything, and I couldn’t even write my graduation thesis. In this way, after struggling for four years, I finally made up my mind to break up with engineering.

In the first semester of senior year, students began to prepare for the postgraduate entrance examination. Some people go to postgraduate entrance examinations in order to avoid employment. I have an inexplicable habit of insisting on continuing to study. From primary school to junior high school, from junior high school to high school, from high school to university, from university to master, master to doctor, doctor to postdoctoral, it seems that you can go on forever… But postdoctoral is not an academic degree, and no one told me that this inertia is can be broken.

Which is more valuable, knowing the truth of the world or knowing yourself?

Science and engineering are too painful for me, I want to switch to liberal arts to have a look. I quickly determined the target colleges and majors for the postgraduate entrance examination. English is my dominant subject and also a minor. I want to grab it. But I know that just learning English is not enough. It depends on the majors that are combined with English, such as international law, international finance, and international journalism… Excluding some programs that only recruit graduate students, I will target international journalism at a top university. on graduate programs.

After failing the postgraduate entrance examination for the first time in my senior year, my parents had only one request for me: not to rely too much on my family. This includes when preparing for postgraduate entrance examinations and after graduation to find a job. After graduation, I didn’t have a job, and I just felt that I needed to take a break, so I decided to gap for one year and prepare for the second exam. As soon as my “World War II” ended at the end of December, my dad “kicked me out” and found a class on the grounds that “people can’t be out of society for too long”. At the beginning, I went to work in an educational institution, but it “run away” after three months. Then I went to a patent agency to do translation. When I was preparing for the sprint in the third year, I even proposed to stay without pay for half a year to concentrate on the postgraduate entrance examination, but the boss miraculously agreed. After the exam on the weekend, continue to go to work on Monday. Still failed this time. For the fourth postgraduate entrance examination, I was embarrassed to ask the boss to leave production again, so I prepared while working. Because the department was newly established, my workload at that time allowed me to prepare for the postgraduate entrance examination while going to work. I would review politics and English that I was already familiar with at work, and review professional courses at home. In May 2021, I finally passed the exam.

In the new environment, I still feel that I am a failure. I hope to rebuild the broken self in the past, so I learned how to replace myself with a new identity, and look at myself and the outside world from the perspective of a learner in the field of humanities and social sciences. When I was preparing for the exam, the knowledge in the textbooks made me feel fresh. For example, Durkheim’s “On Suicide” tried to use social factors to interpret suicide, rather than attribute suicide to personal reasons. For another example, if I want to support social Darwinism, I must continue to learn the views against social Darwinism, and the opponents are also justified. Before that, my professional imagination of liberal arts was barren, and I only stayed in the history classes, political classes, and Chinese classes I had taken. I thought that liberal arts were novels, essays, history, and philosophy.

This kind of inclusiveness that jumps out of “must derive an answer from a formula” is completely different from my previous training in science and engineering. The training of science and engineering is the same. You need to learn C++, automation, electrical, and various technologies. The more you master, the greater your valuation in the talent market. Therefore, I was very anxious because I felt as if I had nothing. Now, finally, I don’t have to follow that quantitative skill sheet. I studied liberal arts with the mentality of knowing myself. It can give me a starting point to understand what the meaning of my life is.

During the postgraduate interview, a teacher asked me why I changed my major, saying that my undergraduate major was more useful to the country. “The opposition between ‘science that makes money’ and ‘arts that don’t make money’ has become common sense in the world.” Japanese sociologist and vice president of the University of Tokyo Yoshimi Toshiya wrote in the book “The Shock of the Abolition of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences” It is argued that the relativization of “value” is the prerequisite for the formation of “arts”. If the country and society, including the direction of university personnel training affected by it, are stuck in a certain value scale, they will lose the flexibility to deal with new changes. The mission of Liberal Arts is to use the technology produced in the immediate field while deeply exploring its social value, and to think deeply about the future business model and social blueprint from a human and global perspective with a long-term perspective.

I have never thought that science, engineering or liberal arts is better. The value of knowledge is the same. If I can cultivate some humanistic qualities during my undergraduate years, it should help me at that time. For quite a long time, I followed the logic of “science and engineering major = good (find) job = more money = success and happiness”, paying little attention to people themselves, including myself. At that time, the disintegrated me in my body needed more urgent attention. Toshiya Yoshimi believes that the ability to use theory to enrich and question the validity of empirical knowledge is where the liberal arts come into play.

Recently I was watching “The Three-Body Problem”, which said “Physics is the exploration of the nature of the world”. Which is more valuable, knowing the truth of the world or knowing yourself? It depends on what you want to do. Put the learned self into a group, and stand with the self of thousands of others, what value will it produce? I don’t have an answer, but this process is very important to me. As for whether I can rely on it to find a job, I dare not say.

(This article only represents the author’s personal opinion. Editor’s email: yilin.yuan@ftchinese.com)

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