Liberal education is defined as an education based primarily on the liberal arts, emphasizing the development of intellectual abilities as opposed to the acquisition of professional skills. Many people would agree that Shimer College is the quintessential liberal arts college. At Shimer, we don’t just study the liberal arts; we read the liberal arts. To understand psychology, we read Freud, Chodorow, and Erikson. When studying natural sciences we read Mendel and Darwin, Dalton and Lavosier. Philosophers like Foucault and Derrida provide us with an understanding of post-structuralist philosophy. These are just a few examples, but the point is clear: Shimer’s rigorous Great Books curriculum and personally-driven pedagogy cater to the method of liberal education. Therefore Shimer students will not be focusing on vocational skills, and as a result might continue to feel as confused about their career path as they might have in high school.
I’m no exception. I’ve had more ideas for careers than I can count, but I’ve had trouble feeling completely confident in any of them. I want my career to be intellectually challenging, helpful to others, and somehow practical – requirements that make it difficult to narrow down a career path. But since coming to Shimer, I’ve had a couple of my first reasonably-thought-out career ideas, which I figured it would be appropriate to share here.
The first career idea which I gave serious thought to was a high-school teacher. Don’t get me wrong: I absolutely hated high school and found myself completely unfulfilled in that setting. But upon reflection, I realized that at least one of my high school teachers did, in fact, have quite an influence on me, and helped steer me towards my now-realized passion for learning. When taking summer school (in order to exploit a loophole in my high-school’s graduation requirements, allowing me to escape a year early), I took a writing course. The class only had 4 students. We met in a small, office-sized room, and kept our desks arranged in a circle for discussion. Like Shimer’s liberal method, my teacher's didn’t have lectures or rigid lesson plans. We simply analyzed and critiqued each other’s writing, discussing what made each piece more or less effective. We discussed general principles of good writing and tried to apply them to our papers. The fact that I was really learning – and feeling fulfilled by the process – finally hit me when one day, I found myself ignoring the lunch-bell to continue talking to my teacher about how to improve one of my essays.
This is the type of role that I could picture myself in. While it would always be fun to teach students who are passionate about learning, I have a specific interest in students who are like I was in high school -- students who haven't yet found scholarly inspiration. However, there are two interests of mine that this career path lacks: outreach work and photography. I've given serious consideration to teaching in developing countries, obviously because the people there are in more need of help and I wouldn't find myself stuck in suburbia. Furthermore, I've found myself more and more serious about photography, and my long-put-away desire to be a photojournalist has been creeping its way back into my life. Of course, photojournalism is quite the ideal career in photography -- photojournalists are privileged to see historical events in person all over the world, creating images that will be seen by many. But it wasn't until recently that I realized that one role could possibly blend the three ideas together. If there is some way that I could teach in several countries, taking photographs in my spare time, that could be the best career idea I've had yet. I could still focus on those students who are less-than-motivated, but meanwhile do my own photojournalism and post it online.
At this point the decisions I make leading up to a successful career are quite subject to change, and I'm not entirely sure how this latest idea could be worked out. I still have four and a half semesters left at Shimer and I'm sure my ideas will develop in that time. I’m not confident enough to say for certain that I will be doing any one thing with my life, but I am confident that the enriching education that I am getting at Shimer will leave me prepared for whatever next move I choose.