False hope is not a free lunch.  I’ve said it before:

I suspect that students with who believe in malleable intelligence are
more likely to go to graduate school despite low test scores. They’ll
probably get better grades because of their belief. But better is often
not good enough. Belief in malleable intelligence is no free lunch – it
could easily lead students to waste years of their lives trying and

Thomas Benton at the Chronicle of Higher Education agrees with a missionary’s zeal.  Prospective humanities Ph.D.’s have…

praised their whole lives, and no one has ever told them that they may
not become what they want to be, that higher education is a business
that does not necessarily have their best interests at heart. Sometimes
they accuse me of being threatened by their obvious talent. I assume
they go on to find someone who will tell them what they want to hear:
“Yes, my child, you are the one we’ve been waiting for all our lives.”
It can be painful, but it is better that undergraduates considering
graduate school in the humanities should know the truth now, instead of
when they are 30 and unemployed, or worse, working as adjuncts at less
than the minimum wage under the misguided belief that more teaching
experience and more glowing recommendations will somehow open the door
to a real position.


Maybe thinking of graduate school as a “cult” is silly…

Still the semantic game seems worth playing when I talk with
idealistic, vulnerable humanities majors who are about to complete
their B.A.’s and have no idea what they are going to do with their
lives. They have been flattered and encouraged by faculty members whom
they respect, and who believe (as cult members do) that they are doing
a good thing by recruiting young people for graduate school: “You’re
too smart to go into business, my child.”

But Benton goes too far.  If you want to study the humanities for a living, you don’t have to abandon your dream.  Just learn some math, get an econ Ph.D., and call your research “economics of whatever”!  Yes, this strategy won’t work if everyone tries it, but why not take advantage of the continuing disequilibrium?

HT: Tyler