Interdisciplinarity and the Ever-Changing Hierarchy

Often times I’ve caught myself acting self-conscious about the fact that I’m an English major. Usually when I tell people this fact, it’s greeted with skepticism:

“Oh… what are you going to do with an English Literature degree?”

“Are you going to be a teacher?”

I usually follow up these criticisms with the reassurance that “Well, I’m pre-law so I plan on going to law school afterwards”, as if to validate that my studies are going to be “worth it”. In class discussion, it was nice hearing that I’m not the only one who has experienced this. It’s also interesting that there has somewhat always existed an ever-changing hierarchy in interdisciplinarity as far back as Aristotle, with slight discrepancies from today’s educational hierarchy.

In Moran’s Interdisciplinarity, Aristotle’s hierarchy is described as a three-tiered system. Starting with theoretical studies on top (theology, math, and physics), practical in the middle (ethics and politics), and productive on the bottom (arts, poetics, and engineering) (Page 4, Introduction of Moran’s Interdisciplinarity). It was intriguing to see a field like engineering on the bottom, and theology at the top. Today those fields are somewhat reversed, as physicist Stephen Hawking has declared philosophy to be “Dead”, while engineering is seen as a more practical field of study by most. There is a lot of pressure as a student to study a subject grounded in logic, whereas fields in the humanities are stigmatized as worthless degrees. It is this stigma that has caused me to follow up “English Major”, with “Pre-law”.

The focus on one specific subject has always felt restricting to me as a student. I would enjoy nothing more than to study other subjects such as physics, astronomy, philosophy, politics, and computer science. However at this point as a junior in college, there is little wiggle room to explore subjects I enjoy outside of my specialization. My road becomes more narrow on my progression to law school. It is this specialization mentality that I feel is encumbering mine, and many other students’ educations.

In conclusion, I would love nothing more than to stop seeing a hierarchy in education and this superior mentality, but rather a unity of subjects. In many ways, it is satisfying to see that schools have established general education and “breadth” requirements. Doing so is a step in the right direction in bridging the gap between the persistent feud between subjects; however, this gap still remains to be entirely bridged. Maybe someday, students won’t have to feel belittled and criticized for claiming proudly to be an English major.




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