Dispatches from the History Major: "Coming to College For a Cheeseburger"

James Mueller

Today we start a new series here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home  called “Dispatches From the History Major.”  These weekly posts will be written by sophomore Messiah College history major James Mueller.  Some of you who read this blog regularly may remember James’s December 6, 2014 piece on why he decided to major in history.  This post got so many hits that I decided to invite James to write for us on a more regular basis.  I hope you enjoy his posts.  Here is his first offering: “Coming to College For a Cheeseburger.” –JF

Often we fail to ask the simple questions. Routine makes the mind dull, and sometimes we can get so caught up in it that we forget the very reason we began a task. Studying history helps me to keep this nasty phenomenon in check. It forces me to ask the deceptively simple question why

Recently, one of the whys floating around in my head has been ‘why do we go to college?’

After reflecting on this question for some time, I’ve come to my conclusion: we come to college for a cheeseburger.

Fast, cheap, convenient, satisfying an immediate demand: that’s a cheeseburger folks; and that also happens to be our modern conception of what education should be like.

For the clever and hardworking capitalist, this cheeseburger education is little more than a period in which he transitions into the workforce.  His focus is on a career, not on attaining an education. He will CLEP his courses and take AP credits in order to graduate early. He complains about all of the general education requirements that he has to “get out of the way” so that he can move on to his major specific classes. Cheeseburger College has become a means to an end.

Talk to college students. Ask them what their goals are. You’ll quickly realize that I’m not just blowing smoke. 

Or simply listen to a conversation between a college student and another person. One of the first questions the other person will ask is “what are you going to do with your degree?” Just once I would like to hear someone ask “why are you majoring in this or that subject?” Function and utility are what we Americans care about.

And that’s okay. I don’t think it is bad to go to college in order to get a good job or specialize in a profession that you are passionate about.  But pumping out capitalist robots doesn’t have to be the only purpose of educational institutions. College could be a place where people learn how to think and communicate more effectively. It could be a place where people develop empathy for other people and other perspectives by learning about things that may not have anything to do with their future career. College could be more than what it currently is – it could be a home-cooked meal instead of a burger off the dollar menu!

Not everyone is privileged enough to afford college or to make the best of their college experience. Some people can only afford a burger off the dollar menu. But there are some who can afford more. Many of my peers at Messiah College fail to make the most of their (often times quite pricey) college experience.  They shrug off the courses which don’t interest them and focus on the courses which directly relate to their careers.  It’s easier that way.  In the process they miss out on a good meal for the sake of a quick and easy road to a career. It seems like a bad investment to me. But, you know what they say about Americans and their cheeseburgers….   

3 thoughts on “Dispatches from the History Major: "Coming to College For a Cheeseburger"

  1. “Anonymous”:

    First of all, it would be nice if you included at least your name. I think this blog is a safe community for conversation.

    Second, The Way of Improvement Leads Home is not the official mouthpiece of the Messiah College History Department. Yes, I am the chair of that department, but I chose James not because he is a Messiah student as much as because he is an articulate voice and has given a lot of thought to what it means to be a history major.

    Third, I am in full agreement with your remark about alumni. That is why I have spent A LOT of time at this blog interviewing former history majors in my *So What CAN You Do With a History Major? series. If you are interest in these types of issues I encourage you to check out this series at http://www.philipvickersfithian.com/search/label/So%20What%20Can%20You%20Do%20With%20a%20History%20Major

    Thanks for the comment.


  2. After reading both of James's posts I've come to the same basic conclusion–he's an ideal Messiah College student who is clearly making the most of his time there. Yet I wonder why the chair of the department is choosing to showcase ideal students rather than alumni? Isn't that a little self-serving and self-promotional?

    It's nice enough that this young man is having such a meaningful time and that he “gets it,” but what about those who got their degree 20 years ago, or 10, or 5 or who just graduated this year? How do they feel about majoring in history? Would they do it again?

    College is a massive investment that needs to pay out over a lifetime. Perhaps not in pure economic terms (higher salary, job security, etc), but in other existential ways surely.

    Rather than showcase exceptional students on your department blog and your personal blog, why not create a forum for alumni to describe what their experience has been like and what advice they would have for the next generation?


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