Dear Student: Quitting Philosophy and Classics May Come with Some Regrets

Among the options for your BA programme, you were offered Philosophy and Classics, and you are at a loss. Like I was advised by my parents and some of my secondary school teachers, you too may have been told to drop philosophy and classics in your first or second year of study.

The year was 2005. I had been offered a combination of classics, philosophy, sociology and economics. My dad quickly sent me to see a secondary school teacher for advice. The teacher’s advice? “Drop classics first, followed by philosophy, then sociology, and major economics.”

My uncles said I could work in a bank with a major in economics. They didn’t want to hear anything classics or philosophy. At least, they preferred sociology over them but they desired I read economics. To cut a long story short, I majored classics (I will tell you all about it in another post).

Why did everyone want me to read economics instead of classics and/or philosophy, and what could be the cause of your confusion over these subjects?

First, unlike economics, accounting, chemistry, and geography, philosophy and classics are not studied as subjects in secondary school and they come as totally new to students. Even subjects like political science and sociology have affinities with government and social studies respectively.

Nevertheless, you might have met some philosophical issues in your readings in government, social studies and religious and moral education, and you might have read something close to classics. Did you read Ola Rotimi’s The Gods are Not to Blame? It’s an adaptation of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, a Greek play first performed between 430 and 426BC.

Second, many of us (and our parents and guardians are the worst culprits) have a materialistic conception of education due to failed understanding of growing industrialization and expanding market economies.

As a result, we have developed a misconception that only graduates of business-related subjects qualify for jobs in the field of business. It is therefore not surprising that many parents do not see the value in a liberal arts education that combines any of archaeology, classics, history, literature, music and philosophy. For them, a degree in a business-related field is all that matters.

But consider the core skills employers seek and the qualifying degrees of those working in the banks, for example. Several of them have degrees in arts-related subjects. So, it’s not a question of whether you read business or psychology (of course there are professions which demand specialized qualifications), but a question of your character and the skills you possess.

If it were just about the course you read, then firms wouldn’t recruit graduates from all fields and ask them (whether first or second-class holders) to write the same aptitude tests; neither will they even conduct background checks on potential employees. Have you not heard employers say that many of today’s graduates lack critical thinking skills and good character?

What are philosophy and classics, and what do they offer?

Philosophy is basically a critical inquiry into and reflection on issues that border on human life and the environment surrounding us. It involves an analytical approach to questioning and demands responses and conclusions that are based on evidence and valid reasoning.

Classics studies, primarily, the civilizations of the ancient Greeks and Romans, including their histories, literatures, languages (Greek and Latin) and philosophies. These four broad areas provide the foundation for our modern socio-political systems. Our modern democracy, for example, combines elements of ancient Greek and Roman models of governance.

Any serious study of philosophy and classics sharpens your analytical, communication and critical thinking skills. While other subjects can help you cultivate these skills, the demands of philosophy and classics, combined with their unmatched interdisciplinarity, place them at a great advantage over these subjects.

Yes, studying philosophy and classics demands more than what many other subjects will require from you. It involves a lot commitment to study, analysis and writing. We teach you to think, make you reflect critically on issues, help you bring the past to bear on today’s problems, while reasoning ways these problems can be tackled. It’s one of the reasons why graduates in philosophy and classics are in high demand globally.

Our alumni are in all fields of work: journalism, theatre, theology, administration, politics, education, banking and finance, insurance, media, advertising, health, librarianship, NGOs, diplomacy, law, international relations, security, writing and publishing, name them.

But we don’t limit ourselves to helping you acquire employable skills. We also impart the values needed for you to excel anywhere in life. Through our critical analysis of issues (moral, historical, social, political, economic), we drive home the principle of an education that imparts not just knowledge but the right values for the betterment of society and for your own well-being.

Reading philosophy and classics is such a great privilege. Don’t miss it.

Photo: Raphael’s “School of Athens”

 

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2027: The Results of Your Decisions Today

Yesterday, I read Mark Zuckerberg’s Harvard Commencement Speech.

He made very important points about purpose … about having a sense of purpose.

The question that came to my mind was, “What decisions did he take ten years ago that had resulted in his success today?”

And then I asked myself, “Of the decisions I make today, what will be the results in 2027?”

I think I can ask you the same question: “What will be the results of the decisions you make today in 2027?”

Your decisions about technology will play a crucial role on your success story in ten years.

I am not talking about making any novel discovery. I am talking about the little things, the simple things.

If Facebook were a country, it would have a population of 1.9 billion, surpassing China’s. But Zuckerberg and his friends didn’t just get up and have a bang!

They started from their college dorm, from that nucleus, planting a seed that will grow into a baobab tree. From helping Harvard students network, they moved on to Ivy League schools and then this is what we have today as Facebook. As Zuckerberg describes,

[t]he thing is, it never even occurred to me that someone might be us. We were just college kids. We didn’t know anything about that. There were all these big technology companies with resources. I just assumed one of them would do it. But this idea was so clear to us — that all people want to connect. So we just kept moving forward, day by day. I know a lot of you will have your own stories just like this. A change in the world that seems so clear you’re sure someone else will do it. But they won’t. You will.

Indeed, technology is shaping the world. It is shaping how we think. It is taking away jobs from the technologically unskilled. If it is not too obvious yet, then I want to make a prediction. My prediction is that in the next ten years the things that will SHARPLY set people apart in the job place will not be language or communication skills but technological skills.

So ask yourself: “What will set me apart in the next ten years from that person who also has a first class?”

Is it the fact that you can type 60 WPM? Oh come on. You must be joking. Children are coding and you are here talking about 60WPM?

In 2007 I started writing my first book. And I started my first blog. The following year when I completed the manuscript, the hard disk crashed and I lost everything. I had to rewrite the book.

That experience taught me a lesson about tech that I will never forget: never trust the level of technological skills you have. You must learn something new about technology everyday. You must start developing the necessary technological skills now! Otherwise, in the next 10 years, you will feel sorry for yourself.

What skills will set you apart from the rest in the next ten years? It all boils down to the decisions you are taking today. And it’s not just technology but every other aspect of your life.

Mark Zuckerberg made very important points:

…finding your purpose isn’t enough. The challenge for our generation is creating a world where everyone has a sense of purpose. …. Purpose is that sense that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, that we are needed, that we have something better ahead to work for. …. But it’s not enough to have purpose yourself. You have to create a sense of purpose for others.

What sense of purpose are your decisions today creating for others? What sense of purpose will your decisions today create for others in 2027?

It is that sense of purpose that made me major in Classics at the University of Ghana when, since the mid-1980s, no one had.

It is that sense of purpose that makes me convene, every semester, an undergraduate mentoring class free of charge.

It is that sense of purpose that makes my wife and I mentor young people from all over, both here and abroad.

So I leave you with this question: When you enter 2027, what results will you see about the decisions you took today?

Wherever I will be in 2027, I will be glad to read your answer to my question.

Professor Folake Onayemi: An Angel in A Life

Today I celebrate not just a university professor, but a wonderful woman of God, philanthropist, mother, mentor and inspirer, Professor Folake Onayemi, of the Department of Classics at the University of Ibadan.

I first met her in 2009 when I was assigned to pick her up at the airport. She was visiting our Department of Classics at the University of Ghana as a scholar for the academic year. Her stay was going to open new opportunities in my life as well as influence my crossroad stage.

In the second semester of 2008/2009 academic year, I had failed two Latin papers and performed poorly in my remaining papers (the details will be a subject for another time). Due to this I could not graduate. I had to wait until the following academic year to write the papers. I was a young man with so many challenges. I had lost my mum the same year of 2009 (she was 47); my dad had had a stroke since 1998 and wasn’t in a position to work; and I was the first of four children.

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With Prof Onayemi during my MPhil graduation, November 2013

You can imagine the burden of responsibility I now had to manage. Even when my mum was alive, and in spite of being on financial aid, I had to take a SSNIT loan and send it home for their upkeep. Now, I was out of school, a national service person, with no aid or loan but with three siblings and a father to support. It was a challenging period.

 

Professor Onayemi had already taken me as her son, but when she learned of my situation, she made it her responsibility to provide me with a monthly stipend out of her salary. It turned out I wasn’t the only one on her budget. There were several such people both in and outside Ghana. But one other thing she used to push me was her words. She never ceased encouraging me to clear the Latin papers; she never ceased encouraging my faith in God; and she never ceased monitoring my progress.

In 2010 my financial situation had worsened. I had worked for six months without pay. It was a trying moment. In my quest to get something into my pocket, I enrolled for a malaria vaccine trial, but on one of my visits to the lab, I collapsed. I was starving, depressed, and overburdened. I cried often in my room. I wept bitterly at the thought of my late mum. I sacrificed to make ends meet for my dad and siblings.

But Professor Onayemi always had a word of encouragement to lift me up. God used her to make me see light at the end of the tunnel. There are so many things I can say about her. By all means they will feature in the book I have been working on for the future.

Let me end by saying that her influence has contributed to my spiritual and professional growth and my current position. She continues to monitor my progress and still calls me “Angel”. In future, when I am delivering my inaugural address, she will surely be acknowledged, and I pray that she will live to see that day. Congratulations mum on your inaugural.

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Prof Folake Onayemi during her inaugural, June 2016