You don’t have to be stupid to be a Don here, but it helps.

I really enjoyed Francis Beckett’s article in the Education Guardian regarding Cambridge University’s entry requirements which lists 20 A-level subjects considered ‘soft’ options. Beckett argues, quite rightly in my opinion, that this is basically academic snobbery and has very little to do with the level of difficulty or rigour of the subjects in question:

If what Cambridge really means is that these 20 subjects are easier and less rigorous than others, it will take some proving. A young relative of mine wanted to study A-level music technology - which is one of Cambridge’s undesirable 20 - until he saw the course and realised it was too hard for him. He took the easier option of history and politics - both proper academic subjects, approved by Cambridge.

Taking a look at the list it reads very much as a thermometer of current cultural trends. Cambridge might wish that the days of learning Greek and the ‘Hard’ Sciences are the only true education, but by failing to engage in the subjects that are central to contemporary culture they risk making themselves increasingly irrelevant (which I have written about at length previously).

Part of the problem I have with this is that it taps into and perpetuates the myth that the arts are ’easy’. This is part of the talent myth, which essentially suggests that because one has a ‘gift’ then it’s not hard work. Yet anyone who truly knows about making anything creative knows that it takes a lot of hard work indeed. Hugh Macleod has probably most famously summed this up in his How To Be Creative essay/long blog post.

The thing that I find frustrating is that the same people who are arguing these are ‘soft options’ probably consume a large amount of the arts that those taking these subjects will produce. Not only that, they’ll be awfully snobbish about it being High Art too.

Here is the offending list, by the way:

  • Accounting
  • Art and design
  • Business studies
  • Communication studies
  • Dance
  • Design and technology
  • Drama/theatre studies
  • Film studies
  • Health and social care
  • Home economics
  • Information and communication technology
  • Leisure studies
  • Media studies
  • Music technology
  • Performance studies
  • Performing arts
  • Photography
  • Physical education
  • Sports studies
  • Travel and tourism

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