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Today’s quotable

Tuesday, Jun 11, 2019

* Former Attorney General Lisa Madigan in Chicago Magazine

I was a government major at Georgetown, and I don’t think I learned one thing in class that helped me at all in the last 20 years. What I’ve said to so many students is, “If you really think this is what you want to do, you’ve got to work on a campaign, you need to work for an elected official. Because you’re not going to learn it in a classroom.”

- Posted by Rich Miller        

55 Comments »
  1. - Someone you should know - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 9:45 am:

    I would agree with her, as much as loved learning from Everson and Redfield, I learned much more from Bill Houlihan and Mike Daly :)


  2. - ArchPundit - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 9:46 am:

    Except how to reason, write, and process information. But other than that…

    Undergrad especially isn’t designed to teach specific skills in terms of how to run a campaign or how to run a bureaucracy. That’s also why internships or a job in the field is a good thing, but I hate this general sneering at undergraduate work as not being practical.


  3. - VerySmallRocks - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 9:52 am:

    Sooner or later, as we age, the inner “kids have it too easy and no idea” grouch emerges from all of us. I try to limit mine to twice a day, like dog walks.


  4. - SheIsRight - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 9:52 am:

    Political science major here, this is 100% accurate. I loved college but it makes me sick to my stomach that my parents spent so much money for me to get a degree that really did nothing to help me get a job besides prove I was capable of not flunking out of a 4 year program.

    Programs like these need to be revamped, or at least have better mentor programs so the kids picking these programs know what to actually do in order to find a job in the political/government world.


  5. - JoanP - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 9:54 am:

    =Except how to reason, write, and process information. =

    You don’t need to be a government major to learn those things.

    It doesn’t sound to me as though she’s sneering at undergraduate work; I think she is simply saying, don’t expect being a government major to prepare you for the actual work.

    When I was in college, it was received wisdom that if you wanted to go to law school or into politics, you should major in political science. No good reason for that, really.


  6. - lake county democrat - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 9:56 am:

    ArchPundit reminds me a bit of Alan Bloom. I wholeheartedly agree that undergraduate studies have broad value in general (Thomas Friedman’s last book was all about how amorphous skills including reasoning and communication are more important now than ever). That said, is this a problem with government studies in general or just that program? And if the former, you’d think there are ways to make the programs more relevant (internships, case studies, etc.)


  7. - TheInvisibleMan - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 9:56 am:

    At some point, every realizes the purpose of college.

    It has never been to teach you what to think.

    It is meant to teach you how to think.


  8. - Skeptic - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 9:58 am:

    =Except how to reason, write, and process information.=
    Sounds like a case for a Liberal Arts degree to me. (And I mean that in a good way.)


  9. - Bruce( no not him) - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 9:58 am:

    When I was in college, I had a professor who told us”When you graduate you are trainable. That’s all we can do. We can’t teach you anywhere near everything you need to know. “


  10. - Southside Markie - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 10:07 am:

    I’m sure that the guy who paid her tuition was thrilled to hear that.


  11. - Former Poli Sci Major - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 10:08 am:

    100% agree with this statement. The only thing my Poli Sci degree got me a nice piece of paper and a couple of bad hangovers. Everything I’ve learned in politics has been hands on.


  12. - PJ - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 10:09 am:

    Unless you’re going into a STEM field, study whatever you want. It’s about learning how to write, process, and analyze information. You can’t go to college and expect to major in “being attorney general in Illinois”. Job-specific skills are learned by doing jobs.


  13. - efudd - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 10:12 am:

    I would say this applies to most, if not all careers.
    The first two years of undergrad is basically High School-The Sequel.
    That’s why jucos are the smartest move a high school grad can make.


  14. - Gooner - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 10:14 am:

    That can be said of nearly every profession.

    I learned more useful information and skills while clerking than I did as a law student.

    What people forget though is that you still need the basic concepts, whether it is as a Poli Sci student preparing for government, or whether it is that Contracts class you need to practice law.


  15. - Nobody Sent - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 10:18 am:

    That’s right kids, its not what you know, its who you know. If you want to advance in government, work on campaigns so you can make good contacts. Then you can leap frog over more qualified candidates for government jobs and on its best day be part of the mediocre leadership IL (our nation?) has suffered from for decades.


  16. - former southerner - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 10:20 am:

    If you want vocational training, then sign up for and attend a vocational program. Most undergraduate degrees are designed to provide the basic knowledge set suitable for a wide range of careers but where and how far one takes that knowledge is up to the individual.

    I hope that my daughter’s high school is the exception but their current view is pushing students into a narrow career field early in high school that seems to be a feeder to a local community college. Fortunately my daughter isn’t in that very limited mental track.


  17. - MakePoliticsCoolAgain - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 10:24 am:

    Except on the ground government experience doesn’t mean anything to the current administration.


  18. - Generic Drone - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 10:25 am:

    College can teach you ethics. Working directly with legislators teaches the art of skirting around ethicsand closed door policy


  19. - ArchPundit - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 10:28 am:

    === it was received wisdom that if you wanted to go to law school or into politics,

    Which is weird because academic advisers will suggest English or writing intensive like Philosophy. A lot of received wisdom is more what students think they know.

    —-? And if the former, you’d think there are ways to make the programs more relevant (internships, case studies, etc.)

    But this assumes the students are looking to go into practical electoral politics. If you go into most departments and ask students a fairly small number of students are looking to do that.

    Students may be interested in Public Policy, Public Admin, Law, business, practical electoral politics, graduate study, international relations, work in specific countries (different than IR), etc.

    That said, I already mentioned internships or jobs as a way to help students who are interested, but what is an undergraduate education for? Are we training students for specific jobs? Because those specific jobs aren’t going to be the same specific job throughout their career. But what should they get out of an undergraduate degree in Political Science?

    They should understand institutions and how they tend to operate in the political world, they should be able to apply that information to proposals for new institutions or policy. They should be literate in understanding statistics if not in using them. They should have an understanding of how government works internationally and how comparative systems work. They should have some basic understanding of the philosophy of governing. They should have some upper level courses they choose in relation to their specific interest.

    So now, you have about 12 courses (36-48 credits). Tell me how to fit in everything?


  20. - Anyone Remember - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 10:29 am:

    As a public administration major, learned quite a bit, undergrad & grad, that was used on the job. What education didn’t prepare me for was the “uniqueness” in Illinois (and coming from a place with a fair about of “good government” boy did I find a LOT of “uniqueness”).


  21. - Give Me A Break - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 10:29 am:

    Her statement pretty much reflects what our interns tell us every year in May.

    We usually have 1-3 UIS students who intern during the Spring Session during which they watch lawmaking up close. They are always stunned at what they didn’t learn in the classroom.


  22. - ArchPundit - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 10:29 am:

    ==ArchPundit reminds me a bit of Alan Bloom.

    Them’s fighting words. ;)


  23. - The Most Anonymous - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 10:35 am:

    U of C students, take note. UIS students, you’re in a very good place.


  24. - Abnonymous - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 10:35 am:

    I studied political science and journalism at Northwestern and learned plenty that I still use in state government every day. Useful to learn the way things OUGHT to be - the way the framers intended - before you’re confronted with how things really are. But I was blessed with plenty of profs who had actually worked in the field and shared plenty of useful war stories - the former CIA operative who taught us what he really did in Chile; the American Government prof who taught us how LBJ actually got legislation passed - not exactly as the framers might have intended. Her overall point that you learn so much more in the real world than from ivory tower theorists is true but “nothing” useful? Hell, I’ve learned useful real-world info from E.J Dionne in one-day seminars at Georgetown. Choose good profs.


  25. - ToneLuc - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 10:38 am:

    Got my degree in Communications with a focus on PR/Advertising. I learned more interning and then working for Gary Mack than I ever learned in any classroom.


  26. - JoanP - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 10:38 am:

    =Which is weird because academic advisers will suggest English or writing intensive like Philosophy. =

    Now they do. But next year is my 50th class reunion. Times change.


  27. - Three Dimensional Checkers - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 10:39 am:

    I only halfway agree. Of course everyone except academics need work experience. But if you went to law school or grad school, and you are not using any of the skills learned there, I would question what exactly you are spending your time doing.


  28. - ArchPundit - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 10:40 am:

    ==Times change.

    I get that, but having an aunt who was an academic adviser in the 1970s/80s she always told me the same thing so it’s not new. Also, I understand, especially back then advisers were of mixed quality. The profession has improved greatly.


  29. - Oh? - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 10:50 am:

    She thought she had it bad….she is lucky she didn’t take teacher education.


  30. - Chicago Cynic - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 10:56 am:

    I was in an executive Master’s program at a top university for a couple of quarters. Eventually it became clear that it was a pointless waste of $$$$ and I left. I don’t want to diss all graduate education, but Lisa is 100% right on this one.


  31. - A guy - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 10:57 am:

    That lesson at Georgetown sure was an expensive one. You can probably pay less to learn it elsewhere.


  32. - Interested Observer - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 10:57 am:

    There’s no question that politics and government are activities you learn mostly by doing. At bottom, they’ll resist being reduced to theory or easy conceptualization because they’re so complex—and constituted and influenced by almost everything surrounding them. That being said, the great political thinkers understood this—and were often reflecting on it directly in their work. I think Lisa Madigan is wrong in that she seemed to imply that once you leave college you should never return to the thinkers and writers you studied. It’s true as a young person, you can only get so much out studying thinkers like Plato, Machiavelli, Hamilton, Madison, or Arendt. But if you come back to them after you spend some time working in politics and government, these kinds of thinkers can help you make sense of what you’re doing—and better yet, reflect on what you should be doing.


  33. - Retired SURS Employee - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 10:57 am:

    I was a political science major at UICC. My advisor and favorite professor was the late Milton Rakove. He had the right idea; he ran for the Cook County Board (and lost) but it gave him valuable insight (as well as enough anecdotes to fill two books) into the actual political process. Same goes for Dick Simpson, although he was more successful.


  34. - Steve - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 11:26 am:

    What Lisa said was profound. Many political science programs are devoid of the real world of politics.


  35. - Kevin Fanning - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 11:26 am:

    I couldn’t agree more. Political science courses in college paled in comparison to my internship with Rich through the Civic Leadership Program at the U of I. If people really want to learn how government works they have to get involved in it firsthand. I wish more academics appreciated that and encouraged and supported more internships and programs like the CLP. The world needs more Jim Nowlans and Charlie Wheelers.


  36. - Donnie Elgin - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 11:42 am:

    Interesting observations of course not many PolySci students have The most powerful state political leader as a father. Just saying.


  37. - 47th Ward - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 11:44 am:

    Let’s face it, when you consider the role her father played in launching her career, yeah, her undergraduate education wasn’t nearly as helpful.

    Not every kid is going to get a sweet campaign job like Lisa did. Some of us needed that credential because we weren’t connected and had to prove we were worthy of a chance.

    I like her, but that quote betrays an alarming lack of self awareness.


  38. - Dude - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 11:49 am:

    Ever met an attorney who indicates that what they learned in law school bears any resemblance to the law practiced at the Court House?

    It really is a jumping off point. Life experience matters a great deal in most vocations.


  39. - Foolish Sophist - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 11:59 am:

    Not to downplay the importance of experience in the least, but I’m curious: how many of you who are denigrating the value of undergrad pol sci training did all of the required reading, etc.? If you just fill a seat and scrape by with a passing grade, you are depriving yourself of most of the actual value of the academic portion of your training. You may as well say that going to the doctor is worthless because you never fill the resulting prescriptions.

    Also, Former Poli Sci Major: which specific readings/assignments/courses gave you hangovers? I don’t recall those being part of the curriculum. ;-)


  40. - Amalia - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 12:04 pm:

    totally disagree. still using things I learned in college besides writing and I’m not talking sciences and math. conflict resolution, organization structure and allocation of scarce resources are the hallmarks of what normative political science is all about.


  41. - Langhorne - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 12:54 pm:

    4 stars AP 946a

    Undergrad prepped me for political advocacy poverty.
    A 20 month legislative internship paid for grad school, which taught me how to write, and understand organizations. All of which made me a better manager in a political setting for 30 years.

    My two best hires were English majors. They could think, write real good, and footnote.


  42. - Ugh - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 12:56 pm:

    I agree with 47th Ward, which is why I hope everyone reading this is mentoring someone and showing them know how to get into this crazy and awesome work world we are privileged to inhabit.

    Also Abnonymous, “Choose good profs,” I couldn’t agree more. That was my advice to my college kids, well before you sign up for classes, poll peers on their most amazing professors/classes, and just take those. College costs too much to waste time and money on a so-so professor.


  43. - Responsa - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 12:58 pm:

    It’s interesting how much of the discussion here focuses on educational Political Science and “politics” rather than on “government”. I just finished reading David McCullough’s new book The Pioneers (about the settlement of the Ohio River/ Northwest Territory) and what came through so powerfully from his pages based on contemporaneous writings was the emphasis on morality, public service above all, and personal physical and financial sacrifice by the early representatives of those particular territories which later became states. There is really a dearth of that emphasis in modern Poli Sci courses. I know, because I took them at Illinois’ flagship university.


  44. - City Zen - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 1:18 pm:

    Guessing Lisa doesn’t have to learn to code.


  45. - Peters Piece - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 1:19 pm:

    As Dr. Park tells parents at Orientation. In Engineering 101 I am not going to teach them Engineering I am going to teach them the Engineering mind. And he did.


  46. - Sam P. - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 1:54 pm:

    As a recent graduate one year into the working world, I feel like her statement is somewhat misguided. I was a Comparative Politics major and while I may not necessarily be summarizing India’s political history every day at work, the research, writing, and analytical skills I had to develop over the course of four years help me in my office on an almost daily basis. I agree not everything you learn in your college career is directly tangible to your future career, and internships are extremely valuable in getting direct experience, but I don’t think we should be writing off the value of an undergraduate degree just yet.


  47. - ArchPundit - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 2:25 pm:

    ===My two best hires were English majors. They could think, write real good, and footnote.

    This is another good point. What you major in should prepare you for the future, but that may not be the most adjacent major to the field you want to work in. History and English have very few direct positions if you look at the job posting scraping data. Yet, people with those degrees do pretty well in the job market because of the skills they learn even though they aren’t directly training people for jobs in a certain field. Despite this, both fields are facing drastic drops in people majoring in them because people believe you need an undergrad degree that leads to a specific type of job and that if you don’t have that you won’t get a good job. It’s not true, but it’s what parents and students seem to be internalizing.

    This also holds true for political science which isn’t doing as bad as those two fields, but it doesn’t train students to be staffers or work on campaigns, but it certainly trains people with skills they will need in those fields.

    None of this is to say curriculum cannot be improved in many cases in many departments, but targeting political science to only be to train people on American legislative politics would be a disservice to students.


  48. - 47th Ward - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 2:53 pm:

    ===to train people on American legislative politics would be a disservice…===

    Agreed, completely. I was Poli Sci at ISU in the 1980s. Had the good fortune to be taught by John Gueguen, who taught political theory in the classic sense. He thought campaigns and legislative politics were “practical politics.” He preferred the great questions, like how are we to live together in society?

    We read the great thinkers of the western world. His tests were written, no more than 300 words, on questions based on those readings. You can’t BS your way through 300 words. I know, because I tried. Instead, you are forced to think, and use each word carefully.

    That was good training. Learning how to think is still the greatest value of an undergraduate education. If you can think clearly, you can write clearly.


  49. - Dirty Red - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 4:05 pm:

    And learn a trade that makes you harder to dismiss from the organization. (psst…networking and systems administration)


  50. - Mr. Smith - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 4:05 pm:

    I guess that I am not taking Lisa Madigan’s statement as a slam of college education. I read it as a comment on the difference between book education and actual experience IN THAT AREA.

    There is a lot that can be learned about how to do things. Useful things like how to research. How to write, and rewrite. How to think (not what to think, as many conservatives will have it) and reason. How to take a position, and defend it.

    Those skills will benefit you your entire life, no matter what kind of work you end up doing.


  51. - A guy - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 4:39 pm:

    ==You can’t BS your way through 300 words==

    Hard to BS your way through 30 around here. But some do sure try.


  52. - Soccermom - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 4:53 pm:

    I am in the very last class in my masters in public policy. It has been incredibly helpful. I have learned a great deal — although it would not have been as useful if I hadn’t had lots of real-world experience as a foundation.

    BTW 47th, you’re going to be missing a great party…


  53. - Three Dimensional Checkers - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 5:27 pm:

    I admire someone like Paul Green who had his foot in both camps being and academic but obviously someone with a practical impact. Yeah, not everyone can follow Lisa Madigan’s career path, lol. Fun fact: Vladimir Putin has a PhD in economics, so there is that.


  54. - Candy Dogood - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 5:48 pm:

    1.) This is terrible advice.

    2.) Sure, internships are okay but pretending that internships are a meaningful education is silly.

    3.) I don’t think her personal experience is going to be typical to the average person.


  55. - justacitizen - Tuesday, Jun 11, 19 @ 10:32 pm:

    I’m disappointed in Lisa’s remark. The biggest problem in government today is the lack of ethics. I don’t think most campaigns emphasize ethics. Ethics should be a big part of government-both college and actual campaigns.


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