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The Happiest Education in America

April 6, 2011

Shane Kunselman
The Happiest Education in America

CMCers are stoked. Last year, The Daily Beast, rated Claremont McKenna College the “Happiest College in America” and the Princeton Review ranked us at number two. But why? Is it the great financial aid package or the administration’s willingness to subsidize trips to Disneyland? Can our sunny disposition really be explained by the number of sunny days in Claremont?

While we do not deny that these factors play a role, other colleges (our five neighbors) have similar housing, costs, weather and food. Sure, Scripps may have more attractive architecture, and the Coop may have better options than the Hub, but most discrepancies among the 5Cs can be resolved by a five-minute walk to your favorite eatery, event, hammock or creepy Japanese tea garden. Overall amenities are comparable.

So what makes CMC happier? A specialized curriculum that inspires optimism.

The traditional liberal arts model encourages students to question the world around them by identifying problems within the status quo and failures in the existing system. When confronted with Tragedy, Trauma, and Terror Histories of the Present (CORE002 - SC) and Comparative Authoritarianism (POST134 - PZ) the eyes of the liberal arts student are opened to the horrors of the world, and the depravity of the human condition: we are naught but Masters, Servants, & Slaves (FREN152 - PO). The rationale behind a study focused on suffering and conflict is that students will consequently seek solutions to the problems they uncover, becoming the next generation of problem solvers.

Ignoring whether a traditional liberal arts philosophy leads to innovative solutions, it tends to negatively affect a student’s psyche. Whole semesters spent on Social Stratification (SOC 014 - PZ), the Sociology of Poverty (SOC 147 - PO) and the instances of Culture in Conflict (HMSC145 - SC) engenders a belief that people are inherently flawed, untrustworthy and prone to preying on their fellow man. Students begin to believe that they are behind the game from the start. These students develop a cynical attitude of preventing the negative rather than an ambitious one of promoting the positive: fighting racism rather than creating equality, stopping conflict rather than starting peace. With either attitude, the same solutions can be provided.  However, the liberal arts approach leaves students patching holes in the fabric of society only as fast as new ones are torn and at the cost of their own happiness.

In contrast, the not-quite-traditional liberal arts education at Claremont McKenna makes us CMCers optimistic problem solvers. We graduate confident and ready to solve any problem we encounter. This is because of what we study and the approach we take. There are political and economic motifs underlying our classes, even outside of those departments; economics and government form the lens through which we see the world.

So what is economics? The study of markets, which are the solution to the problems of allocating goods, information and labor. Theories of economics draw humankind a blueprint for self-managing systems, in which we can buy low, sell high, and slowly become better off, together. With even a basic grasp of these dynamics, its hard not to be optimistic about a future which is inevitably better than the present! We have graduated from cave paintings to iPads, huts to space stations, and rocks to bling bling. You can thank economics for that.

What is government? Government is the solution to the chaos of anarchy and failure of collective action. The emergence of modern democracy has shown that, properly executed, government can “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty.” Government, as a subject, conveys a sense of confidence in man’s ability to organize himself in such a way that reduces fear, increases opportunity and inspires dignity.

As CMCers, we believe human systems function effectively to the benefit of humanity. We seek to perfect a predominantly effective system, rather than repair a broken one, and our happiness is boosted by this faith and optimism. We learn how “civilization prospers through commerce,” and this knowledge allows us to leave here knowing we will enter a world that is ours for the taking; a world in which we can achieve our dreams, create our own success and realize our full potential. Stay stoked, CMC.

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