One rather interesting irony is that folks who claim to be acting in accord with the beliefs of the founders seem to be the same people who are intent on damaging America’s education system. The founders, especially Jefferson, were rather big on education. However, an appeal to the founders would be a rather weak argument, so I will merely point to three important facts. First, an educated population is essential to a properly functioning democracy. Second, an educated population is essential to having a thriving economy. Third, America’s higher education system is a source of international prestige as well as advances in all fields. As such, education should be treated as a vital national resource, rather than as a target for bashing and a convenient place for budget cuts.
One of the latest attacks on education comes from the Governor of Florida, Rick Scott. He is currently the least popular governor in America (although Ohio’s governor did beat him out for a brief span). His latest plan and justification is as follows:
Scott said Monday that he hopes to shift more funding to science, technology, engineering and math departments, the so-called “STEM” disciplines. The big losers: Programs like psychology and anthropology and potentially schools like New College in Sarasota that emphasize a liberal arts curriculum.
“If I’m going to take money from a citizen to put into education then I’m going to take that money to create jobs,” Scott said. “So I want that money to go to degrees where people can get jobs in this state. Is it a vital interest of the state to have more anthropologists? I don’t think so.”
While Scott is clearly appealing to popular stereotypes, there are some rather important issues that need to be addressed.
The first is his view that shifting more funding to these areas will create jobs. On the face of it, this would not seem to be the case. To use an analogy, encouraging more people to go to a buffet does not mean that more food will be created. Graduates will be in need of jobs and creating more graduates in a certain area would not thus automatically create more jobs-it would just mean more people competing for the same number of jobs.
The second is his view that the money should go to certain degrees that he thinks have a better chance of securing jobs. However, as critics have already pointed out, Scott’s decision making seems to be fueled (as it so often seems to be) on stereotypes and ignorance. Scott used anthropology as a specific example of an apparently useless degree, but the reality is that 64% of people with graduate degrees in the field find a job within 12 months and Florida has one of the most prestigious departments in the country (at USF) that actually serves to create jobs in Tampa. Scott also seems to be ignorant of the fact that the job prospects of all college graduates are better than those of non college graduates (hence any degree is a decent investment) and the disparity between majors does not seem large enough to warrant his view about the matter. True, some majors have somewhat better employment rates than others, but all majors have rather good employment rates-hence there seems to be no compelling reason to shift funding in this manner.
The third is that his view seems to be that jobs and money should be of utmost concern. As a philosopher, I am all too familiar with the time honored practice of bashing the “non-practical” degrees. This practice is based on a rather limited view of what is valuable-usually casting working a “practical” job as the defining and proper function of a person and money as the highest good. Such a view fails to see the value in things other than “practical” jobs and money. In this matter, I will follow Aristotle: the highest excellence of a person is virtue and money is, at best, a mere means to the proper end of life, which is happiness. This is not to detract from “practical” jobs nor to dismiss money as being unworthy of consideration. It is, however, to put matters in some perspective. After all, we are presumably not just here to work for the corporations and pile up money. Surely we are capable of (and perhaps meant for) so much more.