Just to expand upon my comment that ‘if we have to justify education by referencing its contribution to GDP, society can be reckoned lost.’ That was perhaps a tad prophetic, but the point I wanted to imply relates to Martha Nussbaum’s recent book, Not For Profit, which I reviewed in a Note on Facebook last year. I quote from that below. Forgive the rather formal style:
Democracy consists in all persons within a state contributing to public deliberation in a critical manner about what paths to collectively pursue. This, however, presupposes the rational capacity to think in such ways, and thus in a crucial sense democracy entails education, where education does not consist in the passive regurgitation of facts and the blind obedience of authority, but critical reflection upon questions concerning what we should value. With its focus on liberal arts degrees, America has realised this for a long time, but elsewhere there is a frightening global trend to look down upon the study of philosophy as worthless, even though it is the subject most apt for nurturing the critical faculties. Nussbaum points to the Platonic dialogues as particularly appropriate for getting people thinking about issues in a way that is essential to democratic reasoning. Without a renewed focus on such studies and skills, we’re likely to create generations of machines rather than humans, that can buy and enjoy possessions but not engage in thought and decision making.
The humanities, of course, consist in much more than philosophy, and a similarly tragic stigma is starting to surround the study of arts like literature. Once again, if we do in fact value democracy, as we profess to despite our contradictory educational policies to the contrary, then the arts are essential. Democracy also involves the crucial capacity to conceive of the world from another’s point of view, and nothing broadens one’s horizons further than one’s self, and encourages empathy, more than films and novels, especially at a young age. Add in the need for history and religious studies to stimulate cultural understanding and the toleration of diversity, and you soon begin to appreciate how bleak the picture looks when we only positively perceive degrees in Medicine, Engineering et al, sowing the seeds for the downfall of everything non-monetary that is great in life.
Chomsky offers his view below.
Hat Tip for the video: Maria Popova.