The turn away from the humanities is a sign of competitive schooling’s most far-reaching effect: It perverts our culture’s understanding of what education is, and makes us forget that schooling has value beyond status seeking.and
When schooling is the path to income and status, students study the subjects that yield the highest wages and the greatest prestige, inducing too many people to study finance and law and too few to study education, caregiving, or even engineering. But private wages are not the same thing as the public interest. Child-care workers, for example, give much more to society than they take from it, generating almost 10 times as great a social product as they capture in private wages. Bankers and lawyers, by contrast, capture private wages that exceed their social product—they take more than they give. The distortions reach beyond specific jobs. Art, culture, and community all make the world a much better place, but they are notoriously difficult to monetize in the market. Competitive schooling therefore drives students away from these fields. No surprise, then, that the rise of competitive education has been accompanied by a steep decline in student interest in the humanities.and
Education’s core purpose is (or once was) to help people engage with the world and grow into themselves—to discover the overlap between their interests and their talents and develop it. Different people and schools each embrace distinctive visions of empathy, understanding, wisdom, and usefulness: The scholar aspires to know the forces that drive history forward, the inventor seeks to bend technology to practical ends, and the activist strives to reform institutions and inspire citizens to embrace justice. Schools with different educational missions ought to favor different students, and students with different aspirations ought to favor different schools.