When the Kentucky governor, Matt Bevin, suggested last month that students majoring in French literature should not receive state funding for their college education, he joined a growing number of elected officials who want to nudge students away from the humanities and toward more job-friendly subjects like electrical engineering.
[New York Times, “Rising Call to Cut Funding for Liberal Arts Degrees,” 2/22/2016]
Isn’t that interesting? The majority rules. And the values of the majority—and the quality of its thought—will invariably come to be mirrored at every level of a society, not least its governing circles. Here is democracy’s Achilles’ heel. It is a laudable structure of governance, but its quality will reflect the people.
“Liberal” means free. It was the province, long ago, of those who could both fund the costs and take the time to get educated. “Liberal Education” has never meant “cost free.” It was the education of the leadership class: wide, general, and elevated—over against vocational education which was for the lower elite of the laboring masses, the craftsmen. And the laborers got none at all.
He who funds also calls the shots. State funding, sooner or later, also means direction of the curriculum. State education is, therefore, regardless of its content, never liberal: the student isn’t “free” of State interference.
Interesting, isn’t it. The more we laud freedom, the less of it is actually available. I used to ponder that when I was young and came to the conclusion that, so long as I wasn’t independently wealthy, I was only “free” to seek a job. And to vote—if that even mattered when far outnumbered by those who do not think. And to drive—provided I bought some insurance.
Someday some few will again have liberal education—but democracy must first decay and its pieces must slowly be absorbed back into the soil of history.