On Australia and others defunding humanities

What happens when citizens cannot think and speak clearly?

Apparently, Australia is joining a global race (as even Italy may do, I fear) to “Defund the Humanities” and bringing corresponding degrees out of reach for most students (who may already have troubles paying the “old” fees, what with the COVID-19 depression and all), “with the consequence that a humanities degree will now be the most expensive diploma in the country”.

According to the country’s education minister, the price hike should get people to “study in areas where there is expected growth in job opportunities”. More details about the fee increases in Australia are here.

What could possibly go wrong?

This worldwide trend is bad, for several reasons.

In my opinion, the article I linked above pushes too much on the deliberate conspiracy side, by writing: “This is not surprising. The humanities teach us how to think, not how to execute a job. They build our characters, not our CVs. And they push us to ask questions rather than pick the right answer from options A to D."

I have no reason at all to believe this is a deliberate conspiracy. But it is very likely that the actual result may be the one presented above anyway, that is hardly positive for democracy and real progress.

Of course, the same negative outcome for democracy and real progress can happen by dumbing things down. Here in Italy, I have seen university textbooks on Humanities subjects that, just 20 or 30 years ago would have been only acceptable as high-school textbooks. But that is a topic for another day.

Another very… let’s say myopic position in this move, if reporting is correct, is the active push to get people to “study in areas where there is expected growth in job opportunities”.

The whole idea that the purpose of education is to prepare for a (specific) job, and make people more employable/hireable is a very stupid, very dangerous mistake. That is the purpose of (job) training, NOT of education. The purpose of education should be to form responsible, mature adult citizens. Even if this were true, the idea that, in an age of NO lifetime employment and job markets changing very quickly, “growth in job opportunities” can be reasonably estimated is a bit too naive.

Another dangerous (for democracy) effect of making real, proper study of Humanities more expensive is to make affordable only for incumbent elites the degrees that may make one work best as a parliamentary representative.

Finally, let’s not forget that the very idea that appreciating good literature, music etc… is, or should be, “high education” is elitist. All waiters, miners, janitors, construction workers… should be able to “get” and “use” opera music, novels, politics essays to live richer lives… as much as the average PhD. Where “get”, of course, does NOT mean “I don’t trust experts because I found alternative facts online”…

(This post was drafted in April 2020, but only put online in August, because… my coronavirus reports, of course)