I came across this letter from Albert Einstein that was published in the New York Times on October 5, 1952 and am reproducing it because it mirrors my own views that those who view education purely because of its utility value are missing something profound about it.
EDUCATION FOR INDEPENDENT THOUGHT
It is not enough to teach man a specialty. Through it he may become a kind of useful machine but not a harmoniously developed personality. It is essential that the student acquire an understanding of and a lively feeling for values. He must acquire a vivid sense of the beautiful and of the morally good. Otherwise he – with his specialized knowledge – more closely resembles a well-trained dog than a harmoniously developed person. He must learn to understand the motives of human beings, their illusions, and their sufferings in order to acquire a proper relationship to individual fellow-men and to the community.
These precious things are conveyed to the younger generation through personal contact with those who teach, not – or at least not in the main – through textbooks. It is this that primarily constitutes and preserves culture. This is what I have in mind when I recommend the “humanities” as important, not just dry specialized knowledge in the fields of history and philosophy.
Overemphasis on the competitive system and premature specialization on the ground of immediate usefulness kill the spirit on which all cultural life depends, specialized knowledge included.
It is also vital to a valuable education that independent critical thinking be developed in the young human being, a development that is greatly jeopardized by overburdening him with too much and with too varied subjects (point system). Overburdening necessarily leads to superficiality. Teaching should be such that what is offered is perceived as a valuable gift and not as a hard duty.
For example, with so-called ‘hard’ subjects like mathematics that requires people to put in considerable effort into working out things for themselves, people try to coax students to put in the effort by arguing that it will be useful to them in the future. While that argument has some merit, what really makes people give of their best is to be interested in something for its own sake, because it sparks their curiosity or passion. That is what good teaching should aim for.
While I love science and mathematics, I have been greatly concerned about the downgrading in US schools of the humanities and the arts and even just recreation as disposable ‘luxuries’, to be included only if time and resources permit. All those things should be considered integral parts of any educational system.