NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- I was watching the season finale of Bill Maher's Real-Time last Friday, when he threw out a statistic that shocked me: in 2009, the U.S. graduated 39,000 people with computer science and engineering degrees and 82,000 with visual arts degrees.
Maher argued that this is a big problem for us as a country. He suggested we're not being tough enough with kids pursuing a visual arts education. We need to tell them to be more realistic and we need more technically qualified people to fill those jobs if our country is going to compete with China and others.
But his panel flatly disagreed with him. It seemed to unite those on the right and the left that the government should try and steer how individuals decide to pursue their educational goals.
Many on the right want the government to have less influence on education -- not more. Rick Perry -- if you believe him -- even wants the Department of Education disbanded. If these conservatives had their way, as many students could pursue degrees in visual arts as wanted. They could find a good private institution that would give them a degree, in exchange for a costly amount of tuition.
For those of the left, most would believe the government should be able to provide an education but it's up to individuals to have the free choice to select their education.
The power of the individual is sacrosanct in America. We have an innate belief that the guy next to us on the subway could be the next Steve Jobs from Apple(AAPL_). Jobs was a hippie. He dropped out of Reed College after freshman year. How can we try and restrict the next individual genius that might bubble up from the bottom of our system.
Look, I happen to be a guy who was an English major in college. I should probably be living in my mother's basement by now, but I actually think a liberal arts training is a great foundation for anyone in life pursuing a variety of later technical professions. So, I'm sympathetic to those who say let the kids decide if they want to be dance, philosophy or social studies' majors.
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