In recent years, the money preoccupation has trickled upward, shaping our ideas about college as well as K–12 schooling. Not so long ago, private college was a luxury that few could afford. But in the nineteenth century, first Horace Mann and then Charles Eliot led the charge to make ability rather than heritage the price of admission to college. Though the intention was to recognize that wealth or lofty ancestry was no guarantee of intellectual ability, motivation, or academic inclination, it also came from the realization that a college degree opened doors and changed one’s future trajectory. During the same period, the introduction of excellent state university systems provided another avenue for bright and motivated adolescents with no money to get a college education. But as with K–12 education, when college changed from being a luxury for a few to a necessity for all, it redefined itself. Where once it had been a place to expand one’s horizons, read great books, get exposure to new disciplines, and learn how to participate in intellectual discourse, it now became another step toward getting a job or moving up a career ladder. The focus turned from getting a college education to getting a college degree.
Excerpted at Salon, We’re Teaching Our Kids Wrong: Steve Jobs and Bill Gates Do Not Have the Answers.