Contrary to the statement made by the governor of Kentucky, French and math are equally important. Each subject is useful for the development of educated citizens.
Matt Bevin, the Republican governor of Kentucky, sparked an outcry among Francophile Americans by declaring the state would no longer finance French studies in public universities. The governor seems to see French literature as entirely unnecessary to the success of any upstanding American. However, he supports the teaching of the sciences, technology, and math. In his worldview, these subjects alone can lead to good jobs. But his actions betray his ignorance: leading thinkers also have an excellent general knowledge. What’s more, France has the privilege of offering some of the world’s finest engineering schools. Everyone knows that, except Matt Bevin.
What fewer people may be aware of is the ideological heritage behind the governor’s thinking. His attitude follows the longstanding traditions of the Know Nothings of the 19th century, a secret society that went on to become a political party preaching blissful ignorance and a refusal of general ideas. Donald Trump has clearly espoused this political perspective, which contributed to the American preference for technical education until the mid-20th century. As a result, the United States long suffered from shortcomings in fundamental research, which was (and is still) largely made up for by immigrants. Let us take the renowned example of the development of the atomic bomb, known as the “A-bomb,” then the “H-bomb.” This technology would never have been possible without scientists from Central Europe. Today we know the extent to which immigrants contribute to research in the U.S. tech capitals of Boston, Austin, and Palo Alto.
The practical mindset Matt Bevin thinks he is celebrating would enable American universities to churn out countless engineers and technicians, but the United States would actually slow its scientific progress. I advise the governor and those like him to take a few “useless” classes on Flaubert and Proust. At the very least it might help them think.