President Obama dedicated a decent chunk of his State of the Union Address to education, and rightfully so. The education of our children is, of course, of paramount importance. But what should we make of “education reform” as the president and other government leaders (on both sides of the aisle) see it? Well, it needs some work, to say the least.

Today, education reform is nothing more than a utilitarian undertaking that aims at success rather than knowledge and wisdom. Math and science are king, and that’s not a good thing.

Here’s the president: “The quality of our math and science education lags behind many other nations.”

Who cares? Really, who cares? The United States is still producing (to use the current utilitarian jargon) scientists and doctors and engineers and researchers. Not to mention the guy from IBM who created a computer that beats us Jeopardy, which in and of itself should make us give our obsession with science a second look.  Just because China and Sweden and Lichtenstein cram their kids in a classroom longer and ram math and science down their throats to get ahead, doesn’t mean we have to follow suit to catch them.

Obama also said, “We need to teach our kids that it's not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair…”

What about the winner of the spelling bee? Or the kid who wins the poetry contest? Or the geography bee? Eh, well, those kids might be kind of smart, but they’re not helping our math and science ratings are they?

And there’s the real problem with education reform: the focus is on math and science, not for itself but so that kids can be successful. So that they create new stuff. So that we can land on Mars or create a new breed of goat out of thin air. So that we don’t endure another Sputnik disaster.

The focus is on, essentially, getting stuff.

Math and science are important, but not because they allow us to dominate or win competitions. They are important because they add to our knowledge of the world, ourselves, and beyond. But the Humanities deliver knowledge and wisdom that goes far beyond what math and science can offer, yet they’re ignored in nearly every incarnation of modern education reform.

Where math and science teach us to think analytically, to complete equations, to poke and prod at the external world; the Humanities teach us to, quite simply, think. They nudge us towards logic, contemplation, and ultimately wisdom. They aren’t concerned with success or achievement, but rather with finding out (to use a phrase that’s become unjustly cheesy) who we are, where we’re from, and where we’re going—to an extent and depth that examining a cadaver or taking an X-Ray can only scratch at. One would think this would be important in our efforts to “win the future,” as the president exhorted us in the State of the Union address. 

But the Humanities aren’t concerned with rankings or graduation rates, and they don’t give us the iPad or high-speed trains, and so they are ignored.

So our kids can speed into the future on lightening-fast rails, iPad in hand, but they’ll have no idea what in the hell it all means.