Today's topic is in response to a suggestion, as promised, which may have been left on Facebook. The question is, "I have many able calculus kids who score a 4 or 5 each year on the AP test (to go along with their 4 or 5's in AP chemistry) and the vast majority of them end up studying the humanities, with a ridicluous proportion choosing psychology - something that most will never make a living from - and relatively few choosing math/science/tech. Meanwhile, in huge proportions, the Chinese, Indian and Russian kids are studying the hard sciences. So, why, in your humble opinion, do our American kids duck the hard sciences at a rate that is not seen in other countries?"
As someone who has bachelor degrees in both math and philosophy, yet still cannot spell bachelor, I think I have an informed perspective upon this question. First off, although in might in part be the perception that the humanities are easier than math/science/tech degrees, I doubt this is a significant factor. I imagine this perception exists even in the communities which choose math/science/tech degrees, and I do not believe it is true. Considering my "fondness" for essays, I think my homework for the philosophy degree was, overall, more stressful than the math degree.
One thing I do think is a factor is the wonderful freedom of the US higher education program. From what I understand, in many places in Asia and Europe, one is channeled into a course of study at the university, rather than choosing one freely from a myriad of options. Thus, subjects that society places greater value upon are emphasized in schools and end up with the greatest number of students corralled in that direction. Whereas, in the US, upon arriving at university you are presented with a plethora of options and permitted to switch even rather late in your academic career, which can lead to Philosophy majors being declared in the second half of Junior year.
Another issue is something like an American sense of entitlement, or optimism, compared with caution or pragmatism exhibited by citizens in less privileged nations. To wit, you say yourself that a humanity degree is less likely to lead directly into a career, and to someone from a culture of economic caution, that might be a major deterrent. In comparison, an American who assumes that things will turn out alright in the end might feel more empowered to follow an interest for interest's sake.
I must admit that, as a cautious person by nature, this last point did play a major role in my decision to pursue graduate studies in mathematics rather than philosophy. Programs seem easier to enter, and the job market is definitely kinder, to mathematics students than those who study philosophy. However, the idea has been growing in me to attempt to switch, now that I am in a math program or after I complete it, as I feel teaching philosophy would be a more fulfilling career personally.
This is the best answer I can give to the question at the moment. As I mentioned when it was asked, I would like to hear your thoughts on the issue, as mine are based primarily upon my own experiences as a student, while you have the wider perspective of an educator who has watched many students head off to college. As always, I heartily welcome the answers, reactions, or further thoughts of all my readers. If the editing is rough today, I beg forgiveness, as my trip to Oregon has left me exhausted at the moment.