For the better part of 85 years the tendency in American public schools has been to move away from a classical view of education in which knowledge was pursued as an end in itself. Instead we have moved toward a more "modern" view of education as preparation for a specific vocation or career. In keeping with this view, we have become inclined to see the only "useful" schooling as that which equips the student with the skills needed to become a "productive" member of society.
This concern with productivity comes, no doubt, as a result of the American embrace of capitalism where utility and efficiency stand as leading virtues. Capitalism has taught us that as the individual focuses his energies in an ever-contracting area of focus, his efforts become more efficient. Henry Ford, among others, employed this principle of "specialization" to great advantage early in the last century. Ford's success, coupled with the production demands of World War II, provided a strong impetus for a changing focus in American education.
While our public school system succeeded in producing the types of young people needed to power a post WW II growing economy we have, in recent decades, begun to see the shortcomings of this system as well. Where American schools succeeded in mass-producing the specialized workers needed to power American industry, they failed (and continue to fail) to produce, in sufficient numbers, the kind of liberally-educated individuals needed to effectively lead a society.
Our current dearth of exceptional leaders in America can, at least partially, be attributed to this shift in educational focus three generations ago. If we are to once again produce citizens capable of a societal contribution beyond the duties of their narrow profession, we must embrace classical learning where knowledge, like health, is pursued for its own sake. In the classical system the man is best educated who, after years of dedicated study in a breadth of subjects, is able to exercise reason upon the knowledge he has acquired. And Americans of different political persuasions can certainly agree that reason is a skill sorely lacking in our current generation of leaders.