I don’t know the story behind the woman who just called Dave Ramsey‘s show, but Ramsey has decided to take whatever she said and apply it to everyone who is “stupid” enough to major in history or let their kids major in history. In the midst of his ranting, raving, and name-calling he advances a very “stupid” and uninformed and ignorant argument about the value of a history major.
What saddens me is Ramsey’s complete ignorance of the many ways the study of college-level history prepares young people to contribute to our democratic society. For him, history is little more than a fun hobby that is not useful to society unless it can provide someone with a comfortable middle-class income. Ramsey offers a vision of the good life informed by economic determinism. I have never listened to Ramsey, but I am guessing that he gives reasonably good economic advice. Too bad it is at the expense of strengthening democratic life and perhaps even the life of the church.
But even if you do think a nice middle-class income and all the accoutrements that come with it are important, studies show that history majors do just as well in the long run as those who majored in other subjects and disciplines. Ramsey is buying into a false narrative, one that we have debunked over and over and over again here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home in our “So What CAN You Do With a History Major?” series and in Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past? He also assumes that history is a “career” and not a course of study that contributes to ways of thinking that can be useful in all kinds of fields.
Majoring in history is not only a wise decision if you are interested in making the world a better place, but it is also a good economic decision, even if you need to take out a student loan.
There other implications to Ramsey’s tirade. Most of Ramsey’s listeners are evangelical Christians. By telling parents not to let their kids leave the state or attend a private institution, Ramsey undercuts evangelical Christian colleges. In essence, he is saying that a Christian college is not worth it if you cannot pay the full tuition. If this logic were to be put into practice Christian colleges would close. Most students do not pay full tuition. Parents who send their kids to these schools believe that it is worth taking out a loan for their children to get a faith-based education. In his next episode, I want Ramsey to be more specific and tell his audience that it is “stupid” if they send their kids to an evangelical college unless they can pay for it.
Ramsey also unwittingly undercuts the religious liberty arguments made by California Christian colleges in the face of the proposed bill (which has now been tabled) that would not have allowed students who attend Christian colleges to receive state loans because these colleges take traditional views on marriage and homosexuality. In response to this bill the presidents of California Christian colleges argued that struggling poor and lower-middle class families could not receive a Christian education without these loans. The premise behind this argument was that a Christian college education has benefits that go beyond student debt and economic considerations.
Sadly, a lot of evangelical Christians think all of Ramsey’s financial advice came down from Mount Sinai.