When I worked at my parents' store last summer, I'd bring along something to read to pass the time. I'd read stuff with "metaphysics," or "epistemology" in the title. Customers would come in and ask me what I'm studying in school. I'd tell them that I'm studying philosophy. There'd be a five second silence before they would inevitably ask, "What do you study in philosophy?"
I realized that this question is extraordinarily difficult to answer when the person who's asking barely finished high school, and the vast majority of my parents' customers fell into that category. Most anything that one would study, no matter how abstruse, can always be generalized into something familiar. Quantum mechanics can be restated as "physics," Hellenistic archaeology could be translated as "history," and Victorian literature can be described as "English." However, "philosophy" is about as general as you can get, and even there people are in the dark about what that is. It seems that very few public primary and secondary schools would have a class that would even remotely resemble a philosophy class. So people really have no way of even formulating an adequate concept of philosophy, much less finding any value in the subject.
The situation improves somewhat for people with a college education, but not by much. At this point, individuals have something of an idea of what philosophy is. They may have even taken a few courses. But for the most part, people still find no value in the study of philosophy. The number one question I get from these folks is, "What are you going to do with a philosophy degree?" Some may ask this question with the sincere intention of finding out what philosophers do in the real world, but most ask in that tone of voice implying that philosophy is about at useful for life as a call to Miss Cleo is.
However, others may be pleased to find out that I study philosophy, and, thinking themselves to be conversant in philosophy will then ask me some question like who my favorite philosophers are. They're expecting to hear names like Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Descartes, Locke, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Nietzche, etc. I proceed to drop names like Saul Kripke, Alvin Plantinga, David Lewis, Brian Leftow, Ted Sider, John Hawthorne, Dean Zimmerman, Rod Chisholm, Willard Quine, Peter van Inwagen, Trenton Merricks, Lynne Rudder Baker, etc. Of course after I say this we again find ourselves in those five seconds of silence.
It's not like these names are obscure, either. Imagine someone (we'll name him Bob) who's only contact with basketball is some book about the history of basketball. You, as a basketball fan, happen to find yourself in a casual, dinner party conversation wth Bob. Bob asks you who your favorite basketball players are. He's expecting to hear names like George Mikan, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, etc. You give him names like Lebron James, Steve Nash, Dwayne Wade, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzski, Shaquile O'Neal, etc. The situation is analogous in philosophy. Grad students follow philosophers like professional athletes. We should make philosopher trading cards.
Of course the interested individual mentioned above may, instead of asking about my favorite philosophers, ask about the kind of philosophy I study. Again, what this person may be expecting to hear will likely be very different from what I am about to tell him/her. Most people don't realize that the type of philosophy that I study is closer to physics, math and linguistics than it is to guys wearing togas and shooting the shit around the agora.
The point of all this is to reveal the prominent gap between the layperson and the professional when it comes to familiarity about what philosophy is and what it is supposed to do. I attribute this gap to the fact that philosophy is nowhere to be seen in elementary, middle, or high schools. Why is this? Why don't they teach philosophy in schools? It's not like biology, american history, shakespeare, or trigonometry will be "practical" to those who will find careers in middle management or customer service. So why not teach kids to think independently at an early age?