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The Case Against Education

Bryan Caplan

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Education is all about signalling. Gives employers an idea of how productive you'd be.

For one person, getting a better education gets you a better job. But if everybody got a better education, wd everybody get a better job>

Ed is a strange industry. English is the international language of business, but students spend years learning Spanish, or even French. Few jobs require higher maths, but at least 80% of students suffer through geometry. Students study history for years, but history teachers are the only ones alive who will use history on the job. Required coursework is totally ill-suited to students' needs.

Ivory Tower guys tell you education is about "broadening horizons". But that is really just a synonym for another subject they'll never use in real life.

Not only do schools teach lots of stuff that is completely irrelevant, they don't teach the things people actually need - strategies for breaking into new areas; negotiating and persuasion skills; job satisfaction.

Author is an economics professor. He decides that topics such as the marketfor marriage and the economics of the Mafia are good ways o teach economics. These have nothing to do with making the student a better manager or salesman, but bc he decides thesetopics are worth teaching, employers decide that students who fail his course are not worth interviewing.

The signalling model is a special case of statistical discrimination. Older people pay more for life and health insurance bc they die earlier and have more expensive needs than young people. Cab drivers prefer to pick up a guy in a suit rather than a guy in gang colours bc the latter is more likely to rob him.

When you apply for a job, you send an array of signals - haircut, clothes, punctuality, polite language. But your personal educational signal is overwhelmingly impt, even though everyone knows your book learning won't comeup on the job.

From teacher's POV, ideal student is well-behaved, docile, patirnt, meticulous and 'empathic' in the sense of understanding what teacher wants. The modern ideal worker is a team player, deferntial to superiors, easy to work with, dresses conservatively and avoids sexist or racist talk or behaviour.

So the three traits valued by both education indy and by bosses: intelligence, conscientiousness and conformity (ie they can learn quickly, they will labour until job is properly done, and they obey superiors and cooperate with teammates).

There are plenty of other ways to signal the trinity, but education quals provide it in a package. This is Catch-22; a self-reinforcing prophecy. Employers notice the link bt success at school an success at work, so they use ed as a filter for job applicants. If good uncredentialled workers are rare, employers ignore the possibility of their existence. Talented, motivated people notice that and so they devote ts to ed success. And so the frequency of talented, motivated people without a strong academic record falls even further, tightening the link bt success at school and success at work.

If you want the job market to recognize your abilities, and most of the people who share your abilities hold a credential, then you'd better earn one too. Otherwise employers won't take you seriously enoughto give you a chance.

An Ivy League degree costs tens of thousands of dollars, but if you want, you can get it for free - no-one will stop you attending classes. But of course, you won't get a diploma, so from employers POV, your ed is worthless. You won't get a foot in the door to prove the value of your education.

Our education system rests on educators' conceit - the self-serving line that when we teach students whatever interests us, they durably acquire whatever skills they need to succeed in life.

Looked at IQ scores of 100,000 Swedish 18 yos. They found that ed raised scores on synonym and tech comprehension tests without raising scores on spatial and logic tests. ie education improves some specific skills without actually increasing intelligence at all.

SF story Flowers For Alernon a retarded man given treatment which raises his IQ to genius level., but the transformation is tragically short-lived. yet life mirrors art. It's easy to raise kids IQ with intensive teaching, but it fades and reverts to the mean. See this in the 'summer learning loss' that Am students suffer - regress about 1 month for every 3 they have off, and the older the student, the steeper the loss. As Amy Chua in Tiger Mom said, "Every day you don't practice isaday you're getting worse".

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