The Case against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money

By | January 15, 2018
The Case against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money

Why we need to stop wasting public funds on education

Despite being immensely popular–and immensely lucrative―education is grossly overrated. In this explosive book, Bryan Caplan argues that the primary function of education is not to enhance students’ skill but to certify their intelligence, work ethic, and conformity―in other words, to signal the qualities of a good employee. Learn why students hunt for easy As and casually forget most of what they learn after the final exam, why decades of growing access to education have not resulted in better jobs for the average worker but instead in runaway credential inflation, how employers reward workers for costly schooling they rarely if ever use, and why cutting education spending is the best remedy.

Caplan draws on the latest social science to show how the labor market values grades over knowledge, and why the more education your rivals have, the more you need to impress employers. He explains why graduation is our society’s top conformity signal, and why even the most useless degrees can certify employability. He advocates two major policy responses. The first is educational austerity. Government needs to sharply cut education funding to curb this wasteful rat race. The second is more vocational education, because practical skills are more socially valuable than teaching students how to outshine their peers.

Romantic notions about education being “good for the soul” must yield to careful research and common sense―The Case against Education points the way.

2 thoughts on “The Case against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money

  1. pascal
    15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    A Radical Book Supported by Empirical Evidence, January 24, 2018

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    This review is from: The Case against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money (Hardcover)
    Professor Caplan makes a persuasive case against the status quo in education policy. There is no doubt that this book will be controversial for its radical conclusions about the efficacy of education spending in K-12 and higher education, but the empirical evidence appears to lend strong support for signaling as the primary use of education.
  2. Clay Garner
    49 of 59 people found the following review helpful
    5.0 out of 5 stars
    “To stir men’s blood. I only speak right on; I tell you that which you yourselves do know.’’ —Shakespeare, Julius Caesar (285), January 17, 2018
    Clay Garner (Hanford, CA United States) –

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    “For I have neither wit, nor words, nor worth,
    Action, nor utterance, nor the power of speech,
    To stir men’s blood. I only speak right on;
    I tell you that which you yourselves do know.’’
    —Shakespeare, Julius Caesar (285)

    Well. . .I think Caplan ‘will stir men’s blood’ with this work. Why?

    ‘I say what you already know’! What! How insulting!

    Caplan’s conclusion is that ‘higher education’ serves as ‘signal’ for employers, and does not serve the educated. Why?

    “From the standpoint of most teachers, right up to and including the level of teachers of college undergraduates, the ideal student is well behaved, unaggressive, docile, patient, meticulous, and empathetic in the sense of intuiting the response to the teacher that is most likely to please the teacher.’’ (14)
    —Richard Posner

    ‘Signal’ for perfect corporate ball-bearing, round and round with no squeaking! Why so valuable to business?

    “The road to academic success is paved with the trinity of intelligence, conscientiousness, and conformity. The stronger your academic record, the greater employers’ confidence you have the whole package. Why do employers seek this package? Because the road to academic success and the road to job success are paved with the same materials. An intelligent worker learns quickly and deeply. A conscientious worker labors until the job’s done right. A conformist worker obeys superiors and cooperates with teammates. If you lack the right stuff to succeed in school, you probably lack the right stuff to succeed in the labor market.’’ (18)

    Right! Well . . .

    What about just the wonderful goal of – just ‘teaching how to think’?

    “Transfer researchers usually begin their careers as idealists. Before studying educational psychology, they take their power to “teach students how to think” for granted.’’

    Who wouldn’t?

    “When they discover the professional consensus against transfer, they think they can overturn it. Eventually, though, young researchers grow sadder and wiser. The scientific evidence wears them down—and their firsthand experience as educators finishes the job. Hear the pedagogical odyssey of psychologist Douglas Detterman:

    When I began teaching, I thought it was important to make things as hard as possible for students so they would discover the principles for themselves. I thought the discovery of principles was a fundamental skill that students needed to learn and transfer to new situations. Now I view education, even graduate education, as the learning of information.’’

    How did he adjust to the real classroom, with actual students?

    “I try to make it as easy for students as possible. Where before I was ambiguous about what a good paper was, I now provide examples of the best papers from past classes. Before, I expected students to infer the general conclusion from specific examples. Now I provide the general conclusion and support it with specific examples. In general, I subscribe to the principle that you should teach people exactly what you want them to learn in a situation as close as possible to the one in which the learning will be applied. I don’t count on transfer and I don’t try to promote it except by explicitly pointing out where taught skills may be applied.’’ (58)

    Who can deny it?

    CHAPTER 1 -The Magic of Education
    CHAPTER 2 -The Puzzle Is Real: The Ubiquity of Useless Education
    CHAPTER 3 -The Puzzle Is Real: The Handsome Rewards of Useless Education
    CHAPTER 4 -The Signs of Signaling: In Case You’re Still Not Convinced
    CHAPTER 5 -Who Cares If It’s Signaling? The Selfish Return to Education
    CHAPTER 6 -We Care If It’s Signaling: The Social Return to Education
    CHAPTER 7 -The White Elephant in the Room: We Need Lots Less Education
    CHAPTER 8 – We Need More Vocational Education
    CHAPTER 9 -Nourishing Mother: Is Education Good for the Soul?
    CHAPTER 10 -Five Chats on Education and Enlightenment

    One fantastic, fascinating, marvelous feature . . .

    “Though I can heed everyone, I cannot please everyone. Rather than try to placate any one faction, this chapter brings them all together for a battle royale.’’

    ‘’The following dialogues are inspired by three decades of arguments about education. I’m the only real character. The rest are archetypes, composites—though hopefully not caricatures—of my favorite critics. The Cast –

    Bryan Caplan, professor of economics at George Mason University. Highest credential: Ph.D. in economics from Princeton University.
    James Cooper, freshman at the University of Kansas; major: undeclared. Highest credential: diploma from Topeka High School.
    Frederick Dodd, columnist for the Wall Street Journal, blogger for the Chronicle of Higher Education. Highest credential: M.A. in journalism from New York…

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