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

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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 casuall 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.


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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 casuall 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.

30 review for The Case Against Education: Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money

  1. 4 out of 5

    Dan Graser

    I consider it important to read genuine works of scholarship that present an opinion or position that is diametrically opposed to my own, especially as pertains to my profession in collegiate-level education. Thus reading a book called, "The Case Against Education," is an important activity in that it potentially will reveal facts and opinions that might not be comfortable to come to terms with but are nevertheless genuine and potentially position-shifting. However, this is anecdotal, frustrated, I consider it important to read genuine works of scholarship that present an opinion or position that is diametrically opposed to my own, especially as pertains to my profession in collegiate-level education. Thus reading a book called, "The Case Against Education," is an important activity in that it potentially will reveal facts and opinions that might not be comfortable to come to terms with but are nevertheless genuine and potentially position-shifting. However, this is anecdotal, frustrated, reductionist, extremist tripe that will change no one's opinions and will only serve to further entrench those on the many sides of the educational divide and create conflict where there is none. The positions arrived at are so extreme (complete separation of government funding from public education with no voucher system, relaxing child-labor laws, etc...) that even an independent with libertarian leanings like myself can't help but wonder what has happened to professor Caplan to publish such a work so divorced from reality and genuinely empty of helpful suggestions. This is not a step forward, it's an abandonment of responsibility to find solutions to the few genuine problems identified. I do accept that there is a certain amount of conformity/credibility signaling, especially in higher education, as opposed to genuine educational credibility that a degree will provide. He puts this at 80/20, again an extreme take that seems to be based on a myopic view presented anecdotally with his own students and experiences with faculty colleagues. I also agree that vocational schooling should be seen as a fine option for those who at a younger age know the field they wish to enter, have a realistic path to gainful employment, and wish to do so in the most cost-effective manner possible. If you wish to do so, no one should think less of you. If you wish to enter a position you know requires a Bachelors degree, you should know what you're getting into. If you're entering a field that requires a Doctorate, you REALLY should know what you're getting into. There's no judgment there and you are responsible for the choices you make regarding your education and profession. When the deck is stacked against you but you have further ambitions, there should be something in place to assist those who are by no fault of their own and by accident of birth, placed at a disadvantage. So having indicated the few marginal spots of this scattershot tract with which I agree I'm tempted to leave it there in the interest of diplomacy...but I just can't help myself. P. 7: "History teachers are almost the only people alive who use history on the job." This is about the most incredibly stupid thing I have read about the use of history in humanity (not the Humanities, humanity). If you have never been required to think historically in your position then you are an exception, not the majority. P. 13: "Do students need to understand the market for marriage, the economics of the Mafia, or the self-interested voter hypothesis to be a competent manager, banker, or salesman? No. But because I decide these subjects are worth teaching, employers decide students who fail my class aren't worth interviewing." If you know these subjects are not helpful to your students, and are a tenured professor with quite a bit of freedom as to what you teach, why the hell did you choose these topics? This is not the fault of the "Ivory Tower" it's yours for being an idiot and choosing useless topics. Then on page 57 you say, "I strive to teach my students how to "think like economists," to connect lectures to the real world and daily life." You JUST SAID 40 pages ago that you explicitly do not do this! Which is it? P. 34: "Foreign languages are all but useless in the American economy. Thanks to immigration, employers have a built-in pool of native speakers of almost every living language." Nevermind the brilliance of suggesting not to train bilingual linguists because there are already bilingual linguists, he's decided to ignore all of the jobs available for American trained linguists everywhere outside the American economy. P. 53: Caplan shows a graph that accurate shows that students, over the course of four year studies in high school, undergraduate, and then graduate education respectively and individually, rarely leave after four years with much of a change in overall reasoning. Fair enough. However what the graph also shows, which he conveniently ignores, is that over the course of this education from high school through graduate studies, their reasoning scores more than DOUBLE! P. 79: "Identical twins with different educations DON'T have identical ability; the more educated twin is usually the smarter twin." Yup, and this completely undercuts the point you were making before this casual remark which represents dozens of fascinating twin studies on the subject. P. 120: "The vast majority of modern jobs use little math and virtually no science." Completely false and the study you cite does not say that, it suggests that the subjects covered in early math and science are not heavily used on a daily basis, not the general notion you spew here. P. 123: "We sit in class, learn some material, the get jobs teaching the very material we studied. Professors can acquire human capital by recycling our old professors' lecture notes." You can, I supposed, if you really are terrible at your job and operate in a discipline where nothing is ever contributed epistemologically. P. 180: "Children of college graduates enjoy far more academic success." True, and your notion of telling people who are academically in the middle of the curve to not attend college at all because of lack of gain on investment completely ignores any calculation of future generations' benefit (potentially huge) as a part of this calculation. P. 200: A bloated figure for how much the US spends on education but he is still correct, we outspend many countries who get far better educational outcomes. His solution, eliminate it all, thus ignoring any of the models that more successful countries have adopted. Extremist position with no basis in policy, brilliant stuff "professor." P. 216: If you don't believe me about his extremist position, here it is. P. 247: "High culture requires extra mental effort to appreciate - and most humans resent mental effort." Wow, condescending prick. And even if you buy into that notion at a uselessly general level, provide a solution as opposed to abandoning the idea. You state high culture is important and a better experience yet you have no interest in helping others to appreciate that. That's about as intellectually lazy as you can get, "professor." As pertains to the opinions expressed about the arts and music disciplines I will borrow a quote from a favorite author of mine when debating an ignoramus, "You give me the awful impression of being the sort of person who has never read an opinion counter to yours."

  2. 5 out of 5

    Byrne

    Bryan Caplan’s new book has provoked a storm of criticism, from both laypeople and fellow economists. Fortunately, Caplan has taken the time to rebut his opponents, point-by-point. He put these rebuttals into a book called The Case Against Education, and I recommend his critics read it. Before I get going, I should admit that I'm biased: I'm a college dropout who has a white-collar job. If everyone thought like Caplan did, I would make a lot more money. On the other hand, it's not like this bias Bryan Caplan’s new book has provoked a storm of criticism, from both laypeople and fellow economists. Fortunately, Caplan has taken the time to rebut his opponents, point-by-point. He put these rebuttals into a book called The Case Against Education, and I recommend his critics read it. Before I get going, I should admit that I'm biased: I'm a college dropout who has a white-collar job. If everyone thought like Caplan did, I would make a lot more money. On the other hand, it's not like this bias affects anything important: of all the ways I could spend time trying to get a raise, arranging a wholesale shift in our culture is not at the top of the list. Also, Caplan has a stronger bias in the opposite direction: he's a tenured professor. If everyone read his book and took it seriously, he'd lose his dream job. So motivations won't help you figure out who to believe. You'll have to figure out what's right, instead. Fortunately, Caplan makes that pretty easy! The book basically makes the case that: 1. Education mostly signals traits, rather than building them. Specifically, school signals intelligence, conscientiousness, and conformity, all of which employers want in their workers. The education wage premium is real, but most of it would exist even if we didn't have as much schooling. 2. Education largely fails at its intended goals, both at training people with practical skills and enriching their lives. 3. If you accept 1 and 2, it's pretty much guaranteed that society spends too much time and money on education. We should reduce or eliminate subsidies, and probably tax it, too. There's a fun meta component to this: one of Caplan's workhorse arguments is the absence of "learning transfer," or the ability to apply an academic concept in an unfamiliar setting. A class can spend weeks on trigonometry, but ask students to explain why Eratosthenes' trick worked and they'll stare at you blankly. And some of the people who read this book have the same problem: they'll buy into the idea that school doesn't instill the traits it takes credit for, but if you ask them to follow the obvious inference--that we as a society shouldn't spend so much money on school--then poof! the lesson is forgotten. In fact, if I could level one criticism at the book, it would be that Caplan doesn't go far enough. He says college is still a good deal for good students, and statistically, that's true. But let's temporarily grant his argument and say that college signals IQ, conscientiousness, and conformity. There are (he concedes) other ways to signal the first two. You could solve Project Euler problems, write a novel, join the army, be a snappy dresser who shows up on time and answers emails before 5am, etc. But you can't prove conformity except by doing what everybody else does to conform. Conformity is important to employers. But is it getting more important, or less? And is it more important for the good jobs, or the not-so-good jobs. A very conformist bond trader is not going to make any money. A conformist product manager or engineer isn't going to help your startup land the killing blow against Kmpttr or ThatOtherCompany.io. Fast food companies hire lots of conscientious, conformist workers--but they roll off assembly lines in Shenzhen and display menu options on a touchscreen. Education is a 40-year bet on the future of the labor market. Over that time period, do you really want to bet against robots? Personally, I loved the book's style. It's basically an FAQ with all of the questions deleted. Caplanraises an argument, marshals supporting evidence, admits it when his confidence interval is wider than usual, and cites mountains of evidence. He's also full of good lines that made the book extra fun to read: >When students celebrate the absence of education, it's tempting to blame their myopia on immaturity. Tempting, but wrongheaded. Once they're in college, myopic, immature students can unilaterally skip class whenever they like. Why wait for the teacher's green light? For most students, there's an obvious answer: When you skip class, your relative performance suffers. When your teacher cancels class, everyone learns less ,leaving your relative performance unimpaired. > Both sculptors and appraisers have the power to raise the market value of apiece of stone. On the idea that schools teach students "how to learn" or give them an appreciation for high culture: >"We're mediocre at teaching what we measure, but great at teaching what we don't measure" is comically convenient... Should we believe teachers are better at achieving unmeasured afterthoughts? >Incidentally, the marriage market is probably the strongest reason to pay for expensive private schools. Going to Harvard may not get you a better job but almost certainly puts you in an exclusive dating pool for life. Seriously, the whole book is full of lines like this. Caplan makes a strong empirical and theoretical case against education, backs it up well, and presents it in style. This book won't affect public policy, though. Most people won't read it, and plenty of people who read it won't get it. It makes me wish there were some institution charged with encouraging young people to become lifelong readers, encouraging them to think analytically, and molding them into engaged citizens who work hard to advance good public policies. Oh well.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Lucraft

    Half way through this book I thought “ok I’m convinced, no need to go on about it”. By the time I finished it I felt as though every opinion I had on education had been reshaped. For instance, the other day I watched a YouTube video discussing how to use gamification to increase engagement in schools and help kids learn more more easily. This would have seemed like a great policy with no downsides to me before, but now seems like a way to dramatically increase the amount of learning and work kids Half way through this book I thought “ok I’m convinced, no need to go on about it”. By the time I finished it I felt as though every opinion I had on education had been reshaped. For instance, the other day I watched a YouTube video discussing how to use gamification to increase engagement in schools and help kids learn more more easily. This would have seemed like a great policy with no downsides to me before, but now seems like a way to dramatically increase the amount of learning and work kids have to do to appear impressive to colleges and employers, and they’re still going to forget most of it. Of course, this is the definition of a book that’s NOT going to change the world — because a politician would have to have the IQ of a cucumber to even ADMIT he’d READ this book. But as a reader you can still get out of it some personal lessons on the _precise_ personal value of education out of it, which is useful. The author is a libertarian, and this has led him to make libertarian suggestions for addressing the problem. Worrying about this is missing the point of the book, as there are plenty of alternative possible policies not related to libertarian ideas. (My favourite to consider would be for the UK government to reduce the length of a degree to one year, for all students. Perfectly in line with Caplan’s ideas, but not at all libertarian.)

  4. 4 out of 5

    Adelaide Mcginnity

    I hate to give this book a bad rating. For one, I agree wholeheartedly with his general thesis; education's value is most certainly less about what you know and more about the piece of paper that claims that you know it. I also agree that society could benefit greatly from spending less on education, and that credential inflation and lack of vocational programming in secondary schools are critical problems. I even agree with some of his solutions; I fully support, for instance, his view that col I hate to give this book a bad rating. For one, I agree wholeheartedly with his general thesis; education's value is most certainly less about what you know and more about the piece of paper that claims that you know it. I also agree that society could benefit greatly from spending less on education, and that credential inflation and lack of vocational programming in secondary schools are critical problems. I even agree with some of his solutions; I fully support, for instance, his view that college tuition should increase to discourage marginal students from attending. Even when I disagree - such as with his measures to completely privatize the K-12 education system - I still admire his willingness to state his position. The nit-picks I have with his arguments are relatively insignificant: for instance, I think he understates the social value of education as a babysitter, and of school as a place to make friends and learn human social interactions. But there is no mincing words. This book is bad. It is badly written and badly structured. The prose is incredibly repetitive, repeating the same arguments over and over again until the brain goes numb. The various chapters end abruptly without any sense of closure, and have the bad habit of referencing arguments to be made in the future or anecdotal details that were made in previous chapters. Caplan's prose is mediocre at best, and often comes off as snooty and condescending towards his audience. In all, this book read like a good 10,000 word essay that was expanded unnecessarily into a full book. Until I got to chapter 10, I was going to swallow my distaste for the writing style and structure and give the book three stars for its ideas. But then I read chapter 10, where Caplan composes a set of five dialogues between himself and a bunch of strawmen, either as a cheap way of recapitulating an already repetitive book, or stoke his ego that he can dominate a debate against himself while taking the position he supports. This is inexcusable. That such a chapter was even written reflects poorly on Caplan's ego and his estimate of his reader's intelligence. That such a chapter made it by an editor is damning. Why wasn't this section removed? It adds nothing other than more groans from the already disgusted reader. If I had this reaction as someone predisposed to like Caplan's arguments, I can only imagine what the reaction of someone predisposed to hate his arguments might think.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Don

    I read it so you don't have to. Some useful information for the current debate topic, but it was hard to take this libertarian screed against education too seriously. And that was before I got to the chapter that calls for relaxed regulations on child labor.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Shawn

    Bryan Caplan’s new book is a devastating and depressing take down of the education system. Caplan argues that the education system does little to educate and that most of the gains we see from education are not linked to what students may learn. If he’s right, then most of the current education system (K-12, higher ed) is a colossal waste. There are, nevertheless, important liberating elements (at least for me as a higher ed teacher). There is a lot Caplan covers, and I won’t touch on most of it Bryan Caplan’s new book is a devastating and depressing take down of the education system. Caplan argues that the education system does little to educate and that most of the gains we see from education are not linked to what students may learn. If he’s right, then most of the current education system (K-12, higher ed) is a colossal waste. There are, nevertheless, important liberating elements (at least for me as a higher ed teacher). There is a lot Caplan covers, and I won’t touch on most of it here. I’m going to focus on a few key things that struck me as the most important and interesting. Agree with his conclusions or not, Caplan presents us with an important argument about education with which we need to deal. Refreshingly, he’s very open with the data and even provides links to the spreadsheets for people to play with the data and assumptions themselves. One gets the sense he would love to be disproved about the disvalue of education. First, the devastation and depression. The basic theme of the book is this: college graduates, on average, earn 73% more than high school graduates and Caplan wants to explain this earning premium. It needs explaining because, as he argues, very little of it seems to be tied to what college graduates learn in college. The view that the premium is tied to the training and skills learned in college is what Caplan calls the Human Capital view. You go to college, learn a bunch of stuff, and this makes it so you are more likely to be hired into a good job and earn more. Caplan argues that this conventional view is largely mistaken on a few counts: students don’t learn that much or remember much of what they do learn; and what they learn is not usually a skill relevant for the job. (If you are skeptical of this, read the book and evaluate his data and arguments.) One of the things that has convinced me that the human capital view is not accurate is that college dropouts are not in a much better position (for hiring and earning) than high school graduates. For example, at ASU you need 120 credits to graduate. If you earn 119 credits but skip that last credit hour, your hiring and earning potential is just slightly better than the high school graduate with 0 college credits. That’s hard to square with the human capital view. You earned 99% of the degree and so if the college premium was due to what you learn you should be a lot closer to the college graduate than the high school graduate. Unless, as Caplan quips, we teach all the important skills in that last credit hour. Caplan shows that a huge chunk of the college premium is just having the degree—not what you learn while getting the degree. This is the Signaling view. The college degree signals important information to potential employers about your employability: intelligence, conformity, and conscientiousness (discipline, work effort, punctuality). Crossing the finish line of the diploma takes some reasonable amount of intelligence. Going to (and graduating from) a traditional four-year college shows your willingness to conform to social norms and expectations. Lastly, it shows, at a minimum, that you were able to follow enough directions and show up to class on time enough that you were able to pass enough classes to get the degree. Caplan argues that these signals make up about 80% of the college earning premium. One might say, ok, fine signaling is most of the premium, but education is still worthwhile because it broaden student’s horizons, awakes them to new possibilities, spurs the imagination beyond the mundane, and teaches them deeper thinking and conceptual skills that they can use to become better citizens and human beings. Caplan’s response: Wishful thinking. That’s want we education to be. It’s what for academics like myself and Caplan it partly was. It’s just not what it is for most people. For most students: they don’t want to be there and they aren’t prepared to be there. And even so, their horizons and imaginations don’t actually get broadened all that much anyway. Caplan acknowledges that this sounds cynical and elitist. But, as he argues, it is about what the data shows. Maybe a different education system could fulfill the broadening horizons myth, but education in this world and in this structure doesn’t even come close. Based on my near two decades of teaching in universities, I’d have to agree. I like to think I’m expanding student’s horizons and improving their thinking; that I’m exposing them to new and exciting ideas. And there are a few students for whom this is true. But most just ask if it is going to be on the test and can we get out of class early. Maybe I’m just a crappy teacher or have mediocre students. But Caplan’s data suggests otherwise: no matter the teacher or the school this is the norm. In this way this is depressing: what is the point of my job? Am I just wasting my time? But it is also liberating. It frees me to focus on the students and ideas in the here and now. It’s not about job prep or their future: it’s about engaging ideas with students who are interested right now. I can focus on what I find exciting and cool. The students who are also engaged can come along. Those who aren’t, aren’t really missing out on anything important to them. They can just move along the signal chain on to something that does interest them. One of the counters to his critique that Caplan looks at is this. Sure, students aren’t going to use categorical syllogisms on the job or find much use outside of history for learning how to interpret original historical sources. But the abstract thinking skills they learn when doing these things is something that will be important in their lives and jobs. It’s hard to teach these abstract thinking skills directly, but they can be picked up by studying logic, history, chemistry, etc. Call this the abstract thinking argument. It’s an argument I’ve made in the past when trying to sell students on philosophy. Caplan looks at the education psychological literature and argues that there just isn’t any empirical evidence for the abstract thinking argument. I’m not that convinced he’s right on this. Now, I haven’t look at this literature, but based on the what Caplan says about it, I’m not sure it works to show the abstract thinking argument doesn’t work. He looks at what is called “transfer of knowledge.” Do students who learn the scientific method, use the scientific method outside the contexts in which they learn it? In other words, do they transfer the method over from their chemistry classes to using it outside of chemistry? The evidence, Caplan says, is no, they don’t. And that might be true (I see versions of this in which students don’t use the writing skills they learn in composition classes in other non-composition classes such as my philosophy classes). But this seems different from the abstract thinking argument. The transfer of knowledge evidence seems to be about specific skills or methods. But I’m not sure it applies to learning abstract processes of thought like logical thinking. Here’s an analogy. You learn dribbling in soccer and that isn’t applicable outside of soccer. But running as a skill is broad athletic skill that is used across many sports (and beyond). I am concerned that what Caplan has shown is that dribbling is not transferable but then using that as the claim that there is no evidence that running is transferable. If abstract thinking skills are more like running with wide usage, then Caplan’s evidence misses the mark. The policy implications of Caplan’s book are intriguing. The most important one, I think, is the need to develop and encourage different pathways for students. There are students for whom the traditional college experience is perfect: they will succeed at it, enjoy it, and reap the benefits from it. But it is not and should not be the path for all. Apprenticeships, technical education, and vocational education are other options that would serve the needs and interests of many more people—and have greater payoff for the broader society and not just the individual who is better able to get a job and earning a living. There is a lot in Caplan’s book that is worth looking at and thinking about it. Some of which is probably wrong. I surely don’t agree with all his arguments or interpretations of the data. What I think is most important about the book is that it calls for us to look at education as it is, not what we wish or hope it to be. If we want to get education to what we wish it could be, we have to deal with the reality of the current system and not pretend it is something else. Caplan calls himself an educational whistleblower. His whistleblowing will, I hope, lead to more conversations, and more realistic conversations, about education.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Mehrsa

    This is what happens when you apply cost/benefit-efficiency-neoliberal econ to areas where it has no business being applied. I agree with Caplan that the cost-benefit of an education are not great. Better to go into a trade or even learn poetry from Youtube. If your goal in life is to maximize income for the least amount of costs, then avoid college by all means. But as with most neoliberal theory, it assumes too much. Caplan doesn't get to set the terms of what is a good life? I don't know a so This is what happens when you apply cost/benefit-efficiency-neoliberal econ to areas where it has no business being applied. I agree with Caplan that the cost-benefit of an education are not great. Better to go into a trade or even learn poetry from Youtube. If your goal in life is to maximize income for the least amount of costs, then avoid college by all means. But as with most neoliberal theory, it assumes too much. Caplan doesn't get to set the terms of what is a good life? I don't know a soul who didn't enjoy college. I loved my english major and chem minor. Granted, I went to an inexpensive school and it's ridiculous to go into debt and our college system is way too expensive. But let's fix it--more community colleges and state schools, lower costs, more access. Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater. If you want to read about fixing schools, Louis Menand has a great book about that and there is a lot of great scholarship about fixing student debt. But Caplan takes the world as is and then builds this utopia of craftsmen and autodidacts who will teach themselves aristotilian philosophy. More likely, they'll just be sucked into an Alex Jones or Q Anon rabbit hole online without a college education.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Aloke

    I give this five stars but not because I fully agree with Caplan. He makes a lot of compelling points but even he admits that he's an extremist. I think he has proved that we unthinkingly accept a lot of strange things about the education system and that we should be more skeptical. (Maybe it is just me but I felt like I got some double takes when people saw the cover of this book on the subway) This book also gave me a useful lens for understanding news stories, like the recent admissions scand I give this five stars but not because I fully agree with Caplan. He makes a lot of compelling points but even he admits that he's an extremist. I think he has proved that we unthinkingly accept a lot of strange things about the education system and that we should be more skeptical. (Maybe it is just me but I felt like I got some double takes when people saw the cover of this book on the subway) This book also gave me a useful lens for understanding news stories, like the recent admissions scandal, and proposals for education reform. I also enjoy his writing style and would recommend his other books which are all a bit controversial. This long podcast of Caplan discussing the book with Robert Wiblin is a good overview of the book and includes his response to some of the criticisms: https://80000hours.org/podcast/episod...

  9. 4 out of 5

    Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin

    Reading this author is like reading Nietzsche for me. At moments I intuitively agree with the author's insight. Other times the author strikes me as a neanderthal defending oligarchy and plutocracy. I often feel this way about libertarians. They see a piece of the picture but only a piece and then take their worldview off the rails. I get that most of what we learn in school is for signaling and not building up skills. I get credential inflation and treadmill it creates forcing people to sit in Reading this author is like reading Nietzsche for me. At moments I intuitively agree with the author's insight. Other times the author strikes me as a neanderthal defending oligarchy and plutocracy. I often feel this way about libertarians. They see a piece of the picture but only a piece and then take their worldview off the rails. I get that most of what we learn in school is for signaling and not building up skills. I get credential inflation and treadmill it creates forcing people to sit in classrooms for bigger chunks of their lives just to get a credential that makes them look good to employers. I get that most students are bored with school and hate the experience but are compelled to jump through academic hoops for economic reasons. Kaplan has a big chunk of the picture of the education system and he is right it is probably bloated and overrated. Academic sifting is based on the idea of meritocracy and is based on positional goods and hierarchy much like our system. The author is right to point out that much of academia is a pointless rat race. I get the libertarian instinct as well to have the government leave one alone. But libertarians, while Pointing out the absurdities of government subsidies of education and its credential inflation and its pointless rat race, neglects that government isn't the only thing that won't leave people alone. Capitalism and its hierarchy and pursuit endless profit at the expense of employees won't leave ordinary workers alone. Libertarians look at one side of the coin state mandates and are quite fine with market perversities that make for rat races and conflicts much worse than educational credential inflation arms races. That is why I find libertarians so frustrating they see a piece of the whole and present a distorted picture and it usually is a picture that benefits those who do quite well already.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Alberto

    Terrible. I agree with the author that much of what passes for education today is in fact a complete waste of individual time and a misallocation of societal resources. The case needs to be made. But this book epically fails to make it. Much of it is simplistic, and the few good points are repeated ad nauseam. Mike Rowe does a much better job of making the case in a 30-second sound bite than this book does.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Sean Rosenthal

    Interesting Quotes: "Learning doesn't have to be useful. Learning doesn't have to be inspiring. When learning is neither useful nor inspirational, though, how can we call it anything but wasteful?" -Bryan Caplan, the Case Against Education: Why the Education System is a Waste of Time and Money ----------- "Popular support for education subsidies rests on the [fallacy of composition]. The person who gets more education, gets a better job. It works; you see it plainly. Yet it does not follow that if e Interesting Quotes: "Learning doesn't have to be useful. Learning doesn't have to be inspiring. When learning is neither useful nor inspirational, though, how can we call it anything but wasteful?" -Bryan Caplan, the Case Against Education: Why the Education System is a Waste of Time and Money ----------- "Popular support for education subsidies rests on the [fallacy of composition]. The person who gets more education, gets a better job. It works; you see it plainly. Yet it does not follow that if everyone gets more education, everyone gets a better job. In the signaling model, subsidizing everyone's schooling to improve our jobs is like urging everyone to stand up at a concert to improve our views. Both are 'smart for one, dumb for all.'" -Bryan Caplan, the Case Against Education: Why the Education System is a Waste of Time and Money ---------------------- "Now we're up to three broad traits that education signals: intelligence, conscientiousness, and conformity. We could easily extent this list: education also signals a prosperous family, cosmopolitan attitudes, and fondness for foreign films. For a profit-maximizing employer, however, the extensions are a distraction. The road to academic success is paved with the trinit of intelligence, conscientiousness, and conformity." -Bryan Caplan, the Case Against Education: Why the Education System is a Waste of Time and Money ---------------------- "By analogy, both sculptors and appraisers have the power to raise the market value of a piece of stone. The sculptor raises the market value of a piece of stone by *shaping* it. The appraiser raises the market value of a piece of stone by *judging* it. Teachers need to ask ourselves, 'How much of what we do is sculpting, and how much is appraising?' And if we won't ask ourselves, our alumni need to ask us." -Bryan Caplan, the Case Against Education: Why the Education System is a Waste of Time and Money ---------------------- "Transfer researchers usually begin their careers as idealists. Before studying educational psychology, they take their power to 'teach students how to think' for granted. 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 . . . "Though some educational psychologists deny that education *must* yield minimal transfer, almost all admit that actually existing education *does* yield minimal transfer. The upshot: human capital purists can't credibly dismiss the disconnect between what we learn in school and what we do on the job. Relevance is highly relevant. If what you learn in school lacks obvious real-world applications, you'll probably never apply it. When a rare opportunity to use trigonometry knocks, it knocks too faintly to hear. "The clash between teachers' grand claims about 'learning how to learn' and a century of careful research is jarring. Yet common sense skepticism is a shortcut to the expert consensus. Teachers' plea that 'we're mediocre at teaching what we measure, but great at teaching what we don't measure' is comically convenient. When someone insists their product has big, hard to see benefits, you should be dubious by default - especially when the easy-to-see benefits are small." -Bryan Caplan, the Case Against Education: Why the Education System is a Waste of Time and Money ---------------------- "*Most* of what schools teach has no value in the labor market. Students fail to learn *most* of what they're taught. Adults forget *most* of what they learn. When you mention these awkward facts, educators speak to you of miracles: studying anything makes you better at everything. Never mind educational psychologists' century of research exposing these so-called miracles as soothing myths." -Bryan Caplan, the Case Against Education: Why the Education System is a Waste of Time and Money -------------- "The clearest lesson: dropping out of high schools is imprudent for virtually all shapes and sizes. Even Poor Students who loathe school should foresee returns near 5%. Other lessons: Higher education is a good deal for Excellent Students even if they despise school. For Good Students, though, deep-seated hostility makes higher education a close call. The flip side: College is a so-so deal for Fair Students who truly love school. Otherwise, higher education for Fair and Poor Students is a hail-Mary pass. Unless they get lucky, they can better prepare for their future by getting a job and saving money. The master's degree, finally, is an okay deal for Excellent Students who adore school. Everyone else, beware." -Bryan Caplan, the Case Against Education: Why the Education System is a Waste of Time and Money ------------------ "Incidentally, the marriage market is probably the strongest reason to pay for expensive private schools. Going to Harvard may not get you a better job but almost certainly puts you in an exclusive dating pool for life. Admittedly thin research on this topic confirms the obvious: one research teams finds that *over* half of women's financial payoff for college quality comes via marriage. There is nothing counterintuitive about the id that schools improve your spouse more than they improve you. If you go to Harvard, you'll *be* the same person, but you'll *meet* the elite." -Bryan Caplan, the Case Against Education: Why the Education System is a Waste of Time and Money ---------------------- "In Carl Sagan's awestruck words, each galaxy holds 'billions upon billions' of stars. Yet out of the galaxy's countless solar systems, we see but one with life: our own. How can the galaxy fall so desolately short of its potential? Astronomer Frank Drake publicized an elegant equation to clarify the matter. It's called the Drake Equation. To simplify, the equation says the mind-boggling *requirements* for life must offset the mind-boggling *opportunities* for life. Humanity has the technology to speak to other worlds only because our solar system has a planet able to support life, because life in fact arose on this planet, because life evolved into intelligent life, because intelligent life developed the technology of interstellar communication, and because we've yet to destroy ourselves. We'll never speak to an alien civilization unless another solar system satisfies each and every one of these conditions. No wonder the cosmos looks so lonely. "In the right frame of mind, education statistics, too, inspire Saganian awe. Look at the lives of high school dropouts: their poverty, their joblessness, their attraction to crime. Compare that to the lives of college graduates with engineering degrees: their affluence, their devotion to their careers, their law-abiding ways. The distance between their lives is astronomical. Imagine the utopia our society would be after transforming every high school dropout into an engineer. Former Harvard president Derek Bok once quipped, 'If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.' With gains this massive, why fret about cost? "Because education's powers of social transformation are galactically overrated. The observed gap between, say, dropouts and engineers, is only one term in what could be called the Educational Drake Equation. For workers, education's social benefit equals the observed dropout-engineer gap, times the probability of successfully completing the education, times the fraction of the gap *not* due to preexisting ability differences, times the fraction of the gap *not* due to signaling. "Suppose the average engineer contributes, on balance, three times as much to society as the average dropout, but each of the other terms in the Educational Drake Equation equals 50%. Then education's true effect is the +200% observed gap, times the 50% completion rate, times the 50% not due to ability bias, times the 50% not due to signaling. Grand total: a mere +25%. "Why does my approach deliver unfashionably wretched social returns? Despite the gory details, it boils down to the Educational Drake Equation. I start with the same observed gaps as other education researchers. But my competitors - usually tacitly, occasionally explicitly - set every other term in the Educational Drake Equation to 100%. Everyone who starts school finishes, none of the gap is due to ability bias, none of the gap is due to signaling, and everyone works. This is like rounding all the terms in the original Drake Equation up to 100%, then announcing that our galaxy contains billions of advanced civilizations. Yes, the well-educated are model citizens - skilled, employed and law-abiding - but education is not a path to a model society. Indeed, plugging sensible numbers into the Educational Drake Equation shows the path to a model society starts with a U-Turn. Deep education cuts won't transform us, but we can work wonders with the billions upon billions of dollars we save." -Bryan Caplan, the Case Against Education: Why the Education System is a Waste of Time and Money -------------------------------------- "When I argue education is largely wasteful signaling, most listeners yield. Popular resistance doesn't kick in until I add, 'Let's waste less by cutting government spending on education.' You might think conceding the wastefulness of education spending would automatically entail support for austerity, but it doesn't. The typical reaction is to confidently state, 'Education budgets should be redirected, not reduced.' "Such confidence is misplaced. The discovery of wasteful spending does not magically reveal constructive alternatives. Prudence dictates a two-step response. Step 1: Stop wasting the resources. Step 2: Save those resources until you discover a good way to spend them. *Not* wasting resources is simple and speedy. Don't just stand there; do it. Finding good ways to use resources is complex and slow. Don't just do it; think it through. Remember: you can apply saved resources *anywhere*. Time and money wasted on education could pave roads, cure cancer, cut taxes, subsidize childbearing, pa down government debt before our Fiscal Day of Reckoning, or allow taxpayers to buy better homes, cars, meals, and vacations. "Suppose I prove your toenail fungus cream doesn't work. I counsel, 'Stop Wasting money on that worthless cream'. Would you demur, 'Not until we find a toenail fungus remedy that works'? No way. Finding a real remedy could be more trouble than it's worth. It might take forever. Continuing to waste money on quackery until a cure comes into your possession is folly. Saying, 'There *must* be a cure!' is childish and dogmatic. Maybe your toenails are a lost cause, and you should use the savings for a trip to Miami." -Bryan Caplan, the Case Against Education: Why the Education System is a Waste of Time and Money ------------------------------------- "Deregulate and destigmatize child labor. Early jobs are good for kids and good for society. Parental oversight isn't a perfect way to root out abuses, but we rely on it in virtually every other sphere of life. Parents can make their kids devote their childhoods to sports and music - no matter how much they hate playing. Parents can sign their kids up for mountain climbing. Parents can take their kids to dangerous countries. Holding nonfamilial employment to stricter standards than mountain climbing is senseless. "Once child labor is legal, some teens will take full-time jobs. As long as they have their parents' permission, let them." -Bryan Caplan, the Case Against Education: Why the Education System is a Waste of Time and Money ---------------------------- "If education is a merit good, the Internet is the Merit Machine. "On reflection, this Merit Machine is swiftly making traditional humanist education policy obsolete. Once everyone can enrich their souls for free, government subsidies for enrichment forfeit their rationale. To object, 'But most people don't use the Internet for spiritual enrichment' is actually a damaging admission that eager students are few and far between. Subsidized education's real aim isn't to make ideas and culture accessible to anyone who's interested, but to make them mandatory for everyone who *isn't* interested . . . A philistine could reply: 'Of course adults rarely bother studying ideas and culture online. There's no money in it'. But this chapter is not aimed at philistines, but at anyone who defends actually existing education as good for the soul. The rise of the Internet has two unsettling lessons for them. First: the humanist case for education subsidies is flimsy today because the Internet makes enlightenment practically free. Second: the humanist case for education subsidies was flimsy all along because the Internet proves low consumption of ideas and culture stems from apathy, not poverty or inconvenience. Behold: when the price of enlightenment drops to zero, remains embarrassingly scare." -Bryan Caplan, the Case Against Education: Why the Education System is a Waste of Time and Money ------------------------- "Frederick: Vocational education may be better economically, but you're cutting kids' childhoods short. Our society is rich enough to let teenagers delay the drudgery of adult jobs and adult responsibilities. "Bryan: What about the drudgery of *school*? "Frederick: It's all part of life. "Bryan: Such a double standard. When kids feel bored and resentful at work, we pity them as victims and call for regulation. When kids feel bored and resentful in school, we roll our eyes and tell them to suck it up. The wise question to pose, for young students and young workers alike, is whether the pain is worth the gain." -Bryan Caplan, the Case Against Education: Why the Education System is a Waste of Time and Money

  12. 4 out of 5

    Les Hollingsworth

    Foremost, it’s important to commend Dr. Caplan for sticking his neck out to question and challenge popular notions about the educational system. He’s presenting a really rebellious position/argument and that questioning makes us all better. As a faculty myself (in a ‘practical’ discipline), I can appreciate the courage that it took Dr. Caplan to send this one to press. With that said, it’s an egregious over-simplification of the value of the education system and is a perfect example of why resear Foremost, it’s important to commend Dr. Caplan for sticking his neck out to question and challenge popular notions about the educational system. He’s presenting a really rebellious position/argument and that questioning makes us all better. As a faculty myself (in a ‘practical’ discipline), I can appreciate the courage that it took Dr. Caplan to send this one to press. With that said, it’s an egregious over-simplification of the value of the education system and is a perfect example of why researchers need to be careful when trying to reduce all forms of value into quantitative measures. There are no doubt nuggets of useful wisdom/truth in the book (e.g. credential inflation is real; signaling is real) but the extreme conclusions and the toss-the-baby-out-with-the-bathwater policy prescriptions highlight the flaws in regressing everything down to statistical aggregates. Perhaps most saddening is that lay readers will rate this book highly and embrace (and proselytize) its perspectives because the argument is easy to follow yet not fully understand the well-hidden flaws under the surface. The author gives the appearance of being transparent by offering counter-perspectives that are actually a set of well-formulated straw men. I truly hope for the future of our economy and our country overall that this book is relegated to the archives and quickly forgotten from our collective memories.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

    Caplan makes an excellent case against the Education-Government Complex on multiple grounds — that the value of education is primarily (80%?) signaling vs skill, that the skills taught are largely irrelevant to most students, that students don’t get much skill or viewpoint change from their time in education, and more. In general I agree with him, although I do think he undervalues a class of quantitative, mathematical, scientific, and analytics skills to a large number of workers — things which Caplan makes an excellent case against the Education-Government Complex on multiple grounds — that the value of education is primarily (80%?) signaling vs skill, that the skills taught are largely irrelevant to most students, that students don’t get much skill or viewpoint change from their time in education, and more. In general I agree with him, although I do think he undervalues a class of quantitative, mathematical, scientific, and analytics skills to a large number of workers — things which one learns incidentally to STEM education but which could easily be taught in a more vocational or even primary school to high school context. Making any kind of argument against education is extreme wrongthink; I’m amazed even a tenured professor is able to do this in modern America. In addition to touching on issues of inherent intelligence and social class, the “education makes sense for women as a place to find mates, even if they don’t intend to remain in the labor market” is probably difficult to admit. He does seem to think employers wouldn’t use IQ tests if they were allowed; while the Supreme Court ruling prohibits tests with “disparate impact”, there are enough state and other concerns that firms seem to shy away from tests. Overall, a great book and interesting argument.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Alex O'Connor

    3.5 stars. Tough book to rate: I really enjoyed reading the book. Kaplan is a very earnest writer and the book was a lot of fun to read. The book was well researched, and when he was guessing or making conjectures, he was very upfront about that. However, I really just could not agree with most of his findings. I think that liberal arts education does have practical value, and enrich the lives of those it touches. STEM fields are so essential, but honestly, could you imagine a world that art, en 3.5 stars. Tough book to rate: I really enjoyed reading the book. Kaplan is a very earnest writer and the book was a lot of fun to read. The book was well researched, and when he was guessing or making conjectures, he was very upfront about that. However, I really just could not agree with most of his findings. I think that liberal arts education does have practical value, and enrich the lives of those it touches. STEM fields are so essential, but honestly, could you imagine a world that art, entertainment, music, and poetry were all thrown away and not taught because they are not economically viable for most? I will never make a living playing my viola, but it adds a great deal of value to my life. Libertarianism doesn't work, kids. That is the bottom line. I highly recommend people to read this book, though. It asks a lot of interesting questions that should be considered, even if we do not agree with the conclusions of Dr. Kaplan.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Faiza Sattar

    ★★★★☆ (4/5) Think about all the school time you burned studying irrelevancies. Notice how often you asked yourself, “What do I need to graduate?” instead of “How can I maximize my learning?” Recall all the ways you gamed the system: cramming for exams, seeking lax instructors, skipping assignments because “I already have an A.” Count the times your peers asked, “Will this be on the test?”—but never “Will this be on the job?” Picture all the overqualified graduates you’ve encountered waiting table ★★★★☆ (4/5) Think about all the school time you burned studying irrelevancies. Notice how often you asked yourself, “What do I need to graduate?” instead of “How can I maximize my learning?” Recall all the ways you gamed the system: cramming for exams, seeking lax instructors, skipping assignments because “I already have an A.” Count the times your peers asked, “Will this be on the test?”—but never “Will this be on the job?” Picture all the overqualified graduates you’ve encountered waiting tables and working in bookstores. You’ve seen a world of academic oddities with your own eyes. Bryan Caplan's book is a perfect admixture of contrarian views and incisive adventure into ideas that seem far too radical for any layman to digest. To even simply posit statements suggesting that the world needs less education and not more, or that government subsidies to education sector do more harm than good or (and my favorite) that education must be separated from the state, much like religion - at the face of it they might seem extremist approaches and considering the fact that the author is a self-proclaimed libertarian - well one might just give a deep sigh and throw the book away. The amount of education you need to get a job really has risen more than the amount of education you need to do a job. But, hold on. You take a breather and peel the onion, much like the author does, only to find out that the foundational realities of much what he argues for and against are grounded in universal scholastic experience of each and every individual in the modern era. Boredom and monotony are cornerstones of early education, and this is further exasperated by failure of true transfer of learning which would either mold character or teach essential life/job skills that one might utilize in the future. Give an individual more education, and they get better offers so they’re more likely to want a job. Give everyone more education, and you ignite credential inflation. However, I must confess. I did not agree wholly with a lot of the author's claims. His contentions no matter how realistic were complemented by policy directives that one can't help but label as 'overtly idealistic', requiring an overhaul of the entire state system and political ideologies around the world. Add to that a heavy load of statistics which Caplan used to reinforce his points, that mostly went over my head. But perhaps this in itself is proof of where education lacks - in inculcating learning that could be of use later on (case in point: my lack of statistical understanding). Unfortunately, we have an innocuous yet infamous label for kids learning job skills on the job: “child labor.” Civilized adults recoil at the name. Children with joy in their hearts don’t belong in gray workshops, toiling all day long, cogs in the machine. They’re kids, not robots! Well, unless the gray workshop is called a “school” and the cogs earn zero wages. The book largely delves into the education sector of United States but perhaps the gist of it could be applied anywhere in the world too. Lack of vocational training, failure to teach essential job skills, compulsory superfluous subjects that have little to no bearing on future quality of life (either through career prospects, family or social life, or individual life). These problems mar the intrinsic value placed on education, which in turn makes education itself just another conduit to churn disillusioned humans, working away mindlessly to serve and build profit for their employers, individuals who neither serve the society at large nor themselves. Educational psychologists have also discovered that much of our knowledge is “inert.” Students who excel on exams frequently fail to apply their knowledge to the real world. Modern day education is replete with stacked courses, rat race for grades and pursuance of meaningless degrees with the collective end-goal of appealing to employers. Caplan goes to great lengths to show how degrees just give abstract credibility to credentials alone instead of enriching lives. The credentials of education only signal intelligence, conscientiousness and conformity to the employers - and to my limited understanding this equates to modern day serfdom of the mind and soul. Education signals not just intelligence, but conscientiousness—the student’s discipline, work ethic, commitment to quality, and so forth…education also signals conformity—the worker’s grasp of and submission to social expectations. With plausible arguments the author shows how the inherent inertia of education is more detrimental to society at large, even if individuals can reap a few benefits on some level. When selfish gains outnumber and overpower societal gains, one must be compelled to think if priorities of any given state are set straight or not. Rhetoric aside, educators are as narrow-minded as kids. Most of the items on the academic tasting menu have the same stale flavor—unsurprising since teachers typically teach whatever they were taught. When schools decry “narrow-mindedness,” their real goal is to replace students’ narrowness with their own. Caplan seeks to resolve this stark difference through a mode of education which is largely frowned upon in the current era, either due to misunderstanding of the concept itself or social desirability bias. He is a great proponent of vocational education which builds upon essentials of literacy and numeracy with critical thinking, practical hands-on approach for skill-building and completion of transfer of learning which enables an individual to apply that which they've learnt to real life problems. If education boosts compensation solely by raising worker productivity, society’s gain equals the worker’s gain. If education boosts compensation solely by revealing worker productivity, society gains far less. To sum it up, enlightenment promised by education is pseudo, half-baked indoctrination at best. The true cultivation of human mind and soul need not rely on outmoded, syllabus-based, book-reliant, tests and grading systems all of which is leading to costly losses to humanity. And rather than upending the entire system of education, the author proposes a few major tweaks here and there to not only contextualize the intrinsic value of education and knowledge transfer but to increase productivity and worth of individual life in order to improve lives on a collective level. A selection of my favourite passages from the book Author's Assertions • What I see as our educational system’s supreme defect: there’s way too much education. Typical students burn thousands of hours studying material that neither raises their productivity nor enriches their lives. And of course, students can’t waste time without experts to show them how. • The answer is a single word I seek to burn into your mind: signaling. Even if what a student learned in school is utterly useless, employers will happily pay extra if their scholastic achievement provides information about their productivity. • Ultimately, I believe the best education policy is no education policy at all: the separation of school and state. • Signaling models have three basic elements. First, there must be different types of people. Types could differ in intelligence, conscientiousness, conformity, whatever. Second, an individual’s type must be nonobvious. You can’t discover a person’s true work ethic with a glance. You certainly can’t ask, “How good is your work ethic?” and expect candor. Third, types must visibly differ on average; in technical terms, “send a different signal.” Deviations from average are okay. A signal doesn’t have to be definitive, just better than nothing. • Keep the school library open so studious and intellectually curious kids have a tranquil place for free reading. Until college, every school I ever attended had a well-stocked library that was almost never open to the student body. Free play takes many forms. Why not turn the library into a bookworms’ sanctuary? • All things considered, I favor full separation of school and state. Government should stop using tax dollars to fund education of any kind. Schools—primary, secondary, and tertiary alike—should be funded solely by fees and private charity. Education, Credentials, Job Skills and Signaling • As a result, labor economists bypass the crucial question: Is education, on net, a victim or a thief? Do intelligence, personality, and so on steal more credit from education than education steals from them? • The skillful do a good job. The successful have a good job. Despite its weak effect on skill, education remains the modern economy’s surest stairway to prosperity. • In our society, credentials define you in broad strokes, but years of education add valuable details. • Education is not a bubble, but stable waste. As long as traditional education receives hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars every year, the status quo will stand. Online education will slowly carve out a niche, but that is all. • Education signals more than brains and work ethic. It also signals conformity—submission to social expectations. This traps students in a catch-22: trying to unconventionally signal conformity signals nonconformity. In our society, you’re supposed to go to college if you value success. • When education raises your income, economists call that “the education premium.” Part of the premium exists because school makes you more productive. That’s the human capital share. The rest of the premium exists because school makes you look more productive. That’s the signaling share. • A moderate reform is to stop requiring useless coursework. Make history, social studies, art, music, and foreign language optional. The main problem with this moderation: pursuing material you’re allowed to skip sends a favorable signal. Some Harsh Truths • Despite the chasm between what students learn and what workers do, academic success is a strong signal of worker productivity. The labor market doesn’t pay you for the useless subjects you master; it pays you for the preexisting traits you reveal by mastering them. • When you skip class, your relative performance suffers. When your teacher cancels class, everyone learns less, leaving your relative performance unimpaired. When you skip class, your relative performance suffers. When your teacher cancels class, everyone learns less, leaving your relative performance unimpaired. • College science teaches students what to think about topics on the syllabus, not how to think about the world. • Longer school days do serve one socially useful function: they warehouse kids so both their parents can work. But more hours in school needn’t mean more hours of school. • The average student intellectually regresses roughly one full month during a three-month summer vacation. The older the students, the steeper their decline. • The final story appeals to global elite culture. Non-Western elites straddle two worlds: Western elite culture, and their own traditional cultures. After Western elites fell in love with education in the nineteenth century, they won over Western masses and non-Western elites. Non-Western elites, in turn, gradually spread the gospel of education to their own cultures. • There’s a catch-22. Online education won’t escape the nonconformist stigma until it dominates the market, but it won’t dominate the market until it escapes the nonconformists stigma. Points to Ponder • Higher education is the only product where the consumer tries to get as little out of it as possible. • Preparation inflates measured intelligence without raising genuine intelligence. • Imagine this stark dilemma: you can have either a Princeton education without a diploma, or a Princeton diploma without an education. Which gets you further on the job market? • Education that builds job skills is more socially valuable than education that merely impresses employers—even if both forms of education are equally profitable for the students themselves. • As education rises, workers—including the poor—need more education to get the same job. Where’s the social justice in that? On Vocational Training • All vocational education teaches specific job skills, and all vocational education revolves around learning-by-doing, not learning-by-listening. • Critics fear that vocational education bears a stigma. Specializing in auto shop tarnishes your image because society infers you “lack the talent for anything better.” Restated in the language of signaling: the vocational path sends bad signals about raw ability. In this scenario, vocational education enriches society more than it enriches vocational students. Society gains the extra productivity, but students capture the extra productivity less the stigma. • What makes vocational ed’s social return so ample? Status is zero-sum; skill is not. Conventional education mostly helps students by raising their status, but average status cannot rise. Vocational education mostly helps students by building their skills—and average skill can rise. Why are social returns especially ample for Poor Students? Because vocational ed trains these crime-prone students for productive work without igniting severe credential inflation. • In the for-profit sector, the U.S. Department of Labor allows unpaid internships only if “the employer that provides the training derives no immediate advantage from the activities of the intern.” A bizarre rule. Why would a for-profit firm bother hiring workers from whom it derives zero immediate advantage? Wise Gems • The Master said, “In ancient times, men learned with a view to their own improvement. Now-a-days, men learn with a view to the approbation of others.”—Confucius, The Analects 4 • If a ninth-grader asks for educational advice, you should give a straight-up answer. Otherwise they won’t listen. Yet this is no excuse for intellectual laziness on your part. A quality advisor carefully weighs complexities and subtleties on the advisee’s behalf. That way, the counsel is not only digestible, but insightful. Beautifully Constructed Sentences • By analogy, both sculptors and appraisers have the power to raise the market value of a piece of stone. The sculptor raises the market value of a piece of stone by shaping it. The appraiser raises the market value of a piece of stone by judging it. Teachers need to ask ourselves, “How much of what we do is sculpting, and how much is appraising?” And if we won’t ask ourselves, our alumni need to ask for us. • Such a double standard. When kids feel bored and resentful at work, we pity them as victims and call for regulation. When kids feel bored and resentful in school, we roll our eyes and tell them to suck it up.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Coleman Ross

    As a 51-year-old pursing a Masters degree in Mathematics so that I can teach "high school mathematics" at the community college level (when I already have high school teaching experience, a Masters in Education, and teaching certifications), I'm currently living this book, as almost all of the courses I'm taking are irrelevant and a waste of my time. This book is spot-on.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Aayush Kucheria

    The author makes some really strong points, with the necessary backup stats. This book, though dry at times, is a must read for everyone interested in education, or going through education. Though I may not agree with all the points, the book is a really informative read by an author who has done his research right.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Gavin

    A powerful book, remarkably light on ideology given its extreme conclusions. (Caplan is not mad: he is right behind universal numeracy and literacy. So the title should be "Case Against Higher Education" but oh well.) Here's a flavour: I have a long list of strange and extreme views, and I've been an arrogant hedgehog for as long as I can remember.  As a rule, arrogant hedgehogs with lots of strange and extreme views are severely biased and grossly unreliable.  Which raises two daunting questio A powerful book, remarkably light on ideology given its extreme conclusions. (Caplan is not mad: he is right behind universal numeracy and literacy. So the title should be "Case Against Higher Education" but oh well.) Here's a flavour: I have a long list of strange and extreme views, and I've been an arrogant hedgehog for as long as I can remember.  As a rule, arrogant hedgehogs with lots of strange and extreme views are severely biased and grossly unreliable.  Which raises two daunting questions. The Reputational Challenge: Why should people take me seriously?  Even if I happen to be correct, why would a reasonable person bother giving me a chance?  The Self-Referential Challenge: Why should I take myself seriously?  Why should I consider myself so epistemically superior to the typical arrogant hedgehog with lots of strange and extreme views? In all honesty, I take both challenges seriously.  But it's the self-referential challenge that weighs on me.  I can endure the apathy of others, but not the idea that I'm living a lie.  So what should I do? What might explain the universal appeal of education? 1. learning specific facts and hard skills (private and social gain) 2. learning general rationality and meta-skills (private and social gain) 3. learning soft skills (private and social gain) 4. credentialing: showing off how smart, conscientious, conformist you are (zero-sum private gain) 5. culture fit: showing employers you are their kind of person (private gain) 6. networking (private gain) 7. assortative mating at university (near-zero-sum private gain) 8. primary schools are daycare (private gain by proxy (parents), social gain (doubling workforce)) 9. it's fun (private gain) 10. conspicuous consumption (zero-sum private gain) 11. state propaganda about how developed the country is. (zero-sum and of no private or social gain) His conclusion is that about 80% of the personal economic gains from higher education are from (4): not improving your character, knowledge, or ability, but rather from certifying yourself as a good worker (smart, conscientious, conformist). Given the vast cost, time sink, and psychological toll of education, this implies a hugely wasteful, zero-sum arms race (grade inflation, degree inflation), since the income gain doesn't reflect productivity gain, and since we could be doing signalling in less indirect and foolish ways. I'll do a proper rundown of the (many) arguments he gives to end up at this separately. The mostly-signalling theory explains a huge number of confusing features (why do students and employers not value Ivy League MOOCs, even ten years on? Why are most of the income rewards concentrated in the instant of graduation? Why do students cheer when class is cancelled? If lectures are so economically powerful, why don't people just sit in on them without enrolling (and why doesn't the university put security on them to protect their livelihood)? How can human capital explain the income gains, when people forget almost everything about their major within 5 years and don't show very large soft skill increases? You often see people trumpeting the large (50-60%) income premium of higher education, as if that showed that added human capital was the reason for the premium (cough, correlation / causation). But even granting that uncritical leap, there's something strange about focussing on private income gains: the kind of people who believe in the centrality of education tend also to believe that pay is a poor indicator of social value. (For instance, our incredibly low opinion of investment bankers.) Caplan's disturbing point is that the private returns do not translate into social returns. This seeming paradox could happen a few ways: if credential inflation shifts jobs from nongraduates to graduates; or if there are minor human capital gains, but swamped out by the huge financial cost and time cost of uni. My philosophy department used to trumpet graduate income stats as evidence that critical thinking is valued in industry. (They don't anymore, possibly because philosophy is now associated with decreased earnings, at least in the UK.) This trump was an amusing triple failure of critical thinking: they confuse correlation and causation ("philosophy degree and income gain, therefore philosophy degree causes income gain"), fail to consider selection effects (philosophy students start out posher than the average student) and the Yes Minister fallacy: A philosophy degree causes an income premium. If something causes an income premium then it is valued in industry. A philosophy degree causes critical thinking. Therefore, critical thinking is valued in industry. The big concern with the sweeping cuts Caplan recommends is: how do you stop poor people losing their ability to signal their virtues, if the state withdraws the current subsidy? Remarkably, the book is in large part not based on economists' research: there is as much sociology, . This triangulation strikes me as the way to write lasting social science, social science with a chance of still being relevant in a decade. Who writes like this, aside from the GMU mob? Caplan is modest, thoughtful, an admirable empiricist. If you can't accept his argument you have a lot of work to do before you break even.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ronald J.

    Former Harvard president Derek Bok once quipped: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” He should read this book. Bryan Caplan believes that our educational system is a waste of time and money. America spent over $1.1 trillion on it in 2011, and chanting “investment” doesn’t make it so. No doubt there is an education premium: college graduates earn 70% more than high school graduates, and high school graduates earn 30% more than dropouts (however, Master degrees only pay a paltry Former Harvard president Derek Bok once quipped: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.” He should read this book. Bryan Caplan believes that our educational system is a waste of time and money. America spent over $1.1 trillion on it in 2011, and chanting “investment” doesn’t make it so. No doubt there is an education premium: college graduates earn 70% more than high school graduates, and high school graduates earn 30% more than dropouts (however, Master degrees only pay a paltry 2.6%). But why are the returns better for individuals than for society as a whole? In other words, countries aren’t rich because they spend on education; they spend on education because they are rich. The idea that “we all benefit” from education is the classis fallacy of composition—the belief that what’s true for a part must also be true for the whole (like standing up in a stadium to get a better view; until everyone tries it). Caplan doesn’t deny some useful skills are taught in school, such as literacy and numeracy. Beyond that, nothing much of lasting value. He believes at least 1/3 of education’s worth is signaling—that is, employers can infer your intelligence, conscientiousness, and conformity by whether or not you finished your degree. In fact, 1/3 is the lowest estimate he gets; 50-80% is more likely, and Caplan thinks it’s 80% signaling. Employers aren’t conducting logic courses; they make hiring decisions based on prudence, not proof. Signaling is prudent. For example, ¾ of STEM majors don’t even use their specialized skills, but by finishing they signaled their employability. Caplan shoots down much conventional wisdom, arguments such as education teaches students how to think, is good for the soul, can inspire them to higher pursuits, etc. Really? Americans spend .2% on all reading material; we spend four times more on tobacco and 5 times more on alcohol. The Kardashians have more YouTube views than classical music. Education is wasted on the young. Education does lead to less population, however, which is not a good thing. He also debunks the idea, floated by technophiles for years, that education is going to be disrupted by online earning. But online earning doesn’t provide signals. The best education is already free! Anyone can attend Princeton classes for free. You just won’t get the diploma, which disproves the “human capital purism” theory. It’s ironic. One of the most expensive products out there is available for free, and no one takes advantage of it? Imagine if Lamborghini let you drive its cars around for free? He also documents the Sheepskin effect, which is over 60% of the education premium. Getting your diploma is worth 3.4 years of college! It’s not because they save the best learning for the senior year; it’s because if you don’t cross the finish line you’re signaling you’re a quitter. Caplan suggests the separation of school and state. Fund it by user fees and private charity, not government. Education is not a bubble but a stable waste. This would reduce credential and grade inflation (we’d all be better off with one less degree). Having a more free market won’t fix education, neither will a vocational track like they have in Germany. Caplan thinks we should give the labor market a try, even though the stigma of child labor is strong. But what’s worse: 50% of high school dropouts and even 1/3 of graduates aren’t even looking for work. Wouldn’t acclimating them to work be a better alternative? People argue they’d be “exploited” but you have to compare that to not being hired at all (and being bored in school). People argue we’d overlook potential, but is that any worse than giving people false hope? So why do we spend so much on education? Caplan says it’s due to “social desirability bias”—we like policies that sound good, not necessarily that work well. George Gilder proposes this equation: Wealth = Knowledge and Growth = Learning. However, it doesn’t come only from education. The real learning comes from entrepreneurial leaps of faith (and perhaps scientific discoveries). All in all, agree or disagree with Caplan, he’s thought-provoking and I find his signaling theory compelling.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Max Nova

    Full review and highlights at https://books.max-nova.com/case-against-education There are two theories for why education is beneficial for individuals. The "human capital" model says that you go to school and learn valuable skills. The "signaling" model says that school is just a stamp of approval that certifies you as someone likely to be a good worker. In "The Case Against Education", GMU prof Bryan Caplan makes the case that our education system is ~80% signaling. A contrarian with strong libe Full review and highlights at https://books.max-nova.com/case-against-education There are two theories for why education is beneficial for individuals. The "human capital" model says that you go to school and learn valuable skills. The "signaling" model says that school is just a stamp of approval that certifies you as someone likely to be a good worker. In "The Case Against Education", GMU prof Bryan Caplan makes the case that our education system is ~80% signaling. A contrarian with strong libertarian views (see his previous book, "Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids" for a real journey down the rabbit hole), Caplan argues for slashing government support for our generally ineffective educational system. He brutally confronts the failure of our educational system to accomplish its stated goals of basic literacy and numeracy, to say nothing of historical awareness, foreign language fluency, or critical thinking. Constructing his own careful meta-analysis of an ocean of education studies and filling in the significant gaps with educated guesses, he recoils in horror at the low societal ROI of our trillion-dollar annual investment in education (for comparison, Caplan notes, we spend only $700 billion on the dreaded "military industrial complex" annually). This is a dense book brimming with references, stats, careful argumentation, and devastating zingers. It will challenge many readers who have greatly benefited from the educational system, but who don't have a quantitative response to one of Caplan's key questions:“At what point would education spending be excessive?” “We’ve done enough for education” is as heretical as “We’ve done enough for paralyzed veterans.”Caplan convinced me that much of high school and further education is about signaling rather than human capital development. This certainly matched with my experience at Yale (I learned almost nothing in class), and Caplan points out a devastating consequence of the signaling theory: additional investment in a signaling-driven system is pointless because signaling is all about status - and the average status can't rise. So we're just setting money on fire and wasting everyone's time by setting a societal standard that everyone should go to college. But what really shook me was Caplan's explanation for the failure of Massively Open Online Courses:Colleges are holding technology at bay because the only thing MOOCs provide is access to world-class professors at an unbeatable price. What they don’t offer are official college degrees, the kind that can get you a job.I'm generally on board with Caplan's idea that "the Internet proves low consumption of ideas and culture stems from apathy, not poverty or inconvenience" - if people aren't motivated to learn stuff online for free, why are we trying to force-feed the same stuff (at enormous expense of time and money) in schools? Caplan's suggested policy changes are extreme. He wants to cut all government funding for education. If that's not possible, at least stop subsidizing college (including student loans). This part of the book challenged me because I have been a huge beneficiary of the educational system and have had the unusual good luck of having 8 truly life-changing teachers over the course of my educational career. But it's tough to argue with Caplan's logic and his stats appear to be legit. Maybe, as Caplan says, we should "give heresy a chance." If you're looking for a bite-sized summary of the book, Julia Galef of the "Rationally Speaking" podcast just interviewed Caplan on her show.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Auntie Greed

    Based on the summaries and reviews, I agree with Caplan's view that education does not deliver as it promises. Ask most school board members and they probably will say sciences, history, social studies, language arts are the first priority of schools, and skills building is the second. I know that is incorrect. Teachers and the other adults of a school building have their first concerns in managing the classrooms, socializing the children and pushing them all into conformity. This is part of wha Based on the summaries and reviews, I agree with Caplan's view that education does not deliver as it promises. Ask most school board members and they probably will say sciences, history, social studies, language arts are the first priority of schools, and skills building is the second. I know that is incorrect. Teachers and the other adults of a school building have their first concerns in managing the classrooms, socializing the children and pushing them all into conformity. This is part of what Caplan says. Those adults also celebrate the students who meet and exceed expectations. That coincides with Caplan's thesis about brains and good work ethics. Those adults also can unconsciously discriminate against students who do not meet their expectations, expectations for appearances, hygiene, paying attention, race, language, grammar, etc. Instead of taking the easy way out of this situation, defunding educational systems, I wonder if Caplan's intellect could offer us ideas for turning the systems around? What if teachers and other adults modeled innovation and self-confidence for the students to challenge the order of education today?? What if we taught students about understanding their strengths and weaknesses, and how they can discipline themselves to reach for greater knowledge and understanding? How do we identify the different roles in team and be more productive as a team rather than as individuals? What if schools all converted over to project learning, so classroom learning could better imitate productive work environments where working creatively proved better than working hard? As another idea, what if we admitted to paradigms and biased thinking as early as middle school rather than waiting until graduate school? To really remake education into a better support for our next generation, I believe Individual Education Plans are necessary for every student and every student should be involved in developing ones own plan. This means that self-awareness has to be a first priority, not simply left to chance. And socialization needs to be the lowest priority for educating professionals. Then the sciences, art and self-expression, history and critical thinking become the tools that students develop for their own advancement, applying the learning that they can master. I do reject Caplan's decision to pick up his marbles or his tax money and just go home. He should stick around to see how exciting real education reform and rejuvenation can be!! . . . for everyone!!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Douglas Wilson

    Many outstanding observations, but blinkered by a foundational error.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Rutger

    Nowadays, the MSM, social media and political partisans are blamed for spreading fake news; banks, governments and economists are blamed for debt-based fake wealth; David Graeber and basic income proponents tell us most people perform bullshit jobs; and here we have Bryan Caplan telling us most of education is nonsense, too. It’s a good thing most people focus on their own job, family and friends, and don’t think about these things, because it’s enough to make you depressed – what is still real? Nowadays, the MSM, social media and political partisans are blamed for spreading fake news; banks, governments and economists are blamed for debt-based fake wealth; David Graeber and basic income proponents tell us most people perform bullshit jobs; and here we have Bryan Caplan telling us most of education is nonsense, too. It’s a good thing most people focus on their own job, family and friends, and don’t think about these things, because it’s enough to make you depressed – what is still real? Anyway, onwards to Caplan’s book… Caplan argues education is mostly signaling – showing off credentials, rather than actually having marketable skills – not just higher education or high school, but all of it. Students learn a lot of stuff they immediately forget, stuff they don’t need in their jobs and/or stuff they don't care about. Indeed, except for English which is the default world language, it’s useless to learn a second language; the only useful things about math (for non-quants) are statistics and basic arithmetic. An education degree serves to convince employers that you are intelligent (thus also productive and autonomous), conscientious (good work ethic) and conformist (team player, no troublemaker). Caplan’s beef is mainly with the “human capital” school of education which is, in fact, the whole establishment. Both liberals and conservatives (and even libertarians) agree that education is always good for everyone. Caplan has accumulated an impressive amount of data and it doesn’t matter how he computes it, every outcome leads to the conclusion that the US (and other developed nations) are massively over-educated. He goes into every angle: ability level, problem solving ability because of learning a wide range of knowledge, years of study & sheepskin effects (having a degree); he argues his case against education through different models (selfish vs social); he confronts his own ideas when externalities like (costs of) crime are included (if students wouldn’t go to school); the impact of “Bildung” and elightenment on the ordinary populace and on and on. It all leads nowhere special and the costs have ballooned towards unreal amounts, 6% of US GDP (more than defence!). There’s only one exception of education which is always good and that’s high school – it keeps juvenile delinquents off the streets (social benefit) and gives them an edge in the labour market (selfish benefit) over those who drop out. Since the crisis of ’08 I’ve seen employers demanding ever more credentials, courses, skills, etc.; sometimes it’s laughable when you think of how little will ever be used on the job. Caplan’s book explains a lot of this, there's a method to the madness. When there’s an abundance of academic degrees, employers still need to discriminate on quality -- thus they keep upping the ante, consequentially, the rat race never ends. For example, Dutch employers like McKinsey and Shell demand more than a cum laude MBA for management positions, you need to have served a year in a leadership position of a high profile Dutch fraternity and/or done an internship at some prestigious company; the other route is to have a PhD in STEM (well, okay!). If you don't have that, you don’t even need to send in your resume. The lesson I learned in life: the buck stops here, enough is enough. Caplan's selfish model would predict this to be unwise because you’d signal unnecessary low conformity – well, so be it. There's more to life than jumping through other peoples' hoops. Heck, if you can get a PhD in STEM, you would have been better off just starting a company after college; you'd be most likely to succeed and still have all your youthful energy. I highly recommend this book.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Stephanie Dunn

    So right and so wrong. I was both validated and distressed by this book: validated because I agree that the value of school comes not from its usefulness but from the signals it sends, and distressed because I disagree with his interpretation of what those signals mean. Like Caplan, I believe our obsession with academic success is toxic, both for individuals and society. I see academic credentials as a perverse currency, necessary for gaining acceptance in a culture that believes they have real So right and so wrong. I was both validated and distressed by this book: validated because I agree that the value of school comes not from its usefulness but from the signals it sends, and distressed because I disagree with his interpretation of what those signals mean. Like Caplan, I believe our obsession with academic success is toxic, both for individuals and society. I see academic credentials as a perverse currency, necessary for gaining acceptance in a culture that believes they have real value. But inflation is rendering them less and less valuable, requiring more and more education for those who want to distinguish themselves from those below. And that's part of the problem - the goal of education is almost always to distinguish oneself from those below while gaining acceptance from those above. It is the engine of a hierarchical culture that conditions belonging on judgment of worth. It is an incredibly inefficient and oppressive system for transfering real knowledge and skills that, as an added benefit, monopolizes our lives with counter productive behavioral conditioning and questionable moral assumptions. My discomfort with Bryan Caplan's interpretation of this problem is that he manages to tear apart the system, something I see as necessary, while preserving the status of the most academically accomplished as innately more intelligent, something I see as unforgivable. He managed to shore up the value of his own signal while tearing down the system its based on. I'm appalled that people will take his statistics and his interpretation as evidence that college is appropriate for those intelligent enough to benefit from "transformative education", and vocational training is appropriate for everyone else. I've come to believe that most academic success is based on our need for respect and belonging. The people who get the furthest are the most motivated for its stamp of approval, and the most appalled at "ignorance". They tend to come from homes where education is framed as society's savior, and mistake its enormous reach as tolerant and openminded. At least Caplan counters that old myth. The education system is filled with people who want good, meaningful lives and can't quite figure out what's missing. Structurally, it's a self-serving, coercive system that claims a moral authority it has no right to, and serves goals it can't acheive. A compulsory system in which each of us is working to raise our status relative to the whole has division and inequality woven into its very fabric. A compulsory system that judges worth while constricting behavior prevents more growth than it fosters. That it focuses its judgments on a narrow band of intellectual abilities is a problem, but expanding its realm to vocational training, without removing its compulsion, just expands the scope of its damage. I agree with many of the damning facts Caplan exposes, but his interpretation is mired in the same screwed up measurement of human value that keeps the system running.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    I don't read (well, listen to, these days) a lot of non-fiction, but the premise of the book caught my eye and I figured I'll give it a chance. It's a well written and well narrated examination of the value of the modern education system to society (as opposed to individuals taking part in it), with a strong focus on establishing that most of the value education provides students is by signalling attributes they already possess (intelligence, conformity, perseverance, etc...) to potential employe I don't read (well, listen to, these days) a lot of non-fiction, but the premise of the book caught my eye and I figured I'll give it a chance. It's a well written and well narrated examination of the value of the modern education system to society (as opposed to individuals taking part in it), with a strong focus on establishing that most of the value education provides students is by signalling attributes they already possess (intelligence, conformity, perseverance, etc...) to potential employers, and not acquiring new skills and knowledge. That being the case, the book then makes the point that we can provide equivalent signalling without spending so much time and money and so not only is further education funding a mistake but significant cuts would be beneficial. As the author says himself, there is no real way to prove his claims. The book pokes (significant) holes in "Human capital" theorem and provides alternative explanations and common sense solutions, which are quite convincing. But it doesn't (and cannot) provide evidence that it's proposed alternative will lead to better results, to either students or society as a whole. All in all I'd recommend it as an interesting and enlightening read to anyone seeking to explore this subject with a fresh point of view, no matter their political/economical views (though obviously it would appeal to Libertarians more than others).

  26. 4 out of 5

    Briana

    Initial Thoughts: I don't disagree with Caplan's points about credential inflation and education often being a matter of "signalling" skills rather than a matter of learning useful things (or even non-useful things). However, the book is so repetitive and unclearly structured that I can't give this as many stars as I want to for its thought-provoking ideas. Read his article "What Is College Good For?" in the Atlantic instead of the book, and you'll get the ideas far more succinctly. *As a side no Initial Thoughts: I don't disagree with Caplan's points about credential inflation and education often being a matter of "signalling" skills rather than a matter of learning useful things (or even non-useful things). However, the book is so repetitive and unclearly structured that I can't give this as many stars as I want to for its thought-provoking ideas. Read his article "What Is College Good For?" in the Atlantic instead of the book, and you'll get the ideas far more succinctly. *As a side note, I would point out that Caplan cites an enormous amount of studies from people in various fields to support his claims. He does lay out sort of sample scenarios to make points, but I disagree with anyone whose issue with the book is that it is too "anecdotal." Obviously, no one has to agree with Caplan's points, but I think suggesting that the book isn't based in research, as some reviewers have done, is odd.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Ann Cooper

    A provocative read that turns everything you ever thought about education upside-down. The author, an economist, monetizes and calculates cost benefits (it's dismaying to see the commodification of people). But also includes discussion of less pragmatic reasons why more education might be better, but ultimately is damning in his conclusion that what many of us get from education all the way to higher degrees, we largely forget and never, ever use in the work force.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Zsombor

    I started reading this work despite and because I was deeply skeptical about the main idea espoused in the title. I wanted to see whether and to what extent Caplan can sway me towards his self-admittedly extremist position regarding education (NB, not only higher education). After reading the first chapter (which is unfortunately the low point of the book, and will turn many humanists away from it), the author's position appeared so philistine that I almost abandoned the book. I feel that my dec I started reading this work despite and because I was deeply skeptical about the main idea espoused in the title. I wanted to see whether and to what extent Caplan can sway me towards his self-admittedly extremist position regarding education (NB, not only higher education). After reading the first chapter (which is unfortunately the low point of the book, and will turn many humanists away from it), the author's position appeared so philistine that I almost abandoned the book. I feel that my decision to continue despite my anger was vindicated in the end: While Caplan obviously enjoys occasionally posing as a narrow-minded economist, he ends up convincingly positioning himself as a "cynical idealist". The books focuses on three levels of education, high school, as well as bachelor's and master's degrees, with a particular interest in the U.S. data. The first part, Chapters 2-4 of the book boils down to an extensive argument for the Spence signaling model of education, based on a breath-taking amount of literature from labor economics, pedagogy, sociology, and psychology on the effects of education. According to this model, the principal role of education is not to impart skills relevant for graduate's future jobs, but instead the provide signal of graduates ability. 'Ability' is a collection of variables that future employers prefer, in particular, intelligence, conscientiousness, and conformity. The majority of the skills required for performing at work are not provided by education; instead, they will be imparted by the employers after hiring. Caplan rejects the implausible the position that education is purely signalling, and merely argues that it is mostly that (his educated estimate of skill imparting/signaling ratio across all domains and levels is 20/80). I think these chapters constitute the best, the most meticulously thought-through part of the book, full of outright shocking pieces of evidence. Next, the book presents a cost-benefit analysis of education on the individual and then on the social level (Chapters 5-6). Obviously, this requires a lot of guesswork, and I think it speaks to Caplan's bravery to not shy away from this, and provide evidence-based estimates for a number of major and minor factors that can affect our valuation of the value of education. While these chapters are a bit tedious to read, I wish such exercises would be more common than they actually are. Being serious about the normative role of decision theory does mean we should meticulously try to put dollar values on every conceivable factor, even on fleeting experiences like the extra enjoyment derived from exuberant campus life. In an apparently strange move, however, Caplan chooses to discuss some of such evanescent factors, like the value of intellectual horizon-broadening, or making students more civic-minded in a distant chapter 9. A coherent application of cost-benefit principles would put dollar values on all of those things, and would include them in the rate-of-return estimates both on the individual and the social level. Chapters 7 and 8 derive normative implications from the prevalence of signaling, and from the rather low social rates of return of education. The intellectual value of these chapters is dubious, to say the least. Caplan promotes an avowedly libertarian agenda: -the separation of school and state (which, in an outright bizarre turn, he compares to the separation of church and state). -the withdrawal of all state subsidies from educational institutions (and possibly even taxing education). -an increased support(?) for vocational education (it is unclear how this would be consistent with the previous two, or whether this is just a contingency recommendation should the state decide not to abandon education altogether). Showing that a system is dysfunctional is one thing; building a plausible alternative system is another. And at this crucial point, the impressive empirics-driven approach, so convincing in Chapters 2-4, is virtually abandoned. Why not peek outside the borders of the U.S. for a moment in a search for more functional models of organizing education? Why not systematically review historical evidence? (Horribile dictu: Why not review historical evidence from non-U.S. countries?) These chapters simply plainly point out that a fully private education would be more expensive, and by "supply-demand" this would reduce the average level of education sought, and, voilá: Signaling problem curbed! As a social scientist, Caplan should be acutely aware that changing a social subsystems will have thousands of repercussions, most of them unintended, and a rush for reform is a recipe for social disaster. For an illustrative comparison, think of the U.S. healthcare system, where the dominance of the private sector has lead to abysmal outcomes. It is extremely naive (perhaps intellectually dishonest) and clearly dangerous to highlight some unwelcome consequence (wastefulness) of education, then jump to our favorite political philosophy for a solution, without pausing to look at history, to think, to model, to understand. Why the rush? I am sure these chapter can serve some libertarian American politicians well who do not like to read much, and whose agenda is motivated by completely different factors than literature reviews of labor economics. Even if the goal is to get less of (higher) education, this can be achieved through many alternative means (for example, a steeply meritocratic, but state-funded system, like in the countries of the former socialist bloc). Here, Caplan is simply too lazy, too americentric. The last chapter contains five fictionalized discussions summarizing the main points of the book, and can serve as a useful TL;DR for rushed parties.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Frank

    one of the most important policy books(/ideas) this century

  30. 4 out of 5

    Duong Tan

    According to this book's logic, the world should invest more and more and more in informal education. => HocvienAgile.com and CodeGym.vn are on the the right track :-) According to this book's logic, the world should invest more and more and more in informal education. => HocvienAgile.com and CodeGym.vn are on the the right track :-)

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