This blog began in 2017 by exploring the List of 18 defining areas that need inquisition and exploration as we move forward in sustaining Earth and humanity. On April 21, 2017, the article “What and How Do We Teach People?” was published and ended with:
“In the future, people will need physical, intellectual, and perceptual skills as well as interpersonal, decision making, and human skills. And there will be a continuing roll for history, the arts, pride and survival. Survival of the individual, humanity or all of the above?”
Recently, The Case Against Education – Why the Education System Is a Waste of Time and Money by Bryan Caplan was published by Princeton University Press. Caplan is a professor of economics at George Mason University. Obviously, he has a money perspective and focuses on return on investment (ROI), or how much will you get back for the monetary cost of education. Caplan’s book has 294 pages of text and charts and 661 footnotes. There are three major points worthy of focus.
“SIGNALLING”: Simply put, employers higher employees based on their educational certification, not the content of the education. This is a general perspective and has many exceptions such as engineering, nursing, science and so forth. But most employers use the education signals of dropout, GED, high school diploma, associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and doctorate as an indicator of intelligence, conscientiousness, conformity and work ethic. The employer believes that the education content is of little value because the new employee will undergo new training (not education) for the new job. Obviously, lots of arguments can be made against this perspective, but if you, as an employer, are hiring people entering the general workforce, you need something to help with the decision.
“SELFISH RETURN TO EDUCATION”: This point deals with the individual and what education (certification) equates to from an income perspective over his or her lifetime. In simple terms, a new PhD engineer will start with a significantly higher monthly paycheck than a high school dropout. And taking into account lost wages while in school, tuition, living costs, student loan interest, and so on, the PhD will earn and net more over her or his lifetime. Implicit in the model is the assumption that the individual is always an employee.
There are, obviously, many exceptions. For example, Bill Gates dropped out of college and clearly did not need the formal education to become a very wealth person. But he became an employer and I do not believe there is an academic degree for becoming one.
“SOCIETAL RETURN TO EDUCATION”: In this area, Caplan considers what society gets in return for its investment in education. At the root of the investment in our system is a path to a high school diploma almost fully borne by the government. During the time the student is in school, he or she is not earning a wage. Clearly the exceptions are numerous, but we are dealing with very large numbers. While I personally believe it is a good investment, the new graduate must undergo additional training by the employer (another cost) or incur personal costs while attending college or vocational training. And keep in mind that public (private too) institutions of higher learning receive additional funding from society. After crunching the numbers, Caplan finds the societal ROI essentially negative with the current school system structure, course offerings and content.
The Case Against Education is a good analysis because it raises the question of what should be taught and how. A major assertion, for example, is that students forget much of what they learned as soon as they receive employer training and begin work. How much New Mexico history do you need to be a sales clerk?
In New Mexico, every high school student must take a one semester course in New Mexico history. Is it needed or do they need more? Awhile back, I heard a radio discussion that asserted it should be more because the Spanish were here well before the Pilgrims. While I will recuse myself from the debate, it does refocus me to Item 11 of the List of 18: What and how do we teach people?
“All the world’s a stage and all the men and women are merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts.” Do you know the origin of this quote? Even though I’m an engineer, I remember it vividly.
Till next time and some bubbles in the beaker of knowledge….